The First official State of Map of South Carolina, By The Designer of the Defenses of Charleston During the War of 1812.
The first official state map of South Carolina, and one of the first such maps wholly conceived and executed under the auspices of a state government. The Wilson map was the product of over five years of surveying by 20 surveyors, and vastly improved the geography of the Mouzon map of 1775.
The map includes an inset map of Charleston harbor in the lower left corner.
Wilson's map was the brainchild of Professor George Blackburn of South Carolina College, who was commissioned by the state legislature to supervise its creation in December 1815. Blackburn gathered a team of 19 or 20 of the state's best surveyors to map its 28 judicial districts. When the project was completed the cost exceeded $90,000.
The 1820s marked a highpoint in the cartography of South Carolina; the immense expense lavished on the surveying of the state gave rise to the Wilson map. The surveys conducted for the Wilson map also served as the basis for the district maps in Robert Mills' Atlas of the State of South Carolina of 1825, the first state atlas published in the US. Mills's Atlas was far more detailed than the Burr Atlas of New York State, 1829, and the other comparable early state atlases.
John Wilson (1789-1833) was born in Stirling, Scotland, to Lieutenant John Wilson. The elder Wilson served as an engineer with the British forces under Major Moncrief during the American Revolution. He was severely wounded at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780.
The younger John was educated at the University of Edinburgh. He emigrated to United States and was married in Charleston, to Eliza Gibbes, in 1811. He also became a naturalized citizen of the United States. When the War of 1812 started, Wilson offered his services as an engineer and served under the command of General Thomas Pinckney. During the war he planned and constructed the fortifications of Charleston. At the close of the war he was commissioned as Major in the Topographical Corps. He resigned that post after a few months service.
From 1818 to 1819, Mr. Wilson was "civil and military engineer of South Carolina" but he found it impossible to manage the forty plus projects across the state. On the map he is referred to as "late Civil & Military Engineer..." In this role he helped compile the surveys for the present map. In the imprint Wilson is listed as "Agent of the Board of Publics Works of the State of South Carolina."
After practicing his profession in Charleston for several years he moved his family to Philadelphia in 1826. In 1827, Major Wilson was appointed, by the Canal Commissioners of Pennsylvania, as Chief Engineer for the survey, for the location and construction of a railway from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River. Ill health compelled him to resign his position before the completion of the work; and he died in 1833 while on board a ship in the harbor of Matanzas, Cuba (some sources report it was 1832). His son, W. Hasell Wilson (1811-1902), was a civil engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Henry Tanner was commissioned to engrave and print the map. He referred to it as "One of our best and most scientific maps" when offering it for sale.
The Wilson belongs to an important group of early state maps, including among others: Reading Howell's A Map of the State of Pennsylvania (1792); Elihu Barker's A Map of Kentucky from Actual Survey By Elihu Barker (1793); Osgood Carleton's Massachusetts (1798); Simeon De Witt's A Map of the State of New York (1802) ; the Madison-Prentis-Davis A Map of Virginia (1807); the Price-Strother The First Actual Survey of the State of North Carolina . . . 1808; and the Sturges-Early Map Of The State of Georgia (1818).