A Correct Map of the United States, With The West Indies, from the best Authorities by Samuel Lewis 1813…
This extremely rare War of 1812 wall map is an early masterpiece of American cartography and a testimony to America’s footing and dignity as an independent nation.
This extremely rare and beautiful wall map is a true masterpiece of original Americana. Published by a Philadelphia-based cartographer in 1813, this iconic chart captures a neonate America, only a generation or two after independence from Britain. What makes this map so important, however, is the occasion of its publication. The year before this map was published, the young American republic had declared war on its old imperial overlord. It was a bold move, and hardly one that was assured a positive outcome. When seen in this light, Samuel Lewis’ wall-map is not only an American map for an American audience — which in itself was remarkable at the time — but also a symbol and a signifier of national honor, rank, worth, and stature on the international stage. Put in other words, this map tells a story. It is a document that both reflects and is meant to install pride and self-confidence on a national level. It does not equivocate as to the United States’ rightfulness as a self-governing republic, but rather cements it; both visually and cartographically. It is one man’s attempt to capture all of the struggle, the history, the legitimacy, one might even say the very meaning, of being an American.
The map naturally focusses on the United States and the eastern seaboard of North America. But it is much more than simply a map of the United States. It is a positioning of America in the world: a visualization borne out of events that signify her validity as a legitimate equal on the global stage. We will look much closer at these events – essentially the American-British War of 1812 – in the context section below. For now, it is important to note that this map was designed to operate and communicate on a number of levels. It was a map of the Nation, although one might add that being published a whole decade after the Louisiana Purchase, significant swathes of the United States have in fact not been included on the map. This brings us to the next level of symbolism and communication in this map, which is about positioning what some Europeans (and perhaps even some Americans) still viewed as a fledgling state, not on par with the old monarchies of Europe. Lewis’ map efficiently counters this narrative by presenting a strong and coherent United States; a country that despite its youth is geo-politically significant. One of the ways in which this is achieved cartographically, is by making the United States the spatially and visually dominant entity in a much broader geographic region.
The map stretches from Newfoundland and the Canadian wilderness in the north, to Central America and the northern coasts of Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil in the south. The entire Caribbean archipelago is included in minute detail. Approximately half of the map is dedicated to oceanic space, primarily the Atlantic, but also the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean are fully shown. The composition of the map may on first glance seem a little odd, in that most of the map’s the center consists of empty waters. But here must remember the purpose of this map, which was not only to render a coherent a strong American republic, but to show it within a broader setting of international conflict. The two main parties of the conflict were of course the United States and British Empire, but the stage for confrontations lay in many different places during the war – both on land, and at sea.
Being an American perspective, the core of the United States is of course prominently presented on the map, whereas the British Isles are not included at all. This makes perfect sense though, as the conflict was one relegated to the Western Hemisphere. In stead, the English are represented by a strong line of maritime defense, epitomized in the legendary Royal Navy. Despite the loss of its North American colonies in the War for Independence, Britain’s military grasp on the entire region was not let up. A number of extant naval stations were dramatically expanded and fortified in the late 18th century, as they would now serve as key nodes in maintaining British dominance on the seas. The three most important locations were the Crown’s colonies in Nova Scotia, Bermuda, and Jamaica. These essentially became the backbone of British nautical power in region, and the basis for a blockade that transformed America. In this light, the centre of the map is not empty, but rather constitutes the front in the ongoing war.
Due to importance both as an historical and cartographical document, but also as a symbol for national pride, Lewis’ map was published in numerous different editions, all of which are difficult to acquire today. Neatline’s copy of this iconic map is the extremely rare Second Edition (identified as such above the upper border of the map). When our copy was issued in 1813, war was already raging and it was not yet clear which way the wind of victory would blow. America, which had declared war on Britain to begin with, was forced to entertain the prospect that a defeat could end in once again being subjugated by the Crown. The war would take a great toll on America, including an attack of Washington, D.C. in 1814, which entailed the burning of both the White House and the Capitol. But in the end America would come out on top. Yet all of this was still in the future when this map was issued and in this patriotic and self-confident vision of the United States, the country still remained untarnished by the bitterness of serious defeat.
If we take a closer look at the map, there is a cornucopia of detail, much of which helps us contextualize and extract meaning from it. Starting with the overall subdivision of the country, we find 18 formalized states. Most of these are found along the East Coast, although Spanish Texas and the brand new state of Louisiana (established in April 1812) have also been included. Each state has clearly defined boundaries and has been color-coded so as to stand out clearly from its neighbors. While this gives the impression of a well-delineated geography, even this formal map of the United States is not without controversy, but to this we shall return shortly. In addition to the eighteen states, we find the five formalized territories of Mississippi, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern Territory. Beyond this lies the enormous expanse acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. This up-to-date and ‘Correct Map of the United States’ is complimented by an impressive amount of topographical detail, which Lewis more or less directly copied from William Maclure’s Geological Map of the United States (1809); another cartographic project with important political undertones.
The territories are particularly interesting in that they tell a story of how, and how quickly, the United States was formed as a nation. Within less than five years of this map’s publication, the enormous Mississippi Territory shown on this edition of the map would no longer exist, having been formally converted to the great states of Alabama (1819) and Mississippi (1817). In the northern territories things developed a little slower and it is clear from this very time-specific glimpse into these regions that this was still very much a frontier. Illinois does not reach the shores of Lake Michigan at this time, and while Chicago is mentioned on the map as part of the Northwestern Territory, it is clearly subordinate to Fort Dearborn. Within a few years of its publication, this iconic frontier fort had been destroyed by the English. Instead of Chicago, the capital of Illinois was found in the southwest, in the great fur-trading center of Kaskaskia. This was linked by wagon trails to other regional centers such as Vincennes, Detroit, and Frankfort. The major trails have been depicted on the map, but other than these and the scattered settlements and forts, the northern territories are remarkably void of infrastructure and toponymy.
Readers familiar with the chronology of how America was formed will of course be aware that even though Lewis’ map deliberately fails to draw an unequivocal distinction, both Florida and Texas remained Spanish colonies when this map was published in 1813. This all gets a little complicated, but essentially Spain had given Greater Louisiana to Napoleon in return for a principality in Italy. Napoleon, who was more concerned with his land wars against England, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had shortly after sold this enormous territory to the United States under President Thomas Jefferson. As both Spain and France had considered Louisiana somewhat peripheral to their empires, establishing the formal borders between the territories had once been somewhat redundant. But now, with a rapidly growing and fiercely ambitious United States, these border ambiguities flared into a controversy that risked throwing America into a second front against Spain.
The problem revolved around the western panhandle of Florida – depicted in the map as a part of the Florida whole. With its sheltered bay and easy access to both the American coast and the Caribbean, it was an important stretch of land for trade and not something given up without a fight. Known as the West Florida Controversy, the dispute centered on whether this western panhandle had belonged to Spanish Florida or Spanish Louisiana prior to handing over the latter to France. For the inhabitants of this region, it meant that within the scope of only a few years, they were transferred from New Spain, via Napoleonic France, to become part of the new American Republic. Well, more or less at least.
Whether the French had initially ignored the border ambiguities because they were indifferent to them or it was done in bad faith is not clear, but Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison after him, both held the opinion that this important stretch of coastline had to be a part of America now. The conflict erupted in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and only shortly after America had won her independence, which meant that while both parties were eager to fortify their claim, they were less eager to engage in outright conflict over the issue. In 1810, the dispute lead the inhabitants of West Florida to proclaim themselves the autonomous Republic of West Florida. But it was only dream, and not one that would last. Within a few months the territory had been annexed by America. Spanish protests ensued, but it was left at that. Spain was in no position to engage in a military reconquest. Even so, the issue remained a hot one. So much so that Samuel Lewis opted on a decidedly neutral presentation when he compiled this map: while East Florida is properly labelled, the panhandle is left blank. The issue was not relieved until the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, in which the United Sates bought the rest of Florida from Spain.
The West Florida Controversy has gone down in history as one of many examples in which the lack of proper mapping lead to direct conflict. While this event is more widely known, a similar process was going on in Texas, which also officially remained under Spanish rule, but which the United States also claimed as part of the Louisiana Purchase. This too has been presented in neutral and unobtrusive manner by Lewis. Despite being significantly developed by this stage, the only evidence of human occupation in Texas is the presence of San Antonio. Other than that, Texas has been reduced to river valleys and mountain ranges. The route that Texas would take from Spanish colony to being part of the Union was somewhat longer and more complex than West Florida. But the territorial strife instigated by the Louisiana Purchase, and New Spain’s general policy of relegating Texas to a buffer-zone between Mexico and the United States, sowed the seeds of discontent that twenty years later would lead Texas first to independence, and later to statehood. Samuel Lewis captures this formation mid-process, making the modern viewer a direct witness to one of the forces that shaped America.
The East Coast states are shown with impressive accuracy, just as most of the Caribbean and South American coastline are rendered in considerable detail. Beyond the Mississippi River, the enormous frontier of Greater Louisiana is quite clearly divided into a topographically mapped south and what appears as an almost a blank terra incognita in the north. The swathe of land between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers has clearly been quite well mapped by surveyors by this time, with both rivers and mountains ranges accurately depicted. Interspersed among the natural features we find the occasional fort and fur trading settlements. The latter includes the ‘House of Flees’ on the White River, as well as a ‘Traders House’ and several French hunter settlements along the Arkansas River. In some cases, the river systems have been provided with references to Native American Tribes in the region, including the Osage, Pawnee, Delaware, and Caddo. The north is different. Just across the borders of the formalized territories we find a few features included on the map, but beyond these, reliable information stops.
Ultimately, this map operated on multiple levels. It served the war purpose by providing a reliable and full view of both the nation and the theatre of war. That it was in fact issued for such use is confirmed in its edition labelling at the top, which reads Containing the Seat of War &C. In addition to its purely functional capacity in a time where such overviews were essential, the map is blatantly American in its outlook. Not only was it meant for an American audience, but it reflected a national self-confidence and constituted a vision of American presence, both present and future. It casts the United States as a nation whose honor dictates that they stand up for themselves, and whose resolve can parry with even the mightiest of foes.
Context is everything
As outlined above, this is a map that tells many stories. But the context in which it tells these stories is the War of 1812; a conflict that involved the United States and Britain (and to some degree Spain and France), and which at least formally began when the fledgling American republic dared to declare war on its previous, but still powerful, colonial overlord. The background to the war is complex and draws strings to both the French support for the American Revolution, and to the annihilation of the French fleet at the hands of Lord Nelson at The Battle of the Nile in 1798. But for America, it was all about satisfying national honor. In the years leading up to 1812, large parts of Europe burned in ubiquitous wars and in many places the political map was being redrawn. The cause of this extensive reconfiguration of Europe was of course Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grand Armée, the largest and best trained military land-force the world had ever seen. While perhaps not the direct trigger of the American-British conflict, it was Britain’s prolonged war with France that set the stage for America’s first declaration of war.
Napoleon’s armies were a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, but the French navy was nothing compared to that of Britain. Lord Nelson had destroyed 80% of the French Navy at Aboukir in 1798, and even though France subsequently would ally itself with Spain, he would repeat this feat at Trafalgar in 1805. It was also clear from Napoleon’s style of command that the navy mattered little to him compared to his army. He repeatedly issued contradictory orders to his fleet and consistently expected impossible victories, despite his own neglect of the navy. When Admiral Villeneuve, the French commander at Trafalgar, returned to France after six months of imprisonment in England, he was met with utter indifference from Napoleon. And when he was found dead in his temporary pension in Rennes, with a large knife sticking out of his chest, police dismissed it as suicide and dumped his body in an unknown location. In comparison, both Lord Nelson and the Spanish Admiral Gravinas were given state funerals.
Napoleon’s disinterest in the navy – and to a degree in the Western Hemisphere – meant that Royal Navy ships still were the dominant naval force in the Atlantic and along the East Coast of America. The loss of maritime prowess eventually meant that French trade suffered as well, lacking the protection needed against pirates and the privateers of competing nations. Consequently, French merchants relied increasingly on their contacts within the United Sates to procure some of the many commodities that the New World offered. Increasingly, the U.S. also came to rely on this trade. In an attempt to strangle French supply lines, England nevertheless decided to impose a trade blockade on American merchandise headed for France. And because fewer and fewer French ships were sailing on the Atlantic, it was largely American merchantmen that suffered the direct brunt of this embargo. And as if this was not enough, many sailors on confiscated American vessels would be forcefully conscripted to serve on British vessels against the French.
Even though France had undergone several dramatic upheavals in the political climate since America’s emancipation (e.g. moving from monarchy, over bloody revolution, to Napoleon’s First Empire), America still considered France a close friend due to the support she had given to American independence. But in many ways, this friendship was beside the point: as a neutral party in the Napoleonic Wars, America was entitled to trade freely with whomever they wanted. Blocking American trade extended the financial impact to include the U.S. economy as well and was an affront to her honor. The American government therefore began viewing the blockade with increasing frustration. As this frustration was coming to a boil, news reached Washington that British forces were supplying hostile indigenous tribes along their northern border with arms and munitions. This was the final straw for President James Madison, and on the 18th of June 1812, the United States declared war against the mighty British Empire.
In the beginning of the war, things did not fare so well for America. Far from all Americans supported war, and many young men refused the call to arms. The initiative was especially met with resistance in the old colony of New England, where appropriate financial support and the conscription of troops continuously fell short of what was expected. This meant that the initial American attacks on British positions around the Great Lakes were repeatedly repelled by a much smaller British force consisting primarily of local militia and various tribal confederations.
The lack of proper organization in the U.S. military soon became a big and blatantly apparent problem. What saved the Americans from utter military humiliation in these early years of the war, was the fact that the Brits were forced to maintain an explicitly defensive strategy. They would defend their holdings rigorously, but would only very rarely launch counter-offensives due to a lack of resources and manpower. England was not going to let this insolent new republic walk all over them, but their priority was keeping Napoleon at bay in Europe. Sending large amounts of troops to the New World was simply not an option in 1812-13.
This all changed in 1814, when Napoleon abdicated after a coalition led by the British defeated him at Leipzig the year before. The primary reason for this defeat was the destruction of Napoleon’s Grand Armée at the hands of the Russians in the preceding years. The victory over France freed up a massive amount of British military resources, which could now be redirected across the Atlantic. This changed the tides of the war and suddenly put the United Sates under serious threat of losing the war. But following the organizational chaos that had marked the first years of the war, the US Army had been reorganized and streamlined, not to mention gained considerable combat experience. This meant that the British forces, despite growing in numbers, now were met with fiercer and more coordinated resistance from the Americans.
The British now instigated a maritime stronghold on America, blocking all ships and confiscating the cargo of any American vessel that tried to pass. It was only New England that remained open, as they continued to trade with the British despite a federal order to desist. The fact that New England’s ports were the only ones open for international business, meant that a huge amount of American trade was redirected to Boston and other ports. The blockade had a devastating effect on the US economy, which was not set up to handle a situation in which export goods abounded and imported goods became unavailable. The agricultural sector in particualr suffered, but the blockade also meant that countless stubborn and innovative Americans began building the new facilities and infrastructure to produce the things America traditionally had imported. In this sense, it was the War of 1812 that sparked the industrialization of America.
Until 1814, America had defended her ports and the ships sailing on them through the use of numerous small gun barges, anchored to protect entry points, estuaries, and other key locations. These barges would quickly prove ineffective to the might and maneuverability of the British Royal Navy. With the collapse of coastal defenses, the British initiated raids along the East Coast. Among the more devastating assaults was the attack on Chesapeake Bay, culminating in the the conflagration of Washington, D.C. Later that year, an American victory on Lake Champlain halted a large British invasion force in its tracks and forced them to turn back. This put a stop to some of the Anglo-Native alliances and secured a degree of calm, or stalemate, along the northern border.
With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 and the Napoleonic Wars seemingly coming to an end, restrictions on trade were lifted and American sailors were no longer forcefully drafted into British service. In many ways, this eliminated the reasons for the conflict in the first place and soon both parties found peace both more fruitful and convenient. On Christmas Eve of that year, a peace treaty was signed in Ghent. Unfortunately, news did not always travel fast across the Atlantic, and so in January of the following year, an unaware British commander ordered an all out attack on New Orleans. The Brits managed to take Fort Bowyer guarding the outer entry to the Bay of New Orleans, but they were met with ferocious resistance as they proceeded closer. In command of the American troops – and also unaware of the treaty at this point – was Andrew Jackson. He would later be elected president, to a large degree because of the popularity he gained as the defender of New Orleans against the British.
When Congress finally ratified the treaty a few weeks later, almost all the borders were exactly as they had been before. Yet the war did have a profound affect on the American psyche. It had united her citizens as countrymen in way that had not been seen since the Revolution and which helped shape the idea of what it meant to be an American. This wonderful map is a vivid and powerful manifestation of that unity. In some ways, Lewis’ map is almost prophetic: it created an image of a nation united, intended for an audience living through the very events that in the end would unite them. It is a cornerstone in the history of American cartography.
Neatline’s copy is the Second Edition (Containing the Seat of War &C), as noted along the top of the map. Along the bottom we find the publication information, which informs us that the map was published by T.L. Plowman in Philadelphia in 1813, and subsequently “Entered according to act of Congress 22nd Mar.”
We have found no other examples of the 1813 edition in historical sales records over the last 50 years. The Osher Map Library has this 1813 edition, David Rumsey has an 1817 (3rd) edition which appears to be cartographically identical (the title cartouche has nevertheless been moved towards the east coastline), and the Library of Congress has an 1820 edition. The American Philosophical Society references an 1811 issue, which presumably is the first edition.
Gorgeous. Repairs to margins, mounted on new linen. Old color, partially refreshed.
Rumsey #3324; cf. Phillips (M) p. 880; cf. Ristow p. 266.