Documenting the growth and development of the United States along its northwestern frontier.

Johnson’s Washington and Oregon.


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SKU: NL-02158 Category:
Cartographer(s): Alvin Jewett Johnson
Date: ca. 1862
Place: New York
Dimensions: 40.5 x 32 cm (16 x 12.5 in)
Condition Rating: VG+


Alvin Jewett Johnson compiled and published this elegant and expertly executed map of the Pacific Northwest around 1862. The map was part of the now-famous Johnson Illustrated Family Atlas and showed the enormous Washington Territory wrapping around the newly formed state of Oregon (1859). The prominent Washington Territory extends south to Utah, encompassing much of what today is Idaho, bordering the gigantic Nebraska Territory that would soon be subdivided into Montana and Wyoming.

Today, Johnson’s atlases are known for documenting the development of the United States during a decisive period of its history. Among the many features for which Johnson’s atlases were appreciated was the maker’s insistence on updating his maps according to the latest developments. In this way, Johnson’s atlases not only became the most reliable at the time they were produced but also serve as important historical documentation today.

Among many crucial features was depicting the development of counties within states and territories. On this map, we note how the development of counties in both Oregon and Washington unsurprisingly was concentrated along the coast. Even though Oregon had become a state by the time this map was published, the configuration of county lines still reflects an 1856 reality or a time when Oregon remained a territory. Such discrepancies reflect just how gradual the creation of a coherent America was.

Josephine County in southwest Oregon is among the latest county creations on this map. This was created in 1856 by dividing the much larger Jackson County into two smaller counties, of which Josephine was the westernmost. Even so, the two counties have been swapped around in this map, reflecting that such processes were not always crystal clear to mapmakers in distant New York.

The map shows settlement and toponymy are significantly less dense in the eastern parts of Washington Territory (modern Idaho) than along the coast. Among the sporadic information we have is the location of several forts, including Fort Hall near the Three Buttes, Fort Boise on the Oregon-Washington border, and Fort Owen near the Bitter Root Mountains. Near Fort Hall, in the south, is an early reference to Beer or Soda Springs. Other significant landmarks include the Three Tetons, Fremont’s Point, and the northern half of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The Missouri River’s upper reaches and essential parts of the Columbia River are also clearly delineated.



The map was published as Plate 57 in the 1861-62 edition of Johnson’s New Illustrated (steel plate) Family Atlas, with descriptions, geographical, statistical, and historical.

Johnson’s atlases were either published in his name or in collaboration with Browning (1860–62) and Ward (1862–66). The individual maps were updated over time, resulting in various atlas editions and map states. In unison, the multiple editions efficiently document the growth of the United States throughout a quarter-century. Today, Johnson atlases and the individual maps extracted from them are sought-after by collectors and historians for precisely that reason.

This particular map derives from one of the atlas editions published jointly with Ward. The map was compiled and engraved by Johnson himself, under the supervision of J.H. Colton. Due to the consistent updating and rapid publishing of the Johnson atlases, individual maps may provide a time and context for their production. New counties often appear on maps within a few years of their creation, while new states are included almost immediately. The fact that our map was published under Ward’s tenure and shortly after Oregon achieved statehood, yet without the updated configuration of counties, confirms that our map is from the 1861-62 edition.


Alvin Jewett Johnson

Alvin Jewett Johnson (1827-1884), also known as A.J. Johnson, was an American mapmaker who headed the New York City publishing company that produced Johnson’s Family Atlases from 1860 to 1887. The atlases charted the expansion of railroads and the development of new states, counties, and towns. They stood as a cartographic testament to the growth and development of the United States in the second half of the 19th century.

Condition Description

Full contemporary color on a faintly toned sheet with a few minor spots in map image.