V. The Irony of Empire


This document explores the Osher Map Library’s fourth-edition Mitchell Map, with the treaty-line annotations originally created by Richard Oswald during the preliminary negotiations in 1782 for the Treaty of Paris. Please refer to the discussion of the Treaty for details on how Mitchell’s map was actually used in the peace negotiations.

The Osher Map Library’s Fourth Edition

The fourth-edition Mitchell Map acquired in 1997 by the Osher Map Library has two distinct sets of coloring added to the printed base map: the color wash which identify the separate colonies, and the lines indicating the interpretations of different eighteenth-century treaties as they affected the territorial divisions of North America. The presence of these annotations on Mitchell’s map, itself a paeon to British power in North America, encapsulates the irony of empire.

The Color Wash

The coloring of the colonies is quite interesting. Two points stand out in particular. First, whereas most of the colonies which would eventually constitute the United States are colored separately, the New England colonies are lumped together and colored as a whole (in cream/yellow with yellow trim). Second, the green of Canada extends deep into the future United States, as far south as the Ohio River and as far west as the Mississippi.

Some correspondents in the U.K. have suggested that the coloring of New England might indicate that the map was originally colored in the 1810s, when there was a serious movement among New Englanders to secede from the union. (This movement culminated in the Hartford Convention of 1818.) It is however more likely that the wash color was applied under the direction of the publisher between the time it was printed and sold. That would date the coloring to the later eighteenth century.

This opinion is based on the fact that John Jay’s map — a third edition, first issue from 1773-75 — has the same style of wash coloring, which was certainly applied before 1782. Albert Gallatin described the coloring of the colonies on that map:

“Nova Scotia is designated by a red border, the ground not being colored. New England is colored yellow, New York blue, &c., and Canada green.” (Gallatin & Webster 1843, 20)

The same coloring is found on a copy of the third edition, second issue in the National Archives (Record Group 76, Cartographic Series 27, Map 3; Goggin 1968, item 18). The Osher Map Library’s map has the same colors, with only the small exception that Nova Scotia is colored pink with an amber/orange border. (The blue of New York has faded somewhat.) The early date to the coloring is reinforced by the regions colored green for Canada. Referring to that extension of Canada into the Ohio country, Gallatin stated that “The Québec Act [of 1774] is the only public act which ever gave that extension to Canada. … There can be no doub that [John Jay’s] map was colored during or subsequent to the year 1774, and very little that the whole of the map was colored at the same time” (Gallatin & Webster 1843, 20). Clearly, this sort of coloring would not have been applied after 1783 and the British recognition of the United States. The Osher Map Library’s fourth edition has the same coloring.

One area of concern in this interpretation of the dating of the map’s color wash is the northern boundary of Canada with the territories of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In Mitchell’s original engraving, in 1755, this boundary was shown as a fluctuating east-west line running across the top of the map. This boundary was not deleted for the third or fourth editions, and the Osher Map Library’s fourth edition has Canada colored to that boundary. It should, perhaps, only have been colored as far north as the 49th parallel and the boundary established by the Québec Act. George III’s map, used by Richard Oswald in Paris in 1782, has Canada colored up to the 49th parallel, and no further, although the older boundary is still highlighted.

Clearly, there is a need for more detailed research, especially with respect to comparing individual copies of Mitchell’s map, for these issues to be worked out more fully. In the mean time, I am confident that the Osher Map Library’s fourth edition received its color from the publisher in the later-eighteenth century.

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The Treaty Lines

When Richard Oswald used a fourth edition Mitchell Map during the preliminary negotiations at the Treaty of Paris, in late 1782, he annotated his map with a series of quite thick lines representing the different treaties that affected eighteenth-century North America. These lines represented:

red & blue = The British interpretation of British boundaries as defined by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713-14). This boundary ran up the Mississippi (the limit of Spanish territory), then up the Illinois River to Lake Michigan, around what is today southern Ontario to the St. Lawrence and thence to the sea. At sea, the same line served as the limits of exclusive fishing rights (30 leagues/90 miles off the coast).

green & yellow = The French interpretation of the same boundaries as defined by the Treaty of Utrecht. The French argued that they had legitimate control of the lands between the Mississippi and the Appalachians. (The yellow line has also been interpreted as the “Proclamation Line” of 1763, dividing European settlement from Indian Lands, but this signification is not specified by the textual annotations.)

red & pink = The boundary of Nova Scotia (including French Acadia) as defined by the Treaty of Utrecht.

red & blue (again) = The boundary between Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company, as defined by the Québec Act of 1774. To these, Oswald added the boundary lines proposed for the United States during the conference. The proposals were erased; the thin red line represents the British understanding of the final version as promulgated in the treaty of September 1783. Oswald subsequently gave the map to George III, who annotated the red line with “Boundary as described by Mr. Oswald.”

The questions that face the reader of the Osher Map Library’s fourth edition, is when — and why — were these lines added to the map? Unfortunately, these questions are hard to answer.

The terminus post quod — late 1898 — is given by the manuscript annotation at the lower-right of sheet 4, above the scale bars (image below).

As his signature suggests, J. E Hawkins was a draughtsman in the War Office. The official tie is reinforced by the map’s being discovered among the estate of a collector of British government documents. On the other hand, the map does not have the official stamp which it would have received had it been intended as a formal government document.

B. F. Stevens made his copy of King George III’s map for the U.S. Department of State in 1897, after being delayed by about a decade because the original map had been transferred to the British Foreign Office and was unavailable for study in the British Museum. That the map’s annotations were copied at that time onto the current map is suggested by the results of a (cursory) ink analysis undertaken by Sotheby’s before the map was auctioned off in June 1995:

“From an analysis of the coloured annotations in the present copy, Dr. Nicholas Eastaugh has found the presence of chrome yellow in the yellow markings and the natural dystuff cochineal in the red. The occurance of chrome yellow has led Dr. Eastaugh to conclude that the earliest likely date for the annotations lies in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, while he considers that the absence of synthetic dyestuffs in the ink suggests that the annotations are probably (though not necessarily) earlier than the 1890s.”

Given such an analysis, the map failed at that time to find a buyer. The analysis is however suggestive of a copy made perhaps in the 1880s.

It is highly unlikely that the map was made by Stevens, or by his draftsman, in 1897. Stevens has left good documentation of the Mitchell Maps that he had acquired in Europe, and all the fourth edition maps are accounted for (Record Group 76 Cartographic Series 27-28; see Goggin 1968, item. 18 and 19).

The options are thus (1) that Hawkins made the annotations himself in 1898 (for why else would a lowly draughtsman have certified as to their correctness?) or (2) that the annotations were made earlier perhaps in the 1880s.

As to why the annotations were made, that is even harder to answer. Dr. Andrew Cook, of the British Library, has suggested in private correspondence that they might have been made as part of the British case for a legal dispute over fishing rights. Certainly, the Canadian government made a colored facsimile of King George III’s map (by collotype, at a 75% reduction) in 1909 (?) as “map 23” in a collection “accompanying British case re North Atlantic fisheries.” In order to say anything more beyond this hint requires detailed research in the British archives.

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