A most unusual patriotic manuscript map by an American schoolgirl remarkable for its Kentucky origins, interesting subject matter, pleasing design, relatively good condition, and superb provenance. “School” maps are frequently encountered on the antiquarian market; indeed, we have handled perhaps two dozen in the past decade. However, the vast majority of surviving examples were produced in New England, New York and Pennsylvania, and it is almost unheard-of to encounter such maps produced on the frontier.
The map is a schoolgirl’s loose rendering of Improved Map of the United States, published in Connecticut by Shelton & Kensett on July 6, 1813, while war with Great Britain raged. The map depicts the United States including much of the recently-obtained Louisiana Territory, as well as parts of British Canada and Spanish-owned Florida. Its great charm lies in the five tiny vignettes depicting sea battles of the War of 1812, all copied from Shelton & Kensett. These include iconic American victories, among them the Constitution’s destruction of the Guerriere in August 1812 and Javain December of that year. They also include a notable but supposedly heroic defeat, the loss of the Chesapeake after sailing out of Boston Harbor to meet a challenge issued by the captain of Shannon.
From the 1790s through the 1830s map copying was an important element of American primary education, valued for imparting geographical knowledge and providing excellent practice in drawing and penmanship (Schulten, p. 186). Schulten argues, however, that the technique was also valued as a tool for developing character: “this task was often less about cartographic conceptualization than demonstrating the discipline and control required to replicateor emulate a map.” (ibid., p. 199)
These maps were drawn or embroidered, to some extent by boys but primarily by girls, as the education of the former tended to place a greater emphasis on navigation and surveying than on geography. (ibid., pp. 190-191) The source maps were usually from commercially-published atlases, as school geography texts did not begin to proliferate until the late 1810s. (ibid., p. 192) The practice began to decline in the 1830s, under the influence of educational theorists such as Pestalozzi, who argued that geographic education should be built on direct, local observation “rather than beginning with the most abstract concept of astronomical and world geography.” (ibid., p. 217)
The surviving examples of the genre vary wildly: Subject matter includes states, regions, countries, continents and the world; sizes range from a notebook page to large productions on multiple joined sheets; decorative styles range from plain to highly adorned with calligraphic, botanical and/or patriotic ornamentation; and quality of execution ranges from extremely crude—as if dashed off at the last minute to fulfill an assignment–to highly refined. All are, however, interesting as examples of a certain pedagogical model and as windows into the minds of young Americans for many of whom little or no other historical trace remains.
The Cowan and Craig families and the Ladies Domestic Academy
The previous owner of this map, the late Maurice Derby Leach, Jr., was a descendant of the Cowan and Craig families, who arrived in central Kentucky in the late 18thcentury (John Filson’s famed 1784 map of Kentucky shows a “Craig’s” on Gilbert Creek in Fayette County and a “Capt. Craig’s” just southwest of Lexington.) Both the Cowans and the Craigs were important families in the early history of the state, and they maintained close ties through marriage, business, and other matters. While the bulk of the material from the Leach estate descended through the Cowan family, this map, and several others like it, are known to have originated with the Craigs. Given the profusion of Kentucky Craigs, however, we have not yet been able to determine the identities of mapmaker Mary H.L. Craig.
Frank McVey’s The Gates Open Slowly: A History of Education in Kentucky (1949)identifies only one “Domestic Academy” in early Kentucky. Also known as the “Ladies Domestic Academy,” it operated for a short time in Washington, along the Ohio River in Mason County:
“The most celebrated female school in the west at the time was in Washington, 1807-1812; that of Mrs. Louisa Caroline Warburton Fitzherbert Keats, sister of Geo. Fitzherbert, of St. James Square, London, and wife of Rev. Mr. Keats, a deaf and uninteresting old gentleman, relative of the great English poet George (sic) Keats. Among her scholars were daughters of distinguished citizens, and who themselves became the wives of like distinguished men – daughters of John Breckinridge (late U. S. attorney), Gov. Thos. Worthington, and Gen Findlay, of Ohio, and the wives of Gen Peter P. Porter, of N. Y. (U. S. secretary of war), Gov. Duncan McArthur, of Ohio, John J. Crittenden, of Ky, etc.” (Lewis Collins, Historical Sketches of Kentucky (1878),vol. IIp. 557)
Collins’ dating must be a bit off, as the Shelton & Kensett map upon which Ms. Craig’s manuscript is based was published in mid-July, 1813. Thus the Domestic Academy must have survived at least until late that year.
A most unusual opportunity to acquire a rare artifact of early Kentucky history, from a period when institutions were new and the untamed frontier was still close at hand.
Provenance and references
Descended in the Cowan and Craig families, then to Maurice Derby Leach, Jr., of Lexington, VA, and sold at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in 2017. The auctioneer had previously sold seven other Craig family maps in two lots at its June 21, 2014 sale.
For background see Susan Schulten, “Map Drawing, Graphic Literacy, and Pedagogy in the Early Republic,” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 57 no. 2 (May 2017), pp. 185-220. For the Shelton & Kensett prototype map see Olds, Bits and Pieces, #395 (1ststate, illus. p. 338); Phillips, Maps of America, p. 878; and Rumsey #4418.
Owned in partnership with James Arsenault & Company of Arrowsic, Maine.