Part Three: Towns 

 

By the late 1780s urban development had long-outpaced existing British maps.  Most of these focused on the metropolitan areas of Boston, New York and Philadelphia and were based on surveys conducted in the 1760s or even earlier.  The need for up-to-date urban maps was met by local mapmakers and engravers, whose work often conveyed an intimate knowledge of place and a pride of citizenship not evident in their British predecessors. 

Click on the maps to view in high resolution.

8.  A.P. Folie, French Geographer, PLAN of the Town of BALTIMORE AND IT’S ENVIRONS… Philadelphia, 1792.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

After the Revolution Baltimore began to grow explosively, and by 1800 it was the nation’s third-most-populous town.  It grew in extent as well, both out into the countryside and—like Boston—into its harbor through a process of wharfing-out and fill. 

Folie’s plan conveys the impression of a dynamic and growing metropolis.  While highlighting its large built-up area, many public edifices, and the stream of traffic in the harbor, it also shows an even larger zone laid out and awaiting development.  Similarly, a line in the harbor indicates the point “beyond which improvements shall not extend.” 

The plan’s decorative qualities—notably the sailing vessels and the ornate cartouche—are uncharacteristic of American maps of this era.  But this exception helps prove the rule:  Folie was by his own account a “French geographer,” apparently a refugee from the violence of a slave revolt in St. Domingue (Haiti).

9.  Phinehas Merrill, PLAN of the TOWN of STRATHAM.  [No place of publication noted], July 17, 1793.  Image courtesy of Larry Caldwell.

Postwar American mapmaking was not confined to Boston, New York and Philadelphia: maps were published in places such as Ryegate, Vermont; Albany, New York—even New Bern, North Carolina.  An example of such a “regional” production is this map by Merrill, which at first impression appears to be a diminutive work of folk art.  Closer inspection however reveals considerable sophistication, evident in the use of a consistent scale, the boundary coordinates, the wealth of land ownership data, and the consistent iconography.  Note for example the tiny dwellings shown in profile, in what is probably an attempt to indicate their orientation to the road.

Few of Merrill’s cartographic works are extant.  His only other published maps are two little maps of Exeter, New Hampshire (1802), and he also made important contributions to Philipp Carrigain’s New Hampshire by Recent Survey (1816).

10.  Osgood Carleton Teacher of Mathematics in Boston, An ACCURATE PLAN OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON, And its Vicinity…  Boston, May 16, 1797.  Image courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection.

Carleton’s plan of Boston was the largest and most accurate map of the town published to date.  It was based primarily on a survey he conducted “by order of the General Court,” as part of the state mapping project begun in 1794 (see item 6 in the “States” section of this exhibit).  Information from surrounding towns came from similar surveys by Samuel Thompson and Mather Whitherington. 

This was one of the last significant maps of Boston before the great land-making projects of the 19th century.  Even so signs of development abound, such as the new State House on Beacon Hill land that once belonged to John Hancock, as well as the Charles River and West Boston Bridges (built in 1786 and 1793 respectively).  Note too the ropewalks constructed on the Charles River mud flats just east of the Common—the precursors of the massive fill that ultimately created the Back Bay neighborhood.