A fine and rare map depicting the human and natural geography of Worcester, Massachusetts. First settled by the English in 1674 the area was twice abandoned during King Phillip’s and Queen Anne’s Wars before being permanently resettled in 1713, incorporated in 1722 and named seat of the newly-created Worcester County in 1731. Taking advantage of water power from the Blackstone River manufacturing began to develop in earnest around the turn of the 19th century, and by the time this map was published the opening of the Blackstone Canal to Providence had catalyzed an economic boom: From 1820 to 1830 the population grew 41%, and in the following decade another 80%, to 7500.
This wonderful map providing an immensely detailed view of a thriving Worcester in 1833. It depicts the town’s boundaries, with notations of the bearings and length of each segment; the road network and the Blackstone Canal; and features of the natural topography, with symbols for woodlands and wetlands, and shading employed to indicate areas of elevation. The large scale also enables the map to identify by name landowners, churches and schools, and factories and mills along the Blackstone River. An inset at upper left depicts the town center at large scale, while the documentary value and visual appeal are greatly enhanced by nine vignettes of government buildings, places of worship, and Antiquarian Hall, the then-home of the American Antiquarian Society.
Mapmaker Herman Stebbins was born in Brookfield, Mass. in 1791 and died there in 1833. I have found only fragmentary information about his relatively short life, but an 1832 article in The Liberator refers to him as a lawyer (Sept. 8, 1832, p. 1). He seems to have been active and prominent at a local level, serving for a time as Deacon of the Congregational Church, a Trustee of the Worcester Agricultural Society, and as a member of the Worcester County Colonization Society. He surveyed Worcester in 1831, building on work done in 1825 by one Caleb Butler, and also surveyed Brookfield in 1829-30.
Publisher Clarendon Harris (1800-1884) was born in Dorchester, the son of Rev. Dr. Thaddeus Mason Harris (author of Natural History of the Bible and other works) and Mary (Dix) Harris. He moved to Worcester in 1822, and the following year bought the Worcester Bookstore at the corner of Main and State Streets. He operated the store until 1844, when he sold out and took a position as secretary of the State Mutual Life Assurance Company. A memorial offers the following tidbit, useful still to booksellers (and mapsellers): “As a bookseller Mr. Harris was not a success. His methods, though gentlemanly and concise, were too direct to be pleasing in all respects to those of his customers who preferred to trade through the consoling influence of mercantile persuasion.” (Jillson, p. 16)
The map was almost certainly based on a survey conducted by order of the town, in response to a March 1, 1830 Resolve of the Massachusetts General Court (legislature) “that the inhabitants of the City of Boston, and the several towns and districts in the Commonwealth, be, and they hereby are, required to make, or cause to be made… accurate plans of their respective towns or districts…” The plans were required to be quite large scale (1 inch to 100 rods, or about 3 inches to the mile), indicate the length and bearing of town boundaries, and provide much information about cultural and economic resources such as meetinghouses, schools, mills, mines &c. They were then to be compiled into a single coherent map of Massachusetts, which would guide tax assessments, infrastructure improvements &c. This was in fact the second such effort in Massachusetts: in the 1790s towns had been similarly required to submit plans, which were then compiled by Osgood Carleton to yield the first official state map: A Map of Massachusetts Proper Compiled from Actual Surveys made by Order of the General Court (1801).
Hundreds of town plans were produced in manuscript and filed with the state between 1830 and 1835 (These are now held at the Massachusetts State Archives, which has made Stebbins’ manuscript map of Worcester available on line. The maps were then employed by Simeon Borden as the raw material in compiling his Topographical Map of the State of Massachusetts. The quality of the raw surveys was so mixed, however, that Borden was compelled to go back into the field to re-survey many areas, and his Topographical Map was not published until 1844.
Many of the plans were also published in broadside format, often being reprinted for inclusion in early town histories. The exact circumstances of publication are unclear, but it has been suggested that the state provided the towns a modest subsidy of $150 to defray the costs of dissemination. They were usually printed by one of the Boston lithographic printing establishments, most commonly Pendleton’s (as in the case of this map of Worcester), with a substantial number printed by T. Moore’s Lithography and the firm of Senefelder. The print runs must have been small and primarily for local consumption, as these plans are generally quite scarce or downright rare.
OCLC 800359439 and 21573095 together locate seven institutional holdings as of April 2021, including one at the Library of Congress and the others at the expected Massachusetts institutions. Not in Phillips or Rumsey, and I find no record of the map’s having appeared on the antiquarian market. Background on Clarendon Harris from Clark Jillson, “Clarendon Harris”, Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity for the Year 1884 (Worcester: The Society, 1885), pp. 15-17.