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The Mapping of North America

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Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) was born in Woodstock, Connecticut, and became a Congregational Minister and geographer in New Haven. His book ‘The American Geography’ was first published in 1784 with text only and its success earned him the title of the ‘father of American geography’.

‘Prior to the Revolution, atlases were made in Europe and most of those used in the United States were published in England or France, although some of the individual maps, especially of the states, were drawn by local cartographers. This situation was due in part to the lack of skilled craftsmen and limited tools and equipment. Even locally produced paper in the colonial period was of poor quality. By the end of the Revolution the situation had changed and a number of elements had combined which permitted American commercial atlas publishing to develop and flourish’ (Tyner). She went on to identify five reasons; Independence, Exploration, Development of statistics as a field, National censuses and the Rise of thematic cartography.

Early American cartographic works were geographical texts, only some of which contained any maps. One of the first to do so was this work by Morse published in 1789. It should be pointed out that in the same year Christopher Colles published his ‘Survey of the Roads of the United States’ of which according to Schwartz and Ehrenberg only 15 copies survive.

The ‘American Geography’ covered the western hemisphere. In 1793 a second volume covering the eastern hemisphere was published. The two were then issued as the ‘American Universal Geography’ in 1793. The premise of the book was laid out in the Preface where he states ‘So imperfect are all the accounts of America hitherto published, even by those who once exclusively possessed the best means of information … But since the United State[sic] have become an independent nation, and have risen into Empire, it would be reproachful for them to suffer this ignorance to continue … To furnish this has been the design of the author’. The two final leaves contain the errata and ‘Corrections respecting France’.

To illustrate the work are two important maps. The Preface introduces them; ‘It is to be regretted, that so few Maps could be introduced into the work; but the author hopes to be enabled to increase the number in future editions. The Map of the southern states, was compiled from original and authentic documents, by Mr. Joseph Purcell, of Charleston, South Carolina, a Gentleman fully equal to the undertaking … The Map of the northern states was compiled principally by the Engraver [Amos Doolittle]’. Both maps were engraved by Doolittle (1754-1832), like many engravers of his day he was apprenticed to a silversmith. He is most famous for his series of engravings of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.

The southern map is of interest as it includes a reference to the ‘New State of Franklin’. This ‘State’ has a curious history. It was first offered as compensation to Congress by North Carolina in 1784 to help pay off debts from the American War of Independence. When the offer was not taken up it effectively seceded from the state on 23 August 1784 at a meeting held in Jonesborough. The idea was to eventually become the fourteenth state of the Union. It was effectively a Republic for four and a half years until early in 1789 North Carolina assumed control again.

Provenance: Manuscript ownership of ‘Isaac Lathrop’s 1789’ on the title page; Robert Rulon-Miller, 1998; private collection. ADNB; Brown, Ralph (1941) ‘The American Geographies of Jedidiah Morse’; ESTC W31207; Evans 21978; Howes (1962) M840; Ristow (1985) p. 71; Sabin (1868) 50924; Schwartz & Ehrenberg (1980) p. 209; Tyner, Judith (1989) ‘Development of the American Atlas: 1790-1980 pp. 1-2; Wheat & Brun 1985) nos. 149 & 491.

MORSE, Jedidiah

The American Geography; or, A View of the Present Situation of the United States of America

Printed by Shepard Kollock, for the Author, Elizabeth Town, 1789
THE FIRST AMERICAN GEOGRAPHIC WORK TO CONTAIN MAPS. Octavo (200 x 120 mm.), full contemporary tree calf, gilt ruled ribbed spine with ornate gilt red calf title label. With typographic title page, pp. xii, 534, (4), with two large folding maps, the second map with some early closed tears to fold, some general toning as is usual, otherwise in good condition.
Stock number: 9896
$ 5,500
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