Rare 1833 map of Society of Friends meetings in New England

A Map OF THE YEARLY MEETING OF FRIENDS FOR NEW ENGLAND A.D. 1833. [Providence: Pliny Earle], 1833.
Engraving, 17 ¾”h x 11 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Minor soiling and creasing. Very good.

A very rare 1833 thematic map depicting the organizational structure of the Society of Friends in New England.

In Society of Friends terminology a “Meeting” is both an event and a geographically-based congregation. Thus, the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM) was, and is, the overarching organization of the Friends in New England, meeting once per year for a combination worship and business. The NEYM consisted (and still consists) of a number of regional Quarterly Meetings, which in turn consisted of one or more local Monthly meetings. In the 19th century the Friends also made use of “Preparative Meetings” to prepare business for consideration by Monthly Meetings.

The map depicts most of New England, bounded roughly by the Connecticut River to the West and the Penobscot River to the East. A variety of circular symbols indicate the locations of Preparative, Monthly and Quarterly Meetings, as well as the Annual Meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. Yet another circular symbol indicates “Meetings for worship”, though I’ve no idea how these differ from the other entities. Numbers indicate the distances between adjacent Meetings, though it is not obvious whether these are by road or as the crow flies.

Also of interest is the use of small squares to indicate towns lacking Meetings altogether. Among these is Boston, which from the earliest arrival of Friends in the mid-17th century had been profoundly hostile to the sect, going so far as to execute several Friends in 1659-61.

This is the first printed map of its kind for New England, but it is the successor to a long tradition of manuscript maps. According to A Brief Account of the Yearly Meeting of Friends for New England (1836),

“A sketch of a part of New-England, in which the location of the Meetings of Friends was given, was made by a Friend who travelled through the Yearly Meeting in 1814. This was revised and corrected by another Friend, who visited the several Meetings in 1825. Other corrections and additions were made in 1829, and yet, nothing but the location of the Meetings and the distances between some of them had been obtained.” (pp. 4-5)

Indeed, a 1963 article in Quaker History demonstrates that this tradition of mapping the Friends’ organization in New England goes back at least to the late 18th century. It identifies manuscripts at Swarthmore College, Brown University and the John Carter Brown Library, and attempts to place them in chronological order, the latest being dated 1782.

Our 1833 map bears no imprint, but—for reasons not known–sources agree to attributing its publication to Pliny Earle (1809-92) of Providence, Rhode Island. Earle was a seventh-generation New England Friend who began his career as a teacher of the Friends’ Boarding School in Providence, going on to become its Principal (He later received his M.D. and became a pioneer in advanced, humane treatment of mental illness.) Entries in OLC indicate that other known examples were issued in pocket map format, so perhaps Earle’s name appears on the pocket folder of one or more of these.

A second edition of the map, with corrections and updates, was bound in to the Brief Account, though I have been unable to find an image. No later than 1850 the map was entirely re-engraved by George Girdler Smith and published by the Newport (Rhode Island) Yearly Meeting, with much-improved geography but retaining the iconography. 

In all, a rare and important document of the Society of Friends in New England, and a fine example of the efficacy of thematic mapping.

OCLC 166638254 (Boston Public, i.e., Leventhal Map Center;[5] Clements Library) and 8002552 (Cornell, Haverford College) (as of August 2021). Some background from “A List of Eighteenth-Century Maps of Quaker Yearly Meeting,” Quaker History, vol. 52 no. 1 (Spring 1963), pp. 6-9, and from the finding aid to the “New England Yearly Meeting of Friends Records: 1633-2018” at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.