William Faden’s 1796 map of the post-Revolutionary struggle for control of North America

William Faden, THE UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA with the BRITISH TERRITORIES AND THOSE OF SPAIN, according to the TREATY, of 1784. London: William Faden, Feby. 11, 1796.
Engraving and etching on wove paper, 20 ¾”h x 24 ¾”w at neat line plus margins, early outline color. Excellent condition, with just a hint of offset and a couple of mended edge tears at top not intruding into neat line.

An important and long-lived map of the United States, with great interior detail reflecting the territorial development and geopolitical situation of the early Republic.

The map depicts North America as far west as the Missouri River watershed and north to Newfoundland and the southern reaches of James’s (i.e., Hudson’s) Bay. It was first issued in 1777 during the American Revolution by William Faden, bearing the title The British Colonies in North America. After the war was concluded and American independence recognized by the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Faden reissued the map with changes reflecting the much-changed geopolitical situation. In particular, he introduced a color scheme to differentiate the boundaries of the United States and the holdings of France, Great Britain and Spain, the other geopolitical players on the continent. The scheme evolved with successive issues of the map, most notably with the introduction in 1793 of the “Aborigines”, their lands delineated in purple.

Offered here is yet another issue of the map, dated February 11, 1796. At the time, relations between the powers engaged in North America remained extremely fraught and the prospects of the young United States uncertain. As with previous issues of the map, its most salient features remain the great attention paid to inland waterways and the use of outline color to delineate the geopolitical situation: The United States, yellow; British Canada and the Bahamas, red; Spanish Louisiana, green; a sliver of Newfoundland held by France, blue; and the vast territories that “should belong by right” to Native American peoples, purple. A closer look reveals a wealth of Native American tribes and settlements to the south and west of the Appalachians, with a corresponding paucity of European settlements. Signs of the coming flood are legion, however: American settlements and forts in Kentucky and modern-day Ohio, and a profusion of parcels staked out by land speculators and for the benefit of war veterans as far west as the Mississippi.

The boundary between Maine and New Brunswick is of particular interest, reflecting as it does a distinctly British spin on the ambiguous terms of the Treaty of Paris; the issue eventually brought the United States and Great Britain to the brink of war would not be resolved until the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty. The treatments of both the Floridas and particularly Native American lands also bear mention. East and West Florida had been ceded by Great Britain to Spain in 1783, but here they are outlined in yellow as if United States possessions… presumably an oversight by a tired or careless colorist. Far more significantly, Native American lands, outlined in purple, lie squarely within territory assigned to the United States by the Treaty of Paris. Faden’s note on the matter reflects the strong British preference for a Native American buffer between the United States and Canada, but otherwise does nothing to resolve the confusion:

“The Whole of the Countries not actually settled by Europeans, should belong by right to the Aborigines, but our Intention has been only to Indicate the few Limits that are known of their respective Possessions, as well as the Boundaries of the Lands, granted by them, or those with the Several States, to which they have agreed.”

This 1796 issue of the map has a number of important additions: For the first time in the sequence the new national capital of “Washington or the Federal City” is named. The new state of Tennessee (“Tennessee Government”) is delineated, as is the never-recognized proto-state of “Franklinia” on its border with North Carolina. On the west bank of the Mississippi, in present-day Missouri, are “New Madrid” and “New Iberia”, reflecting a huge grant made by the Spanish to American Colonel George Morgan, the area settled by him in 1789.

William Faden was the successor to the firm of Thomas Jefferys, and in 1783 would be appointed Geographer to His Majesty (King George III). He was both long-lived (1749-1836) and assiduous in keeping his maps up-to-date, and his Map of the United States of North America is no exception. He ultimately revised and re-issued it eight times through 1820; thereafter his successor James Wyld re-issued it another six times, the final state appearing in 1843 (Stevens and Tree’s hitherto definitive cartobibliography of the map identifies a total of 14 states of the map, but I am aware of another, intermediate between their states 1785 (d) and 1793 (e).)

In all, an attractive, important and absolutely fascinating map, offering a distinctive pro-British slant on the ongoing struggle for possession of North America.

Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #732 (1st state). Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography”, #80f (in Tooley, ed., The Mapping of North America).