Scarce First State of Colton's Map of Some of the Earliest Oil Fields in the United States.
Hand-colored lithographed map of the West Virginia oil region off the Little Kanawha River. Colton published the map in New York in 1865.
The map shows a concentration of oil wells along the North Western Virginia Railroad and Walkers and Goose Creeks, including "Welling Co. Wells 15 Wells worked by 1 Engine". There are other "oil regions" scattered along creeks elsewhere in West Virginia on the map. In Ohio north of Marietta, there are named oil wells, gas wells, and coal scattered around. Many of the creeks and streams are labeled "Oil" "Oil" "Oil" giving the sense that the rivers are overflowing with oil.
The West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey gives the following summary of the early history of the oil and gas industry in West Virginia:
The oil and gas industry in West Virginia actually began as an outgrowth of the salt industry. In the early 1800s, oil and gas had no importance in West Virginia, and though saltmakers frequently hit oil or gas in their drilling, they considered it a nuisance. In fact, so much oil was diverted to the Kanawha River by salt manufactures that it was long known as "Old Greasy" to the boatmen. Gas was first struck in a well drilled for salt at Charleston in 1815. Once the value of oil and gas was realized, the Great Kanawha Valley region became a pioneer in the discovery of petroleum by boring and in the use of oil and gas on a commercial scale. By 1826, oil was used for lamps in workshops and factories. The drilling tools, jars, and casing, first developed in 1806 by the Ruffner brothers for the salt industry, became essential equipment to the petroleum industry of the United States.
On the Little Kanawha River, near the Hughes River, was a stream called Burning Springs Run, named because there were two springs at its mouth from which natural gas escaped. As early as 1781, Thomas Jefferson described the brilliant flame which could be produced by thrusting a lighted candle into the escaping gas at this site. Because gas and salt brine were often associated, the Rathbone brothers bored a salt well near these springs. However, rather than salt, at a depth of 200 feet they hit petroleum and by boring deeper, they were able to produce 200 barrels per day in 1859. Although petroleum was not the treasure that the Rathbones sought, they were encouraged by their find and drilled a second well which yielded 1,200 barrels of petroleum daily. News of the Rathbone brothers' discovery spread rapidly and created tremendous excitement. By 1861, a town with several thousand inhabitants had sprung up. All of the light in the newly-formed town, including that for a brilliantly lit hotel, was provided by natural gas. The widespread use of gas in this town marked the beginning of the era of gas development in West Virginia. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil were being floated down the river to Parkersburg where they were then sent to other cities by rail or river. The Burning Springs oil field was one of only two oil fields in America prior to the Civil War. But by 1876, there were 292 wells in the State, producing a total of 900 barrels daily. Parkersburg was the chief oil market.
G. W. & C. B. Colton was a prominent family firm of mapmakers who were leaders in the American map trade in the nineteenth century. Its founder, Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893), was a Massachusetts native. Colton did not start in the map trade; rather, he worked in a general store from 1816 to 1829 and then as a night clerk at the United States Post Office in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1830, he was in New York City, where he set up his publishing business a year later.
The first printed item with his imprint is dated 1833, a reprint of S. Stiles & Company’s edition of David Burr’s map of the state of New York. He also printed John Disturnell’s map of New York City in 1833. Colton’s next cartographic venture was in 1835, when he acquired the rights to John Farmer’s seminal maps of Michigan and Wisconsin. Another early and important Colton work is his Topographical Map of the City and County of New York and the Adjacent Country (1836). In 1839, Colton began issuing the Western Tourist and Emigrant’s Guide, which was originally issued by J. Calvin Smith.
During this first decade, Colton did not have a resident map engraver; he relied upon copyrights purchased from other map makers, most often S. Stiles & Company, and later Stiles, Sherman & Smith. Smith was a charter member of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, as was John Disturnell. This connection would bear fruit for Colton during the early period in his career, helping him to acquire the rights to several important maps. By 1850, the Colton firm was one of the primary publishers of guidebooks and immigrant and railroad maps, known for the high-quality steel plate engravings with decorative borders and hand watercolors.
In 1846, Colton published Colton’s Map of the United States of America, British Possessions . . . his first venture into the wall map business. This work would be issued until 1884 and was the first of several successful wall maps issued by the firm, including collaborative works with D.G. Johnson. From the 1840s to 1855, the firm focused on the production of railroad maps. Later, it published a number of Civil War maps.
In 1855, Colton finally issued his first atlas, Colton’s Atlas of the World, issued in two volumes in 1855 and 1856. In 1857 the work was reduced to a single volume under the title of Colton’s General Atlas, which was published in largely the same format until 1888. It is in this work that George Woolworth (G. W.) Colton’s name appears for the first time.
Born in 1827 and lacking formal training as a mapmaker, G. W. joined his father’s business and would later help it to thrive. His brother Charles B. (C. B.) Colton would also join the firm. Beginning in 1859, the General Atlas gives credit to Johnson & Browning, a credit which disappears after 1860, when Johnson & Browning launched their own atlas venture, Johnson’s New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas, which bears Colton’s name as the publisher in the 1860 and 1861 editions.
J.H. Colton also published a number of smaller atlases and school geographies, including his Atlas of America (1854-56), his Illustrated Cabinet Atlas (1859), Colton’s Condensed Cabinet Atlas of Descriptive Geography (1864) and Colton’s Quarto Atlas of the World (1865). From 1850 to the early 1890s, the firm also published several school atlases and pocket maps. The firm continued until the late 1890s, when it merged with a competitor and then ceased to trade under the name Colton.