Monumental wall map of the United States by Osgood Carleton

Osgood Carleton, A New Map of the UNITED STATES, OF AMERICA Including part of Louisiana Drawn from the latest Authorities Revised and corrected by OSGOOD CARLETON. Esqr. Teacher of Mathematics BOSTON. Boston: John Sullivan Junr., 1806.
Engraving on nine sheets joined, 48”h x 55”w at neat line plus margins, wash and outline color. Expertly restored: removed from 20th-century linen, mended as needed, small areas of loss reinstated in facsimile, traces of original color retouched to style.

A monumental wall map of the United States by Osgood Carleton, much enlarged and greatly updated to reflect political developments and advances in geographic knowledge. A great rarity, known in only 10 or 11 examples, most in American institutions.

The map
Carleton’s first attempt at a wall map of the country appeared in 1791 as The United States of America, Laid Down from the Best Authorities. Over the next 15 years the face of the young nation changed dramatically, and geographic knowledge progressed greatly, notably advanced by the two postal road maps of Abraham Bradley (1796 and 1804) and the wall-map of the United States by Aaron Arrowsmith (1796 and later). Publication of the momentous findings of the Lewis & Clark expedition remained well in the future.

In creating this new map of 1806, Carleton clearly used as his starting point the 1802 edition of Arrowsmith’s map. The coverage of the two maps is essentially identical, including the entire United States east of the Mississippi, much of the recently-acquired Louisiana Territory, and adjacent areas of British Canada and Spanish East and West Florida. Carleton also for the most part followed Arrowsmith’s cartographic detail, as may be seen for example in the depiction of the Great Lakes, the pictorial treatment of the Appalachians, and the hachuring indicating highlands in Michigan and along the Mississippi.

However Carleton diverges from Arrowsmith in any number of important ways. The most obvious are the additions of the Northwest Territory (organized 1787), Indiana Territory (1800), and the State of Ohio (acceded 1803). Whereas Arrowsmith depicted a hypertrophied Georgia extending to the Mississippi, Carleton has carved out an oddly-shaped “Mississippi Territory” and, to the north of it, a mammoth, unnamed entity occupied by the Creeks and a number of competing land companies. The geographic treatment of this region, now comprising Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, also diverges greatly from that of Arrowsmith. Finally, Carleton’s treatment of Maine is far more detailed, and in place of Arrowsmith’s undefined international boundary he offers an aggressive interpretation extending the U.S.-Canada border to within miles of the St. Lawrence.

The map also features two tables, neither present on the Arrowsmith. One at top lists ports of entry for foreign passengers and commerce, organized by state, while that below provides statistical data for each of the states and territories.

Carleton’s map is recorded in two states, the first most readily distinguished by the absence of the copyright line just above the lower border.

Osgood Carleton and John Sullivan
“As a commercial mapmaker not associated with the printing or engraving trades, Carleton stands apart as one of the first professional American cartographers” (Bosse). Osgood Carleton (1741-1816) trained with the British army, learning surveying from John Henry Bastide, chief British engineer at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, before spending several years at sea. After service in the Revolutionary War, he settled in Boston, where he established himself as a surveyor, mapmaker and teacher of mathematics, surveying, navigation and astronomy.

Carleton was at the center of mapmaking and map publishing in Boston from the 1780s to about 1810. Much of his work was published in association with John Norman (1748-1817), an English-born engraver, mapmaker and publisher and his son, William (d.1807). The partners put Boston firmly at the forefront of innovative American cartographic publishing in that period, producing wall-maps of the United States, Massachusetts, Maine and Boston; assisting in Mathew Clark’s A complete set of charts of the coast of America from Cape Breton to the entrance of the Gulph of Mexico (1790); and producing a sequence of sea-atlases, including John’s The American Pilot (1791) and William’s A pilot for the West-Indies (1795) and South-American Pilot (1803), as well as numerous single-sheet maps and charts and numbers of bookplates.

John Sullivan Jr. is but a footnote in cartographic history. He appears briefly in Boston directories, recorded as a trader operating a counting room on Market Street from 1805 to 1807, but is not found before or after, nor is he otherwise known for map work. Interestingly, although Carleton is best known as a mapmaker and teacher of navigation, when he went bankrupt in 1803, he was recorded as a trader, and this career may be how the two met.

The likelihood is that this map of the United States was engraved by one of the Normans, more likely John, Carleton and the Normans seeming to have continued their co-operation from about 1803 after the hiatus induced by a debacle involving a failed project to produce official maps of Massachusetts and Maine.

Publication of the map
Sullivan first announced his intention to publish the map in a printed prospectus dated June 1804. Several months later he made a more public announcement:

“PROPOSAL FOR Publishing, by Subscription, a new, correct, and elegant MAP of the United States of America; Including part of Louisiana. — Compiled from the latest Observations, and most correct Surveys; revised and corrected by OSGOOD CARLTON [sic] … The MAP, now offered, is on a larger scale, and presumed to be more correct and perfect than any production of the kind heretofore presented to the American Republic. The Publisher has [sic] been negligent of trouble, and careless of expence, in collecting new, and collating old materials; — and he is sanguine in the belief, that the correctness of the projections, and the style of execution, are superior to those of any other MAP, or CHART, ever delineated, or published in the United States. … The price to Subscribers will be Four Dollars, to be paid on receipt of the MAP, to non-Subscribers, the price will be Six dollars. …” (Boston Independent Chronicle, November 26, 1804).

The project was much delayed, but eventually Sullivan filed for copyright in the Massachusetts District Court on April 28, 1806. Two weeks later he

“respectfully informs his friends, and patrons generally, that the Map of the United States is now completed, and will be ready to be delivered … in 14 days. — And in pursuing the great object of making this Map correct … feels confident, that it will be found superior to any Map heretofore published of the American States. … The Map is exhibited for review at the Publisher’s counting room … where the subscribers will be received at 6 dollars in sheets, until the former subscribers are supplied; when the subscription will be closed, and the price advanced to 8 dols. and not sold under that price; it will then be the cheapest Map of any one before published in America. Arrangements are made to put them on cloth and rollers, and folded in portable cases, at a reasonable price” (Boston Independent Chronicle, May 8, 1806).

We will never know for sure why the price went from four to six dollars between 1804 and 1806, but the most likely explanation is that, as was often the case with ambitious mapping projects, Sullivan’s costs far outweighed his original projections.

Rarity and references
Most wall maps from this early period of American mapmaking are rare, and this map is no exception. Despite being widely advertised, the map seems to have had only limited circulation, if surviving examples are a reliable guide, with ten or fewer examples located across institutional and private collections. I know of only two others having appeared on the antiquarian market, one offered by the Philadelphia Print Shop in 1985, and another purchased by David Rumsey in the 2000s.

Rumsey #5801. OCLC #9487507 (Brown, Marquette County Historical, NYPL and Watertown (Mass.) Free Public Library, though this last is a ghost) and #45208448 (Connecticut Historical, Harvard, Indiana Historical Society, NYPL again, Yale). Other examples are held by the Library of Congress (though the map is not in Phillips, Maps of America), Stanford (the Rumsey copy), and a private collection in the Midwest.

For more on Osgood Carleton see David Bosse, “Osgood Carleton, Mathematical Practitioner of Boston.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, vol. 107 (1995), pp. 141-164.