War of 1812 manuscript map after Shelton and Kensett

Anonymous / [After Shelton & Kensett], AN IMPROVED MAP of the [UNITED STATES.] NP, ND, but probably first quarter 19th century.
Manuscript in ink, pencil and probably charcoal on wove paper, 16 ½”h x 19 5/8”w plus narrow margins all around.

A most unusual patriotic manuscript map by an American child. Unfinished and as such raising intriguing questions.

In the 18th and 19th centuries map copying was an important method of geographic education at the primary level, and “schoolboy-” and “schoolgirl maps” are frequently encountered on the market.  The great majority are unadorned and relatively pedestrian, but this example is remarkable for being based on a rare and intricate War of 1812 map issued in Connecticut by Shelton and Kensett.

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. State boundaries are shown, as are river systems in considerable detail, and some mountain ranges are shaded in with what appears to be charcoal. Few place names are given, including those of the New England states and the Great Lakes (more on this in a moment). The map’s great charm lies in the large eagle surmounting the title and the ten tiny vignettes depicting sea battles of the War of 1812, all copied from Shelton & Kensett. These include several iconic American victories, among them the USS Constitution’s destruction of the HMS Guerriere in August 1812 and Java in December of that year, along with Oliver Hazzard Perry’s Sept. 10, 1813 victory at the Battle of Lake Erie. They also include notable but heroic defeats, among them the loss of the USS Chesapeake after sailing out of Boston Harbor to meet a challenge issued by the captain of HMS Shannon. While other maps were published in the United States during the conflict, that by Shelton and Kensett was the only one to feature such patriotic imagery.

The map omits quite a bit of material that is present on the Shelton and Kensett prototype, most notably long panels of text at the left, right and bottom. Indeed, a closer look reveals that the manuscript is unfinished, lacking for example most place names, captions under several of the vignettes, and the latter half of the title. This no doubt explains why the map is neither signed nor dated. One would expect that, having invested so much effort, the artist would have carried the project through to completion. We will of course never know, but perhaps the school term came to an end, perhaps the family moved west, or perhaps the young person fell ill or passed away.

For the Shelton and Kensett map see Olds, Bits and Pieces, #395 (1st state, illus. p. 338); Phillips, Maps of America, p. 878; and Rumsey #4418.


Light overall soiling, faint staining on right third of sheet with some loss of image, and two mended tears into image. Lined on verso.