Samuel Lewis’ landmark map of the Northwest Territory

Samuel Lewis / W. Barker sculp., A MAP OF PART OF THE N: W: TERRITORY of the UNITED STATES: compiled from Actual Surveys, and the best Information. [Philadelphia,] 1796.
Engraving on two sheets joined, 18 ¾”h x 25 3/8”w plus margins, uncolored. Engraved plate number “47” in upper-right corner.

A landmark map of the United States territory north and west of the Ohio River, with much valuable detail on the progress of Federal land sales, the extension of national boundaries at the expense of the native peoples, and accelerating settlement on the frontier. 

After independence the public lands north and west of the Ohio River presented the Congress with both an opportunity and a problem: On the one hand a well-managed process of land sales and settlement would replenish government finances and allow for the expansion of American control into regions hitherto under the sway of the native American tribes and their British allies. Yet there was a real risk that an unmanaged process could antagonize those same forces and result in a huge region settled by Americans living outside government control. Against this background Congress in the mid-1780s passed a series of landmark laws creating a Northwest Territory and providing for the orderly survey, sale, settlement and ultimately statehood of the lands therein. The Territory encompassed a huge area comprising the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as part of Minnesota.

The survey of the Territory began with Thomas Hutchins’ platting of the “Seven Ranges” of townships immediately west of the Ohio River. Land sales began in 1787 but met with little success, largely due to the high ($1 per acre!) price set by Congress and the ongoing threat posed by the region’s Native American tribes. Concurrent with this was a more chaotic and less transparent process, in which numerous companies large and small negotiated directly with Congress to purchase huge tracts west of the Seven Ranges on extremely advantageous terms. The best known of these was the Ohio Company of Associates, led by Revolutionary hero Rufus Putnam and Reverend Manasseh Cutler, which contracted to purchase 1.5 million acres for a mere $1 million in depreciated Continental securities. Established in 1787, the Company’s settlement at Marietta was the first permanent American presence in the Northwest Territory.

The growing American presence provoked the decade-long Northwest Indian War, which only ended with Anthony Wayne’s decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in present-day Indiana. This led directly to the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, in which native American tribes formally ceded to the United States much of present-day Ohio as well as parcels further north and west including the future sites of Chicago, Fort Wayne and Sandusky. The Treaty, coupled with price reductions and the softening of the terms of land sales, threw the door to settlement wide open, and in 1803 Ohio entered the Union.

The map
Offered here is a very fine map of the Northwest Territory, compiled by Samuel Lewis in 1796 and summarizing major developments in the region since 1785. It depicts much of Lake Erie and part of Lake Michigan and extends to just south of the Ohio River, encompassing all of modern-day Ohio and parts of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and other adjacent states. The site of Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers is shown, and the map also depicts the results of the Treaty of Greenville, including the treaty line running from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River south to Fort Lawrence, west to Fort Recovery then south to the Ohio River across from the mouth of the Kentucky. Other parcels ceded by the native American tribes are shown as small squares, intended by the mapmaker to have been colored green but not so here.

The Seven Ranges are delineated by dotted lines, as are the holdings of the Ohio and Scioto Companies and Symmes Purchase further west. Dotted lines also indicate “Army Lands” and lands of the “Virginia Line,” retained by the Federal and Virginia governments for the compensation of veterans of the Revolution. Also worthy of note are the Connecticut Lands along Lake Erie, better known as the “Western Reserve,” retained by that state after ceding most of its western claims to the Federal government in 1786. A long line of forts and fortified towns extends from Detroit southward to Cincinnati, designed to guard the frontier from future incursions by the British or Indians.

The map is striking as much for its vast open spaces—aside from the Greenville Treaty line—the near-total omission of any native presence. For would-be investors and settlers, the message that the Northwest Territory was “open for business” could not have been clearer.

First issued as a separate publication by Matthew Carey, the map bears a date of 1796, but Evans asserts that Lewis received his copyright on January 17, 1797. The first notice I find is in the Aurora General Advertiser for January 26 of that year, where Carey advertised it (price: $1.50) along with A Plot of the Seven Ranges of Townships. The impression offered here is a second state, the only change being an engraved plate “47” in the upper-right corner number.

According to Wheat & Brun the map appeared in editions of Carey’s American and General Atlases for 1796, 1802 and 1814, though I am skeptical about the 1796 and 1814 dates (cf. Phillips Atlases, #683, 722, 1365, 1372) but would add 1800 and 1809 (Philips #1173, 1222, 1369).

Evans, Imprints, #30691. Rumsey #4863.047. Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #678 (not recording this state, with the plate number “47.”


Folds as issued, a bit of cockling where sheets joined, and some very minor soiling. Faint vertical tide mark at right, noticeable only on close inspection. Very good.