Mapping the Iroquois and the Disputed Ohio Valley in 1755

Lewis Evans, Map of the Middle British Colonies (OS-1755-11)

A General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America (Philadelphia, 1755) was drawn by Lewis Evans and printed from a copper plate engraved by James Turner.  The map’s coverage extends from Montreal, New France, to the northeast, south as far as Suffolk, Virginia, and westward into the Ohio River valley, a region disputed between Britain and France; the further Ohio country is depicted in the inset at upper-left. This map was often accompanied by Evan’s first “geographical … and mechanical essay,” entitled An Analysis of a General Map of the Middle British Colonies (Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin, 1755) (reproduced by Gipson 1939, 141-76). Evans map offers a glimpse of colonial America on the very eve of the French and Indian War (1755-1759; a.k.a. Seven Years’ War, 1756-1763). 

Evans, a draftsman and a surveyor, had previously made a more restricted map ~ Map of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, And the Three Delaware Counties (Philadelphia, 1749) ~ which had included the results of his 1743 expedition, along with the botanist John Bartram and the Indian agent Conrad Weiser to the chief settlement of the Iroquois at Onondaga in what is today upstate New York (Bartram, Evans, and Weiser 1973, 7-10). In 1755, Evans drew on other maps and sources ~ such as maps of Connecticut and upper New York that he received from Thomas Pownall, then governor of New Jersey, to whom he dedicated the map to Pownall (Gipson 1939, 63) ~ to delineate Iroquois territory more precisely. In addition to mapping the chief settlements of the seven nations ~ Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Tuscaroras, and the Sississogies ~ Evans indicated their deer and beaver hunting grounds.

Evans map is remarkable for his indication of significant economic resources, such as coal, petroleum, and lead deposits, information about which Evans probably took from frontiersman, Indians, and other traders (Ethyl Corp. 1955, 15-17). The word “petroleum” is found at the sites of present day Franklin and Oil City, Pennsylvania. This is the earliest known mapping of petroleum and coal resources in the country. Evans also indicated the place where “elephant bones” (i.e., bones of mastodons or mammoths) had been found in the early part of the eighteenth century along the Ohio River (present day Big Bone Lick State Park, Kentucky). By including this economic and natural-historical information, Evans reinforced the British claim to know and control the interior.

Further Reading (online)

Brückner, Martin. 2008. “The Material Map: Lewis Evans and Cartographic Consumer Culture, 1750-1775.” Common-Place 8, no. 3.

Further Reading (printed)

Gipson, Lawrence Henry. 1939. Lewis Evans. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania. [OML reference E199 .E965]

Ethyl Corporation. 1955. Lewis Evans and His Historic Map of 1755: First Known Document to Show Oil at the Industry's Birthplace. New York. [OML MO-1955-79]

Bartram, John, Lewis Evans, and Conrad Weiser. 1973. A Journey from Pennsylvania to Onondaga in 1743. Barre, Mass.: Imprint Society.

Klinefelter, Walter. 1971. “Lewis Evans and His Maps.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society ns 61, no. 7. [OML reference oversize E162 .K6 1971]


Jamie McFaul (BA Geography-Anthropology; USM 2015)

December 2013

Prepared for GEO 207, “Map History”