IV. The Mitchell Map in Paris


This document examines the role of the Mitchell Map in the Treaty of Paris. For details of the other legal uses of this map, see Ristow’s summary of Lawrence Martin’s papers on the Mitchell Map (Martin 1972).

Mitchell’s Maps used in Paris, 1782

Mitchell’s map was used by all the parties to the preliminary peace negotiations in Paris in the second half of 1782. Not only did the Americans and British use it, but also the Spanish ambassador and the French mediator. Thus, John Adams wrote to James Sullivan, 2 Aug 1796, and stated categorically that,

“Mitchell’s map was the only one which the ministers plenipotentiary of the United States and the minister plenipotentiary of Great Britain made use of in their conferences and discussions relative to the boundaries of the United States, in their negotiation of the peace of 1783, and of the provisional articles of the 30th November, 1782. Upon that map, and that only, were those boundaries delineated.” (Quoted in many places, specifically by Martin 1972, 104)

The preliminary negotiations, including the boundary issue, were formally settled on November 30th, 1782. The final, definitive treaty was signed by either sides plenipotentiaries on September 3rd, 1783. The full text of the second article, concerning boundaries, is reproduced at the end of this document.

It must be realized that there were several different editions of Mitchell’s map which were annotated with boundary lines during — or after — the treaty negotiations. By coincidence (no doubt caused by the limited availability of inks other than black, blue, or red), the boundary lines are all marked in red ink and each has therefore, at one time or another, been misleadingly referred to as the “red-line map”:

1. King George III’s Map: the copy of the fourth edition used by Richard Oswald, the chief of the British delegation to the preliminary negotiations. Oswald also annotated the map with lines indicating the various eighteenth-century treaties that affected the territorial divisions of North America. This was subsequently given to the king; it was in turn passed onto the British Museum (now British Library) with the rest of the Kings Library in 1823.

1a. B. F. Stevens’ Copy: an agent in London for the U.S. Department of State, Stevens was struck by the importance of King George III’s map. Stevens therefore resolved to make a copy of it, not by photographic facsimile, but by copying the map’s base colors and Oswald’s lines onto an uncolored fourth edition of Mitchell’s map. Stevens made his copy in 1897. This copy — suitably endorsed so as not to appear to be an original map used during the treaty negotiations — is now in the National Archives, together with several other Mitchell Maps collected by Stevens, and some of his documentation (Record Group 76 Cartographic Series 27-28; see Goggin 1968, item. 18 and 19).

1b. Osher Map Library copy: another copy was made, this time by the British government, in 1898. This is a fourth-edition Mitchell Map, with coloring from the late eighteenth-century, and with Oswald’s various treaty lines added. The manuscript certification is by J. E. Hawkins, a War Office draftsman who was probably responsible for adding the lines. This copy is discussed in greater detail in a separate document.

2. John Jay’s Map: on the American side, Jay used a third edition, first issue, colored by the map publishers. (I have not seen this map, but the partial reproductions and attributions in Morris [1980, 382-84] are confirmed by Wendy Raver of the New York Historical Society.) The red line marked on by Jay shows a U.S. proposition for the boundary that was not adopted by the treaty (below).

3. The Arada Map: a copy of one of the French editions of Mitchell’s map which was annotated by Count d’Arada, the Spanish ambassador, and John Jay, in August 1782, with the competing Spanish and American claims. It is today in the Archivo Historico Nacional, Madrid. See below for more details.

4. The Sparks Map: On December 6th, 1782, Just six days after the U.S. boundaries were officially settled by the negotiators, Benjamin Franklin sent a map to the Comte de Vergennes, the French mediator:

“I have the honour of returning herewith the Map your Excellency sent me yesterday. I have marked with a Strong Red Line, according to your desire, the Limits of the thirteen United States, as settled in the Preliminaries between the British & American Plenipotentiaries.” (A facsimile of this letter is in National Archives Record Group 76 Cartographic Series 28)

Jared Sparks, future president of Harvard, in researching the French state archives in January 1843, encountered this letter and quickly found the actual map: a map of North America by J. B. B. d’Anville, dated 1746. Sparks took this to Daniel Webster in Maine (Burrage 1919, 323-24, 346n1, 364-67, 371). I assume the Sparks Map has been returned to the Archives nationales in Paris.

5. The Franklin Sheet: Thomas Jefferson wrote to Franklin on March 31st, 1790, requesting information about the maps used in the Treaty negotiations. Franklin responded on April 8th, not only with the statement,

“I can now assure you that I am perfectly clear in the Remembrance that the map we used in tracing the Boundary was brought to the Treaty by the Commissioners from England, and that it was the same that was published by Mitchell above 20 Years before”

but also with a single sheet of a Mitchell Map — I am unsure of what state — with his own annotation of the boundary through Passamaquoddy Bay. The single sheet is now in the National Archives (Record Group 76 Cartographic Series 29; Goggin 1968, item.19; see Boyd 1961, xxxiv-v, 283-84, 326).

6. The Webster-Steuben Map: Baron Steuben, who had assisted Washington during the Revolutionary War, possessed a copy of Mitchell’s map which bore, by the time Daniel Webster acquired it in 1838-42, the British interpretation of the boundary. The provenance of the map, and the source of its red line, were however unknown at the time, and it was therefore treated more as a curiosity than as even a potentially legitimate document. It was taken to Maine during the 1842 negotiations but is now lost (see Burrage 1919, 346n2; ).

7. The Colonial Office Map: A first edition of Mitchell’s map bearing a red chalk line boundary, now in the Public Record Office, Kew (Stevens 1897). Martin (nd) suggested that this map was probably created during the 1814 interest in the northeastern boundary.

How the Mitchell Maps were used in Paris

Although it is clear that the Mitchell Maps — and other maps as well — were used by negotiators in Paris, there are only two indicators of precisely how they were used. That maps were used at all would seem to be the result of agitation on the American part. As Richard Oswald wrote to Lord Shelburne, the British Prime Minister, on August 27th, 1782:

“At the desire of the Amern. Commissioners I sent to London for a compleat Sett of the last & largest Edition of N. American maps, no doubt for Settling Some points of Geography relative to Canada. It is very possible I may on that occasion request of you some Instructions on the Subject.” (Public Record Office, FO 27, 2: 260 — my thanks to Ed Dahl for a typescript)

Richard Oswald and John Jay

Of all the maps which can be associated with the negotiations, listed above, only Oswald’s map — King George III’s map — seems to have had annotations added and then erased as part of the negotiation process. In the words of Martin (nd) it bears “faint traces … of a red line along the lower course of the River St. John,” now in New Brunswick. It also has traces of an erased red line between the intersection of the 45th parallel with the St. Lawrence and Lake Nippissing, then running westward from the head of Chaleur Bay to the “northwest angle” of Nova Scotia. This would accord with the boundary proposed by the American negotiators on October 8th, 1782, the boundary which is recorded on the Jay map. Subsequently, Oswald redrew the line in its final location, along Mitchell’s St. Croix river, before giving it to the king.

John Jay and the Count d’Arada

The worth of a map in treaty negotiations is made clear in the example of the meeting on August 3rd, 1782, between John Jay, one of the American negotiators, and Count d’Arada, the Spanish ambassador to Paris. The topic of the meeting was the competing boundary claims of the United States and Spain. The count had prepared for the meeting, in part, by securing a map. As he wrote in his diary (my translation, with help from Prof. Judy Tizón):

“Sir John Jay arrived at 10 a.m. and entering my office, I presented him with a large map of North America with the following title: ‘Amerique septentrionale avec les routes, distances en milles, villages et etablissements; les 8 feuilles francois et anglois, par le Dr. Mitchel traduit de l’anglois par Le Rouge Ingenieur Geographe du Roy rue des grands Augustins 175[6]. North America so Doctor Mitchel zu London im 1755: ten jahr ausgegeben jetz aber in des franzosische ubersetzet’.” (Quoted by Martin (1927))

That is, the count presented Jay with a copy of the French copy of Mitchell’s map, by Le Rouge, produced after 1762 (when the German title was added; see Sellers & Van Ee 1981, 13-14)). Jay’s account, in a letter of 17 Nov 1782, states:

“Then opening Mitchell’s large map of North America, he [the count] asked me [Jay] what were our boundaries. I told him that the boundary between us and the Spanish dominions was a line drawn from the head of the Mississippi down the middle thereof to the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and from thence by the line between Florida.”

The count of course objected to these boundaries, under his instructions from his government. However, his objections, at least as expressed to Jay, were not geographically specific. In order not to get bogged down on this matter, Jay thought it best for the count to “reduce” the Spanish claims “to a certainty” by marking them out on the map. This the count did:

“A few days afterwards he [the count] sent me the same map with his proposed line marked on it in red ink. He ran it from a lake near the confines of Georgia, but east of the Flint River, to the confluence of the Kanawa with the Ohio, thence round the western shores of Lakes Erie and Huron, and thence round Lake Michigan to Lake Superior.”

Armed with this certain — if quite “extravagant” claim — Jay was able to discuss it quickly and without much confusion with Benjamin Franklin and the French observer to the treaty negotiations, the comte de Vergennes. And in response, the Americans reiterated their conviction that the western border of the United States ran along the Mississippi. Ultimately, Jay recorded that this process had enabled him to “clearly discover” the Spanish position. (Jay’s letter quoted by Martin (1927))

But Map Use was Still Limited

To modern sensibilities, the Treaty of Paris negotiators were not as cartographically savvy as they might have been. The maps mentioned above do not seem to have entered into the discussions about the treaty beyond the tight circle of negotiators. Benjamin Vaughan, a man well versed in maps and map-use, was sent to Paris to report on the treaty negotiations to Lord Shelburne, the British prime minister. The one reference I have found in his papers to the manner in which maps were used in the treaty negotiations is a statement, on October 7th, 1782, that

“I have seen (but not with Mr. Oswald) the draught intended to be sent to England. The boundaries I have not remarked with a map.” (American Philosophical Society, B/V46p; copy of 1828)

This statement alludes to the manner in which the Mitchell Maps were not seen as being legally admissible documents. Having said this, Lord Ashburton (to John Wilson Crocker, 15 Feb 1843, in a typescript held by the National Archives, from the originals in the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan) did quote a letter found in Lord Shelburne’s private papers, to the effect that a map was sent to him with the boundary lines as settled in November 1782.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing the negotiators was that no two maps agreed with each other. Using Mitchell’s map resolved many of those issues, but who was to say that Mitchell was indeed accurate? As Oswald wrote to Lord Townshend, October 7th, 1782:

“I called on Mr. Jay this Morning, and found him willing to sett that Matter [i.e., the boundary through Bay of Fundy] to rights, so as the Massachusetts Govrnmt shall have no more of that Coast than they had before the War. He took his directions from Maps, and they are not distinct [i.e., clear, obvious in their outline], nor do they agree in this matter.” (Public Record Office, FO 27, 2: 316 — my thanks to Ed Dahl for a typescript)

The result at that time was to defer the issue for later discussion.

Whatever the reasons, no maps were appended to the final treaty. Indeed “what was approved and ratified” by Parliament and Congress “was a handwritten text … unaccompanied by maps, drawings, or illustrations in any form.” For Morris (1980, 383), the various maps are useful only for “providing clues to the intentions of the negotiators.” Perhaps because the boundaries passed through areas largely unknown to European map-makers — which is to say through areas yet to be settled by Europeans — there was little trust placed in the cartographic representation of anything other than the broadest outline of the country. Alternatively, the certainty which Jay desired in negotiating the border with Spain might have been seen as potentially backfiring. Even a slight squiggle of the pen might have untold consequences. Overall, the lines on these maps should be interpreted as being related only to the gross geographical features of the landscape and should not be interpreted as the highly precise demarcations we might expect in a modern boundary dispute.

A preliminary perusal indicates that the first attachment of maps to any of the British-American treaties came only with the Convention of September 1827, when the British commissioners suggested that the Mitchell Map and the “Map A” produced especially for the convention, “be the only maps that shall be considered as evidence … of the topography of the country.” The Americans agreed to this, but only on Albert Gallatin’s stipulation that this privilege be extended to include the survey maps created under authority of the Treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the War of 1812. (Gallatin & Webster 1843, 16-17)

In the meantime, the U.S. boundaries were defined strictly textually. As such, those boundaries remained open to partisan interpretation. In the case of the Massachusetts/Maine borders with New Brunswick and Québec, uncertainties were raised over:

a) which river is the St. Croix? Which is to say, in which actual channel is the island on which the sieur de Mons’ expedition (including Samuel de Champlain) built a winter camp in 1604-05, as recorded in a map by Champlain (see the exhibition The Cartographic Creation of New England”). This issue was resolved by agreement in 1798, after the French stockade was found in the channel advocated by the British, what is now understood as the St. Croix.

b) where are the “highlands” — by which was understood the watershed — between the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic? A single line of hills appeared on Maine and Québec maps until the issue was fixed in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1843. The full text of the relevant article follows.

The Treaty of Paris, Article II. Agreed in Preliminary Negotiations, November 30th, 1782, and ratified verbatim in the formal treaty of September 3rd, 1783.

“And that all disputes that might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz.:

“From the northwest angle of Nova Scotia, viz. that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of Saint Croix River to the Highlands; along the said Highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River; thence down along the middle of that river, to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude; from thence, by a line due west on said latitude, until it strikes the river Iroquois or Cataraquy; thence along the middle of said river into Lake Ontario, through the middle of said lake until it strikes the communication by water between that lake and Lake Erie; thence along the middle of said communication into Lake Erie, through the middle of said lake until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Huron; thence along the middle of said communication into Lake Huron; thence through the middle of said lake until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Superior; thence through the middle of Lake Superior northward of the Isles Royal and Phelipeaux, to the Long Lake; thence through the middle of said Long Lake, and the water communication between it and the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; thence through the said lake to the most northwestern point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi; thence by a line to be drawn along the middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the northernmost part of the thirty-first degree of north latitude.

“South, by a line to be drawn due east from the determination of the line last mentioned, in the latitude of thirty-one degrees north of the Equator, to the middle of the river Apalachicola or Catahouche; thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint River; thence straight to the head of the head of St. Mary’s River; and thence down along the middle of St. Mary’s River to the Atlantic Ocean.

“East, by a line to be drawn along the middle of the river St. Croix, from its mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its source, and from its source directly north to the aforesaid Highlands, which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river St. Lawrence; comprehending all islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States, and lying between lines to be drawn due east from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part, and East Florida on the other, shall respectively touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such as now are, or heretofore have been, within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.”

The Battle of the Red Line Maps, 1838-43

In the early-nineteenth century, British and American diplomats knew that Mitchell’s map had been used in the Treaty of Paris negotiations. They did not, however, know of the actual existence of the treaty maps until a concerted effort was made to find them as a prelude to the 1842 Treaty of Washington (the so-called Webster-Asburton treaty). At this time there occured what might best be termed the “battle of the red-line maps” (McElroy & Riggs 1943, 3-7).

Daniel Webster unearthed the Steuben map sometime after 1838. A debate in the British Parliament in 1839 led to a search for George III’s map; when found it was moved to the Foreign Office — perhaps as a means to keep it from U.S. attention — and did not get wider attention until 1843, after the treaty, when Jared Spark’s discovery of a “red-line” map in Paris (below) prompted a general search for these maps (Martin nd). Gallatin & Webster (1843, 69-74) append a transcript of the British parliamentary debate of March 21st, 1843 in which the existence of the George III and the Colonial Office maps was revealed. Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister, used the maps to argue that Webster had indeed acted in good faith during the treaty negotiations and had not ‘perfidiously’ misled the British negotiators, as some British newspapers had claimed.

Sparks’ discovery of the Vergennes map in the French archives led to some serious debates in the U.S. Senate, which were reported in the press (e.g., Niles’ National Register [14 Jan 1843] 317; ibid [11 Mar 1843] 25-26]; ibid [18 Mar 1843] 38]; ibid [15 Apr 1843] 102-4]). The central question was whether or not the U.S. had given away territory to the British in the recent treaty. It was in these circumstances that John Jay’s map was discovered among his papers. That map’s annotations — red line and text — were identified by William Jay as being in his father’s hand. Because Jay’s annotations demonstrated a boundary that was much more in the U.S. favor than any of the compromises and treaties made since 1783, the map became the subject of a special meeting of the New York Historical Society, on April 15th, 1843, addressed by two of the U.S. delegates to the Treaty of Washington, Albert Gallatin and Daniel Webster. The map itself was hung up above the speaker’s podium during Gallatin’s address and Webster’s commentary. It was then given to the society by the Jay family (Gallatin & Webster 1843, esp.19; Nile’s National Register [22 Apr 1843] 122).

I should also note that a number of publications produced in the late 1830s and early 1840s included newly published maps comprising extracts of the Mitchell Map, either copper-engraved or lithographed. I have yet to identify all of these publications but they include Report and Resolves in Relation to the North-Eastern Boundary, March, 1838, Massachusetts Senate Document, 67 (Boston, 1838) and also Gallatin’s address to the New York Historical Society (Gallatin & Webster 1843). The first is from some copy of the map; Gallatin’s is explicitly derived from John Jay’s copy.