Zadock Cramer’s “The Navigator,” with provenance to “the foremost Jewish family of their day”

8vo. 295 [1] pp., incl. 28 in-text woodcut maps and plans. Contemporary quarter brown sheep and marbled boards, gilt title on spine. Rubbing and wear to boards and spine, gently toned throughout, with scattered mild foxing. Illegible ownership inscription in pencil on front endpaper. Signed and dated in ink by Joseph Gratz on title, with numerous ink annotations throughout, primarily to the maps.

An early and important guide to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers by Zadock Cramer, including no fewer than 28 maps. “[O]ne of the most useful guide-books ever published and the detailed descriptions, revised from time to time, make it especially useful to the historical student today.” (Solon Buck, Travel and Description 1765-1865, p. 9) This copy heavily annotated by Philadelphia merchant Joseph Gratz, who notes both aftershocks and damage from the New Madrid earthquakes.

With the end of the Revolution the pressure of westward migration surged, and along with it the importance of the Ohio River as the country’s main east-west artery. Use of the Mississippi also surged, particularly following the acquisition of Louisiana from France in 1804. These developments created a large, growing and reliable market for navigation guides to the western rivers, the first of which was Hunter & Beaumont’s Ohio Navigator (Frankfort, KY: 1798). Far more ambitious however was the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator (later simply The Navigator) by Zadock Cramer, first published in Pittsburgh in 1801.

Cramer went well beyond simple lists of place names and distances to include detailed navigation notes, descriptions of cities, towns and villages along the routes, observations on natural history, and general advice for travelers. Over time he added a long Appendix reprinting various reports on the Mississippi River and Louisiana Territory, including an account of the Missouri River based on Lewis & Clark. In the 1806 5th edition he made The Navigator even more useful by introducing a plan of Pittsburgh and thirteen small charts of the Mississippi, and in the 1808 6th edition he added another thirteen charts covering the Ohio. The Navigator ultimately went through a whopping twelve editions (though there are no known examples of the first two), peaking at 360 pages in 1814 before shrinking somewhat to 275 in the final edition of 1824.

Joseph Gratz provenance
This copy of The Navigator is remarkable for being rather heavily annotated by Joseph Gratz (1783-1858) of Philadelphia, a member of “doubtless the foremost Jewish family of their day in the United States” (Rabbi David Philipson, ed., Letters of Rebecca Gratz, “Introduction”). Joseph’s father Michael (1740-1811) and uncle Barnard (1738-1801) had emigrated from Germany to Philadelphia in the 1750s and risen rapidly to become prominent merchants, Indian traders, speculators in western lands, leaders in the Jewish community and patriots.

“They and other “merchant venturers” with whom they became associated, opened up vast territories to trade and exploration. Their specialty was the fur trade. Their trade routes extended from Lancaster, the Pennsylvania frontier town, to the forks of the Ohio, the present Pittsburgh. From these forks their steamboats plied the river into the then Indian territory which constitutes the present states of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Their routes branched out further into what is now Indiana and Illinois. What came to be known as the Illinois and Wabash claim of the Gratz brothers [based on purchases of Native American lands in the early 1770s] was the subject later of much litigation. Included in these Kentucky holdings was the land wherein was situated the famous Mammoth Cave.” (Philipson, “Introduction”)

Joseph and his brothers eventually assumed management of the family business, and after their father’s death in 1811 they controlled an estate with land holdings “chiefly in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana and Illinois.” (William Vincent Bryars, ed., B. and M. Gratz Merchants in Philadelphia 1754-1798, p. 277)

The Gratz brothers made frequent western trips to oversee their mercantile and real estate interests (Philipson, “Introduction”), so it would have been natural for Joseph to own a copy of Cramer’s The Navigator. Joseph signed the title page of this copy and dated it “March 1, 1812.” He likely brought it in Pittsburgh in preparation for a planned journey by steamboat (on the Fanny, captained by Andrew Jack) from thence to New Orleans, which began on March 17 and concluded on May 2 of that year. Along the way he annotated 20 or so pages, including detailed itinerary notes on the front endpapers, comments about navigation hazards and bad weather, and, of the greatest interest, observations related to the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812. These were a series of major quakes and aftershocks in the Mississippi Basin, the largest of which destroyed New Madrid, Missouri on February 7, 1812. Joseph’s notes on Map II (p. 183) mention “Earthquakes” at New Madrid, Little Prairie “Destroyed by Earthquakes,” and, on April 17th, “tremendous storm.  Hail, rain and wind SW. Several earthquakes, Thunder & Lightning.” And on Map III (p. 186) he observed that “From the mouth of Ohio the banks and islands bear evident marks of the Earthquakes. But the navigation of the river is not materially altered, nor made more difficult.” While not systematic, the notations suggest an engaged and intelligent observer, clearly impressed by the scenes of recent destruction.

A large number of Gratz family books and manuscripts were auctioned by Kestenbaum & Co. on June 20, 2006. One lot included “ten miscellaneous books, signed by Joseph Gratz,” though this volume was not among them.

Howes, U.S.-Iana, #C-855. Sabin, Dictionary, #17385. Streeter, Americana, #II:994. Background from Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 236-7.