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The First Great Modern Map of the Ohio River Valley and the Transappalachian West -- The Template for Real Estate Speculation in the American "West" During the 18th Century

Thomas Hutchins's seminal map of the "American West" is without question the most important and influential map of the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River published during the 18th Century.  First published in London in 1778, the map would become the template for exploration and investment in "the American West" following the conclusion of the American Revolution.   

Hutchins map is a towering landmark in American history, perhaps the single most important 18th century cartographic record of the American Midwest, Ohio Valley and the Transappalachian regions. Found in the Libraries of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom repeatedly referenced the map in correspondence in the next several decades after its publication, it was an essential reference object for envisioning the American West of the 18th Century and as a means of understanding prime real estate opportunities in the new republic, following the conclusion of the war.

In a letter to John Witherspoon (signer of the Declaration of Independence) on March 10, 1784, George Washington wrote:

. . . From this description of my Lands, with the aid of Evans’s or Hutchins’s map of that Country, a good general knowledge of their situation may be obtained by those who incline to become adventurers in the settlement of them. . . 

Hutchins' A New Map of the Western Parts of Virginia . . . was not only the best available map, it was also by far the largest map of what would become American Midwest, Kentucky and Tennessee.  A as such, it became the logical vehicle to educate European, British and American investors about the region's geography. Hutchins map shows the region between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, west to the Mississippi, which would become the Northwest Territory in 1787, the region which immediately became the site of the most extensive land speculation in American history.  Many newly organized land companies were established in the Northwest Territory by prominent Americans, who in turn promoted speculative opportunities to European investors.

The new capital raising ventures coincided with the French Revolution, and the great flight of capital from the devastating impact of the French Republican movement on the assets of royal families and their supporters. The United States, with its vast tracks of undeveloped land and abundant natural resources, was a natural safe haven for French aristocratic and mercantile class wealth, at a time when remaining invested in France was increasingly risky.

While somewhat underappreciated in modern times, the influx of European capital was instrumental to the development of the Midwest. By the end of the 18th century, vast tracts of America's backcountry, including the Northwest Territory, had been acquired or financed by foreign investment. As François Furstenberg notes in his remarkable analysis of the role of European capital in Frontier America:

[the] funneling of European capital into the northern and northwestern [American] backcountry may well be one of the most important-and most overlooked- features of the post-Revolutionary era , . . It was European capital, not American, that began to integrate the northern U. S. backcountry into the Atlantic world's trade networks.

Many of the American speculators were prominent politicians, such as Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, and Senator Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, which presumably insured that government policy would protect the interests of European capital. The net result was an influx of capital that forever changed the landscape of the Trans-Appalachian West. The Hutchins map must be regarded as the primary visual catalyst.

Thomas Hutchins & the First Modern Mapping of the Midwest

Thomas Hutchins was one of the most important cartographers operating in America during the second half of the eighteenth-century. An intrepid frontier explorer of great intellectual curiosity, even more than two centuries later, the breadth and high quality of his work remains absolutely astonishing. Born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, Hutchins joined the Pennsylvania militia at a very young age, and evidently received advanced training in surveying and draftsmanship. During the French & Indian War he served at Fort Pitt, the gateway to the Ohio Country, and mapped the shorelines of much of the lower Great Lakes. Returning to Philadelphia, Hutchins was assigned to General Henry Bouquet's Expedition to reconnoiter the upper Ohio Valley, resulting in his fine Map of the Country on the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers (1766). In 1766, he joined George Croghan and Harry Gordon on an epic descent of the Ohio to the Mississippi River, drafting a detailed hydrographic survey and making numerous scientific observations. He was subsequently charged with surveying the route of the proposed Iberville Canal, as well as various other locations in British West Florida.

In the mid-1770s, Hutchins drafted his groundbreaking and monumental manuscript map of the entire Trans-Appalachian West, A New Map of the Western part of Virginia. . . . It was the product of almost two decades of his own explorations combined with the finest available geographic intelligence gained from other authorities.

During the height of the American Revolution, Hutchins travelled to London in an effort to have his grand manuscript engraved and published, and became involved in the political intrigue that was gripping both sides of the Atlantic. While still technically serving as a British officer, a captain of the legendary 60th Regiment of Foot, Hutchins' loyalties increasingly lay with the Patriot cause. He crossed the channel to Paris, where he met Benjamin Franklin, who was then serving as the American ambassador to Versailles. Franklin, who was a leading speculator in Ohio Valley lands, was a great admirer of Hutchins' work. He also inducted Hutchins into the spy ring he was operating, the objective of which was to have well-placed American-sympathizers infiltrate official circles in London.

Hutchins promptly returned to London, and while he was arranging for the publication of his map, he fell under the suspicious gaze of William Knox, the Undersecretary of State for the Colonies. Knox (rightly) accused Hutchins of being an American spy and had the cartographer imprisoned and subjected to severe inquisition. Nevertheless, the great map was published towards the end of 1778, along with a separately issued descriptive pamphlet, A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina.

Upon his release by the British, Hutchins travelled to Paris, where he met with Benjamin Franklin. Interestingly, and perhaps due to Franklin's intervention, in 1781, the prominent Paris mapmaker, Georges-Louis Le Rouge (who also published Franklin's map of the Gulf Stream), published a French edition of the great Hutchins map, along with an edition of the pamphlet entitled Description Topographique de la Virginie, de la Pensylvanie, du Maryland, et de la Caroline Septentrionale. The French edition of the pamphlet attained considerable importance, as it was seen as the authoritative guidebook to the American backcountry by French investors, which includes a map of the lands of the Indiana Company, which Hutchins dedicated to Benjamin Franklin and which is not found in the 1778 English edition of the pamphlet.

Hutchins was eventually returned to America. Following the Revolution, he was appointed as the first Geographer of the United States, whereupon he assumed a leading role in developing the frontier lands he had been instrumental in exploring. He was the father of the Ordinance Survey system, which established the systematic division of the western lands into neat cadastral squares (townships), and was actively involved in a series of private land speculation schemes. Hutchins died in 1789, while preparing to lead an ambitious speculative endeavor in Spanish Louisiana.

Advertising The Hutchins Map For Sale

The following advertisements appeared in the Connecticut Journal (issue 927, page 1.), 1785 August 3rd (repeated on the 10th):

Just received, and to be sold at Isaac Beer's Book-Store, In NEW-HAVEN, [Price 5 Dollars] A FEW MAPS Of the interior Parts of NORTH-AMERICA, including the Lands intended for the NEW-STATES, which will be shortly disposed of by Order of CONGRESS; which for Luxuriency of Soil, and Temperature of Climate is not surpassed by any on the habitable GLOBE:--- Together with A TOPOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland & North-Carolina, Comprehending the Rivers OHIO, KENHAWA, SIOTO, CHEROKEE, WABASH, ILLINOIS, MISSISSIPPI, &c. --- THE CLIMATE, SOIL and PRODUCE, whether ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, or MINERAL:--- The MOUNTAINS, CREEKS, ROADS, DISTANCES, LATITUDES, &c. and of every Part, laid down in the MAP. By THOMAS HUTCHINS, Esq. Late Captain and Engineer in the British Army, and now Geographer General to the UNITED STATES of AMERICA.

With a Plan of the Rapids of the Ohio, a Plan of the several Villages in the Illinois Country, a Table of the Distances between Fort Pitt and the Mouth of the Ohio, all engraved upon Copper. And an APPENDIX, containing Mr. PATRICK KENNEDY'S Journal up the Illinois River, and a correct List of the different Nations and Tribes of Indians, with the Number of fighting Men, &c.

Description of the ILLINOIS COUNTRY.

THE Illinois country is in general of a superior soil to any other part of North-America that I have seen. It produces fine Oak, Hickory, Cedar, Mulberry trees, &c. some Dying roots and medicinal Plants; Hops, and excellent wild Grapes, and, in the year 1769, one hundred and ten hogsheads of strong Wine, were made by the French Settlers, from these Grapes. --- A large quantity of Sugar is also annually made from the juice of the Maple tree; and as the Mulberry trees are large and numerous, I presume the making of Silk will employ the attention and industry of the settlers, when the country is more fully inhabited than it is at present, and especially as the winters are much more moderate and favourable for the breed of Silk Worms, than they are in many of the sea coast provinces, --- Indigo may likewise be successfully cultivated --- (but not more than two cutting in a year;) Wheat, Peas, and Indian Corn thrive well, as does every sort of Grain and Pulse, that is produced in any of the old Colonies. Great quantities of Tobacco are also yearly raised by the Inhabitants of the Illinois, both for their own consumption and that of the Indians, but little has hitherto been exported to Europe. Hemp grows spontaneously, and is of a good texture; --- Its common height is 10 feet, and its thickness three inches (the latter reckoned within about a foot of the root) and with little labour, any quantity may be cultivated. Flax Seed has hitherto been only raised in small quantities. There has however been enough produced to shew, that it may be sown to the greatest advantage. Apples, Pears, Peaches, and all other European fruits succeed admirably. Iron, Copper, and Lead Mines, as also Salt springs, have been discovered in different parts of this territory. The two latter are worked on the Spanish side of the Mississippi, with considerable advantage to the owners. There is plenty of Fish in the Rivers, particularly Cat, Carp and Perch, of an uncommon size. --- Savannahs, or natural meadows, are both numerous and extensive; yielding excellent grass, and feeding great herds of Buffaloe, Deer, &c. Ducks, Teal, Geese, Swans, Cranes, Pelicans, Turkies, Pheasants, Partridges, &c. such as are seen in the Sea coast colonies, are in the greatest variety and abundance. --- In short, every thing, that a reasonable mind can desire, is to be found, or may, with little pains, be produced here.

N.B. The Plates of the above-mentioned Maps, were cut, and the Impressions taken in London, at the particular Request and Solicitation of Lord George Germain, and were sold in London at One Guinea each.

In summary, Hutchins' epic work is an exceedingly important historical artifact documenting the early endeavors to settle the American midwest. With unrivaled scope and detail, it depicts the Native American cessions, key transportation routes and settlements and the location of virtually all of the major land speculation schemes of the late 18th Century. It is without question, the single most important cartographic depiction of the region and an artifact that was used extensively in the selling of this region to European investors. 


The Hutchins is scarce on the market.  As a separately published map, many of the surviving examples were either segmented and kept as folding maps or otherwise heavily used over time.

Condition Description
Removed from board. Margins extended, with inner and outer neat lines added in facsimile on top, left and right side. Evidence of soiling and use in earlier times.
Brown, Ohio Valley, pl.51; Cumming, British Maps of Colonial America, p.36; Karpinski pp.167-168, no.LXXXXI; Phillips p.983, Pritchard & Taliaferro, no.49; Sellers & Van Ee, no.789. Cf. F. Furstenberg, ‘An Economic Interpretation: Reflections on European Investment in the Post-Revolution American Back Country . . . (Paper prepared for “Foreign Confidence: International Investment in North America, 1700-1860,” a conference held in Philadelphia, Oct. 11-12, 2012).