Rare and decorative “Improved Map of the United States” issued during the War of 1812

Shelton & Kensett / Engraved by A[mos] Doolittle New Haven & T[homas] Kensett Cheshire, AN IMPROVED MAP of the United States BY Shelton & Kensett. Cheshire, Conn., Nov. 8, 1813.
Engraving, 17 ½”h x 20 ½”w plus text borders and narrow margins, outline color retouched.

A rare and decorative map of the United States, with appealing pictorial vignettes celebrating American naval victories in the War of 1812.

The Improved Map of the United States depicts the eastern half of the nation, including much of the recently-obtained Louisiana Territory, as well as parts of British Canada and Spanish-owned Florida. The nation’s rapid territorial development is indicated by the presence of the Mississippi, Indiana, Orleans, Michigan, and Illinois Territories, all established between 1798 and 1809. To the left and right are charts listing distances along major post roads, and below the map a chart lists “at one view the staple commodities and population of each state.”

Though admitted to the Union in 1812, the State of Louisiana is indicated neither on the map nor in this chart, which strongly suggests that the image was prepared at an earlier date and/or based on a slightly earlier prototype. The use of post-route data suggests a derivation from Abraham Bradley’s 1796 or 1804 postal maps of the United States, but comparison of the two maps indicates this is not the case.

The map’s great charm of this map lies in the engraved eagle surmounting the title and the nine miniature patriotic vignettes depicting sea battles of the War of 1812. These include several iconic American victories, among them the USS Constitution’s destruction of the HMS Guerriere in August 1812 and of the Java later 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 HMS Shannon. While other maps were published in the United States during the conflict, Shelton & Kensett’s was the only one to feature such patriotic imagery.

At least four variants of this map are known. The first state (see Rumsey 2956) features only seven vignettes and bears a July 6, 1813 date, and a second state was reissued that Fall bearing three additional vignettes. Our variant bears nine vignettes, has a publication date of November 8th, 1813, and exhibits numerous subtle differences indicating that it was printed from an entirely new plate. In 1825 Lewis Robinson revised the November 8, 1813 plate and issued a version bearing ten vignettes.

Fielding, American Engravers Upon Copper and Steel Vol. 3, 355 (1st state). Olds, Bits and Pieces, 395 (1st state, illus. p. 338). Phillips, Maps of America, p. 878. Rumsey 4418.


Some restoration to minor losses in image area and more extensive damage to margins, but now an appealing example of a map usually encountered in rough condition.