Drawing on the Reputation of a Master Map Maker


North America is a 19cm x 25cm copper-engraved map on hand-laid paper. It depicts the North American continent, including Central America and the Caribbean. While it contains the usual lines of latitude and longitude, the names of chief towns and regions, and a couple of references in the northwest to explorers’ eye-witness accounts (e.g., “The sea seen by M. Hearn 1771”), it lacks any indication of political boundaries as well as a legend and scale bar. A loose sheet, the map’s folds and its slightly ragged right-hand edge indicate that it had once been part of a book, but which one?

A clue is provided by the attribution in the bottom margin, just below the neat line: “From Arrowsmiths large Map &c.” Aaron Arrowsmith was a prominent cartographer and publisher in London who was well-known in the early nineteenth century for his large, intricately detailed, and routinely updated maps, such as his eight-sheet, 91cm x 183cm map of North America first published in 1795 (Stevens and Tree 1951, no. 48; see OML OS-1799-4 upper sheets, lower sheets). However, Arrowsmith also made smaller maps, such as the 20cm x 24cm, A New Map of North America Shewing All the New Discoveries 1791 that first appeared in the seventh edition of Richard Brooks’ General Gazetteer (Brooks [1791]; McCorkle 2009, no. 26, map [4]). The history of this gazetteer is complicated, with several editions being published after 1762 in London, Dublin, and, after 1800, North America (McCorkle 2009, nos. 20–34; Sitwell 1993, 120–24), each edition having revisions to both text and maps.

Arrowsmith’s fame led to his work being copied by publishers in the new United States. The American geographer Samuel Lewis, for example, reworked his maps into A New and Elegant General Atlas, published by John Conrad in Philadelphia in 1804 (and then in Boston by Thomas and Andrews in 1805 ~ see OML SM-1805-13). This atlas included a map, North America, which is possibly based on Arrowsmith’s small map of 1791 (reproduced in Ehrenberg 2003, 143). The map is notable for providing one of the earliest published depictions of the headwaters of the Missouri river, although it did not credit the source, specifically the map drawn in 1801 by a Blackfoot, Ac Ko Mok Ki, for Peter Fidler of the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, the 1804 map is not the same as the map under discussion here. It covers a larger area ~ encompassing parts of Asia, South America, and Greenland ~ and its oceans are heavily engraved. Yet it has very much the same content, in terms of places, features (including the headwaters of the Missouri), and comments by European explorers. In this respect, it seems likely that the 1804 map is the source for the loose OML map.

Given the nature of OML’s North America, as a simple reference map, a review was made of early nineteenth-century gazetteers. These were geographic dictionaries listing and briefly describing the world’s many “Empires, kingdoms, states, provinces, cities, towns, towns, forts, seas, harbours, rivers, lakes, mountains, capes, &c” (Brookes 1812, title page), often with simple maps locating the places mentioned in the text. And, sure enough, it was soon determined that the loose map was one of eight foldout maps in the second American edition of Brooke’s gazetteer published by Johnson and Warner of Philadelphia in 1812 (Brookes 1812; Sitwell 1993, 122).

The attribution of this 1812 map to “Arrowsmiths large Map” is suggestive. This small map, so clearly indebted to earlier, small maps of North America, was certainly not derived from Aaron Arrowsmith’s famous and justly lauded eight-sheet map. Rather, the attribution seems to be an effort to claim some otherwise undeserved status for this map, to ensure its appeal to the burgeoning American middle class who sought information about their rapidly changing world. In fact, Arrowsmith himself was likely unaware of the use to which the Philadelphia publishers were putting his 1791 map.

Further Reading

Brookes, Richard. [1791]. The General Gazetteer: Or, Compendious Geographical Dictionary . . . Embellished with Elegant Maps. 7th ed. London: for J. F. C. Rivington et al.

———. 1812. Brookes's General Gazetteer Improved. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1812.

Ehrenberg, Ralph E. 2003. “'Forming a General Geographical Idea of a Country': Mapping Louisiana from 1803 to 1820.” In Charting Louisiana: Five Hundred Years of Maps, ed. Alfred E. Lemmon, John T. Magill, Jason R. Wiese, and John R. Hébert, 122–61. New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection.

McCorkle, Barbara Backus. 2009. “A Carto-Bibliography of the Maps in Eighteenth-Century British and American Geography Books.” KU ScholarWorks, University of Kansas. http://hdl.handle.net/1808/5564 or http://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/5564.

Sitwell, O. F. G. 1993. Four Centuries of Special Geography: An Annotated Guide to Books that Purport to Describe all the Countries in the World Published in English before 1888, With a Critical Introduction. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Stevens, Henry, and Roland Tree. 1951. “Comparative Cartography Exemplified in an Analytical & Bibliographical Description of Nearly One Hundred Maps and Charts of the American Continent Published in Great Britain during the Years 1600–1850.” In Essays Honoring Lawrence C. Wroth, 305–64. Portland, Me.: Anthoensen Press.


Brian Goodwin (BA Geography-Anthropology; USM December 2013)

December 2013

Prepared for GEO 207, “Map History”