Mapping U.S. History in the Early Republic

Publishers in the early U.S. republic drew extensively on European sources to supply Americans' rapidly growing appetite for printed matter. Without international copyright agreements, U.S. publishers were free to reuse European books . . . and maps. The Irish-born Mathew Carey (1760-1809), the first publisher based in Philadelphia to specialize in maps and geographical works, used American maps for his American Atlas (1795) ~ which had featured only maps of the Americas ~ but he copied European maps for his first world atlases and texts. Initially, he reprinted the geographical books by William Guthrie and the accompanying atlases, published in London after 1770, as with his General Atlas for Carey's Edition of Guthrie's Geography Improved (Philadelphia, 1795) [SM-1795-22].

One of the publishing successes of the early nineteenth century was the Genealogical, Chronological, Historical, and Geographical Atlas (London, 1801) by the pseudonymous "A. Lesage." The author was in fact a French exile, Émmanuel Auguste Dieudonné comte de Las Cases (1766-1842), but because of the pseudonym the atlas soon became colloquially known as the Atlas Lesage (Goffart 2003, 303-14 and 522-25). Las Cases's particular innovation, in addition to his extensive timelines and tabular chronologies of European history, was to surround each map of a European country with an historical account. The Atlas Lesage was then significantly expanded by C. V. Lavoisne, of the University of Caen, in 1807, and further reprinted in numerous variants.

Mathew Carey's son, Henry Charles (1793-1879), and his business partner Isaac Lea copied a later edition of the Lavoisne/Lesage atlas and published it, under the same title, in Philadelphia in 1820 [SM-1820-16; OS-1820-1] and 1821 [RO-1821-2]. Carey and Lea kept the same emphasis as the original work ~ which is to say, on Europe ~ but added an extra map (by John Melish) and a chronological table for the Americas. And then Carey and Lea applied the same structure for an atlas specifically of the Americas: A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas (Philadelphia, 1822) [SM-1822-14; OS-1822-4]. The 1822 atlas included maps of each state, such as the Maine map featured here (Thompson 2010, no.31), as well as the several South American countries. The Maine map indicates how Carey and Lea altered the nature of the 1822 atlas's content. They downplayed the history of each state ~ the U.S.A. was, after all, relatively young ~ and gave more attention to contemporary conditions, from the climate and physical environment to current industry.

To confuse the history of the atlases, Carey and Lea's American atlas was in turn translated and republished in France as an atlas (Paris: J. A. C. Buchon, 1825) and in Germany as a series of 45 separately issued maps by Carl Ferdinand Weiland (Weimar: Geographisches Institut, 1824-1828) (see also Thompson 2010, nos. 40-41).

Further Reading:

Goffart, Walter A. 2003. Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [OML ref G1030 .H3 2003]

Thompson, Edward V. 2010. Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine, 1793-1860: An Illustrated and Comparative Study. Bangor, Me.: Nimue Books & Prints. [OML ref G3730 .T4 2010]

Matthew Edney

August 2012