A Baltimore investor advertises land in the “back parts of Virginia,” in a broadside remarkable for linking western expansion, George Washington, Pittsburgh, and a mysterious “Map of the United States.”
Prior to the Revolution one of many American grievances against Great Britain was the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement west of the Appalachians. Following independence the Proclamation was rendered null and void and one of history’s great land rushes began, as investors-George Washington among them–sought to buy up Ohio Country tracts to sell to the settlers pouring in to the region.
Another such investor was Andrew Van Bibber (1768?-1805?), a member of a prominent Baltimore mercantile family. Offered here is an unrecorded Van Bibber broadside advertising for sale or lease “several valuable tracts, situate in the back parts of Virginia,” in all more than 40,000 acres in Harrison and Randolph Counties. His holdings included several thousand acres on the Little Kenawa (aka “Kanawha”) River, a tributary of the Ohio. I find no evidence that Andrew himself ever traveled to his Ohio Valley holdings, but members of the Van Bibber family were already in the Kanawha Valley by the early 1780s.
Bibber touts the many advantages of the Kanawha tract, including “the fertility of the soil, the very valuable situation for Mills [along the Falls of the Little Kanawha], and other Water-Works, the present respectable and fast increasing population of the county and neighborhood in which they lie . it is presumed they will not be ranked among the common class of Back Lands, offered for sale.” He also emphasizes its excellent location in proximity to the “very extensive and respectable settlement” at Marietta at the mouth of the Muskingum and to
“the Monongahela, which, by its easy navigation to Pittsburg, must, for centuries to come, afford an advantageous market for the Cattle, Grain, and other Produce of that country, by supplying the new settlers that are constantly passing through that KEY to the WESTERN WORLD.”
As further evidence of the area’s potential, Van Bibber points out that “our illustrious PRESIDENT, General WASHINGTON, is now forming an extensive and valuable settlement” on the nearby Great Kanawha River. Washington had in fact been involved in the Kanahwa Valley since the 1760s, when he sought to obtain land there for himself and other Virginia veterans of the French and Indian War. In the early 1770s he was finally able to claim four tracts there totaling more than 20,000 acres.
The record is muddy, but there may be some personal connection between the two men. There exists a 1795 exchange of letters between Washington and an Andrew Van Bibber living at North End, Matthews County, Virginia, regarding the possible sale or exchange of a tract of Gloucester County land owned by Washington.
A final intriguing element of the text is Van Bibber’s reference to a mysterious map:
“By a view of the Map of the United States, it must strike every judicious eye, that very few of the waters that communicate with, or are situated on the Ohio, can vie with the upper navigation of the Little Kenawa ”
The use of the phrase “the Map” rather than “a Map” suggests the possibility that Van Bibber had a specific image in mind, or even in front of him as he drafted this broadside. If so the identity of the map is probably unknowable, though I would like to think that he had access to one of the great maps of the country produced by Abel Buell (1784), William McMurray (1784) or Abraham Bradley (1796).
Not in Evans, Bristol, Shipton & Mooney, or OCLC. American Exchange does not list any example ever having appeared on the market.
Untrimmed. Old folds with pinpoint loss at center affecting part of 4 letters, but very good or better.