This special, online exhibition offers a history of the printed urban maps of Portland, Maine, from the early nineteenth century to the great fire of July 4th, 1866. It is a history of how Portland was construed as a distinctive urban place, as a moral center of commerce, as a victim of perfidy, and as a site of remarkable and repeated rebirth and growth. In many respects, the story it tells is unique: as with any other city, the mapping of Portland has shared in and indeed has helped to create the city’s exceptional character. In other ways, the story is rather generic: the kinds of pressures to map the city were felt in many other cities in the antebellum U.S. This combination of the individual with the general permits us to see, in some detail, how mapping practices can create and cement a sense of community.
The mapping of cities entails several kinds of practices relating to different aspects of urban life and development (Section 1). Urban maps per se ~ whether constructed as perspective views or as planimetric maps ~ depict the entirety of cities as coherent and meaningful places in which people crowd close together. Cities are defined both by their built environment (urbs) and their civic community (civitas), although different perspectives on cities tend to emphasize one over the other and in different ways (Kagan 1998; Kagan 2000, 1–18).
In the case of early Portland, such different perspectives produced three genres: the booster (Sections 3–5); the historical (Section 6); and the national (Section 7). The genres stand out by the marked differences in how they depicted the city. The maps of the booster and historical genres were each produced within the community for consumption by community members and each accordingly construed particular interpretations of civitas. By contrast, maps in the national genre were made by people from away or who tried to map the city as if there were from away; as such, their interpretations of civitas were limited. In other words, each genre mapped the urbs of Portland to construe different interpretations of its civitas.
By examining the early urban mapping of Portland by genre, this exhibition avoids two of the misconceptions that have long detracted from the study of early maps.
First, the maps’ graphic and physical forms help us understand how these printed maps circulated only within small local networks and were not, as map historians have generally assumed, circulated widely as a matter of course; even the rise of new and aggressive map publishers with national business models did not change the fact that consumption of maps of the city remained almost entirely local. There is, of course, always the possibility that some impressions were dispatched to friends, relatives, or clients distant from southern Maine ~ as in the case of the sole known copy of map 1 ~ so we cannot say that the urban maps’ consumption was strictly local. Nonetheless, the intended consumption of these maps was local.
In this respect, the combined history of these three antebellum genres of urban maps of Portland provides a case study of the rise of a highly localized market for maps within the early United States, and of how that local market was eventually usurped by map publishers in New York and Philadelphia. The booster genre, in particular, displayed a steady accretion of conventions designed to capture the character of an emergent urban community, conventions that proved to be short-lived when local map production faltered and was augmented, if not supplanted, by the national genre. (A core convention of the booster genre gives this study its title.)
The second misconception that this web exhibition challenges is that the nature and character of any map is defined by the part of the world it shows and the scale (degree of reduction) at which they show it. This is the misconception that has led scholars to list maps of specific regions or places in chronological order, to show the increasing quality and quantity of information about a region or place. But from an understanding that maps are inherently human documents that manifest social needs, power relations, and cultural conventions (Edney 2007, 118–21), we need to develop new ways to present them and to establish their interconnections. This is not a new concern, and others have sought to group maps in ways other than chronology (e.g., Thompson 2010). (A chronological index of the maps discussed in this history can be informative for specific needs, and one is provided in section 9.)
For the maps of antebellum Portland, organizing the narrative around the genres allows an appreciation of the limits, but also the benefits, of using early maps as evidentiary sources. This exhibition effectively comprises an historical geography of the early city. But it is an historical geography not solely of the city’s physical and economic growth, but of the very conception of “Portland” as an urban place, from its origins as a compact port-village beside the Fore River, on the peninsula of Machegonne, within the expansive town of Falmouth, into the chartered city of Portland that served, for a while, as the capital of Maine.
Organization of the Exhibition
This special, online exhibition has been organized both to explore and explain the three genres of the urban mapping of antebellum Portland and to provide a meaningful narrative of the city’s formation and growth.
Section 1 reviews the several ways in which urban places have been mapped without reference to civic community; by detailing what kinds of maps are not included in the study, it permits some discussion of the colonial settlement of Falmouth and establishes the conceptual limits of the rest of the document.
Section 2 introduces the defining historical moment of antebellum Portland, the destruction of the port-village at the hands of Henry Mowat in October 1775.
Sections 3 through 5 discuss the first genre of printed urban maps of antebellum Portland: the booster mapping of Portland as a site of morality, civic virtue, and economic opportunity within a specific spatial form.
Section 6 then examines the use of that spatial form in the constitution of the second genre of historical mapping: the phoenix-like nature of Portland under the retroactively applied name “Falmouth Neck”; an appendix details the uncertainties surrounding references to an early, unpublished, and now lost view of the destruction of the town in October 1775.
Section 7 analyzes the national style of urban mapping, mostly by people from away, of the city’s infrastructural development that nonetheless sought to pay lip service to communal identity (section 5).
The exhibition concludes with a final summary of the interchanges of convention between the three genres and of the persistence of those conventions after 1866, a chronological index of all the maps referenced in this exhibition, including the urban maps of antebellum Portland (“map x”), and a bibliography of the works cited, including a comprehensive listing of the city directories through 1866.
A Note on the Maps, their Numbering, and Image Sources
The urban maps of Portland are numbered 1 through 15, in order of discussion in this exhibition. Maps with variants are further identified with .1, .2, etc. Thus, the first variant of Abel Bowen’s map, separately published in 1823, is Map 2.1, the second, included in one of the first city directories, is Map 2.2.
The other maps that relate to Portland in some way that are discussed are not numbered.
The penultimate section lists all the maps discussed in this in chronological order, together with the Map numbers (as appropriate) and the sections of this exhibition in which they are discussed.
Clicking on most of the images of whole maps ~ as opposed to images of specific details of maps ~ will take the reader to a high-resolution online image of the map. These images are of works owned and imaged by a number of historical institutions and libraries:
www.oshermaps.org ~ the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine, Portland;
www.mainememory.net ~ the portal, managed by the Maine Historical Society, in Portland, for digital collections from Maine institutions; the maps referenced through this source all come from MHS itself;
www.loc.gov/maps ~ the digital collections of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.;
hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/maps/digitalmaps/ ~ the digital collections of Harvard College Library’s map collections; and
davidrumsey.com ~ the digital incarnation of David Rumsey’s personal map collection, now housed at the Rumsey Map Center, Stanford University.
In some cases, the available imagery is not as high-resolution as readers might like; in these cases, it is expected that the links will be updated as better imagery becomes available.
Credits and Acknowledgments
My first thanks, as ever, are to the donors, staff, and friends of the University of Southern Maine’s Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education [OML], for creating an open, friendly, and encouraging environment for research in the history of cartography.
This exhibition began as a lecture on 22 January 2015 for the Maine Historical Society [MHS] and the Friends of the Osher Map Library. A podcast of the original presentation is available. The presentation was, however, very preliminary in nature and has been superseded in many respects by the further research needed to prepare the study for this online publication.
This online history was published on 1 July 2017. It has not been updated.
I am especially indebted to Jamie Kingman Rice, MHS Director of Library Services, and Sofia Yalouris, MHS Image Services Coordinator, for research assistance and for providing images of MHS maps. David Neikirk, OML Digital Imaging Coordinator, and Adinah Barnett, OML Digital Imaging Assistant, undertook a great deal of imaging, often at short notice, for which I am most grateful; Joseph Garver, Jonathan Rosenwasser, and David Weimer of the Harvard Map Collection went beyond the call of duty to image and digitally host maps housed elsewhere in Harvard’s Libraries.
Jordan Lessard (BA Geography-Anthropology ‘17, University of Southern Maine) undertook some crucial research about the maps included in the Portland directories.
Cite this Page
Edney, Matthew H. "Introduction & Credits." In “References to the Fore! Local Boosters, Historians, and Engineers Map Antebellum Portland, Maine.” www.oshermaps.org/special-map-exhibit/references-to-the-fore. Published online, 1 July 2017.