Rare 1872 map of Jefferson County, Arkansas

Drawn & Published by W. H. D. Wilson, Real Estate Broker & General Land Agent, Pine Bluff, Arkansas / Strobridge & Co. Lith. Cin[cinnati] O[hio], WILSON’S MAP OF JEFFERSON COUNTY ARKANSAS. Compiled from the Original Government Surveys, Private Surveys, and other authentic sources of information. Showing that portion of Jefferson, cut off by the formation of Grant and Lincoln Counties and the Political Townships as re-organized. Pine Bluff: W. H. D. Wilson, 1872.
Lithographic map on two sheets joined, 37”h x 37 ½”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Faint pencil annotations. Repairs and restorations to breaks and small losses along old folds. Lined on verso, with some attendant “waviness” to paper.

An extremely rare map of Jefferson County in southeastern Arkansas, compiled the year after Jefferson had lost large swathes of territory to the newly-established Grant and Lincoln Counties.

Jefferson County was established on November 2, 1829, with Pine Bluff on the south bank of the Arkansas River chosen as the county seat. The county’s economy was largely agricultural, with cotton the primary crop, cultivated by enslaved people on large plantations fronting the river. The county experienced significant growth after the Civil War, its population growing from 15,000 in 1860 to just under 41,000 in 1900. The county’s economy diversified, with the establishment of timber and manufacturing industries, and Pine Bluff itself grew rapidly to become an important transportation hub, as can be seen on the map offered here.

The map delineates the major features of the county’s natural and human geography, including waterways and swamps, roads and railways (both existing and projected), and, in the southwest, a few areas laid waste by an unnamed “hurricane”. Superimposed on this landscape is the familiar grid of six-by-six-mile townships created by surveyors of the General Land Office, further subdivided into mile-by-mile sections and in places quarter sections and even smaller parcels. This grid is broken only by several “private surveys” on either bank of the Arkansas in the vicinity of Pine Bluff, while a few plantations are named downriver from the city.

Mapmaker William H.D. Wilson (1841-1884) was born in Ireland, the son of Wesleyan minister John S. Wilson and his wife Arabella Langtree Wilson. After John’s death, Arabella emigrated to Arkansas to join her brother Caleb Langtree, then working in Little Rock as a cartographer for the General Land Office (Perhaps Wilson gained his mapmaking skills under his uncle Caleb’s tutelage.)  By 1857 she and her children were in Pine Bluff, where she likely taught at Marie Wasserman’s school. In 1862 William enlisted in the 25th Arksansas Infantry (also sometimes referred to as the 30th), which saw a great deal of action at Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Atlanta. He was captured by Union forces at Resaca, Georgia in May, 1864 and paroled in February 1865.

“After the war, Wilson served as a deputy county clerk, sold real estate and used his skills as a cartographer to produce Pine Bluff city [1868] and Jefferson County maps…. On November 17, 1870, Wilson married Eugenia Janes, daughter of Thomas S. James…. Wilson was in the real estate and insurance business in 1872. In 1874 he and A. E. Beardsley were appointed deputy tax collectors by Sheriff James F. Vaughan. During the 18702 he was also twice employed by the Little Rock, Mississippi River & Texas Railway as an agent. In June 1878, Wilson was elected Pine Bluff’s tax assessor (a short lived office that was abolished two years later). Apparently he maintained an insurance business during his various employments.” (Leslie, pp. 271-272)

Wilson’s map is itself extremely rare, and more generally there are very few early Arkansas county maps. Stephenson’s Land Ownership Maps: A Checklist, which describes holdings at the Library of Congress, lists only four county maps produced in the 19th century (Calhoun-1865, Prairie-1892, Mississippi-1898, and Pulaski-1898). To that list should be added the present map, an example of which is held by the Library of Congress, presumably acquired after Stephenson produced his Checklist.

OCLC 783188170 gives a single example, at the Library of Congress, with no holdings listed in Arkansas. Not in Stephenson, Land Ownership Maps: A Checklist.