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The Previously Unknown Final State -- Highlighting The Completion of The First Section of the Erie Canal

Previously unknown final state of Aaron Arrowsmith's landmark map of the United States, one of the most significant and influential maps of the early 19th Century.

First issued in 1796, Arrowsmith's 4-sheet map of the United States is one of the most influential maps of the the US in the late 18th and early 19th Century.  First issued at a time when it competed with Abraham Bradley's Postal Map of the United States for primacy among American and foreign buyers, the map would have an enduring impact on the cartographic history of America. The early states of the map would be used by Lewis & Clark on their expedition up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Ocean, and copied by prominent French and American mapmakers, such as Tardieu and Shelton & Kensett well into the 1810s. 

The popularity and enduring importance of Arrowsmith's map is reflected by its commercial success, with 13 known states of the map issued between 1796 and circa 1820.  As was  typical for Arrowsmith, the map was constantly updated with new information.  Arrowsmith was a keen consumer of geographical updates, so much so that the final states of the map required extra paste down flaps to show extension of the map to regions beyond its original printed borders.

The final major changes to the map were made in the 1819-1820 period. These reflect several important events, including the ratification of the Adams Onis Treaty in 1819, wherein the US obtained all of East and West Florida from the Spanish as well as significant improvements to the mapping of the Mississippi River, both as part of the search for its source and as the area around the river was settled following the conclusion of Louisiana Purchase, War of 1812 and the resultant decline of French and Spanish influence along the river.

Arrowsmith's treatment of the roads (with distances), inland waterways and their tributaries is quite meticulous, while mountains are shown with a bit less detail. 'Dozens of U.S. Army forts and many Native American towns and villages are shown, particularly in the South. The progress of western expansion is shown, including the newly-admitted states of Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818) and Alabama (1819), but by forts and towns established as far west as the Mississippi River and even further west into Louisiana, although vast regions are still  Native Americans lands.

The interior detail of the trans-Mississippi west was initially compiled largely from accounts supplied by Native Americans to Arrowsmith, by the Hudson's Bay Company. The course of the Missouri River delineated on the map prompted Lewis and Clark to plot their course along the Missouri River, as it appeared to be the most direct route to the Pacific. With time, the details were constantly refined.

In the present example, the Upper Midwest and South are beginning to take a more recognizable shape. Indiana, Illinois Territory anbd Michigan Territory are now relatively well identified, with a massive Northwest Territory shown. In the South, while Mississippi Territory is shown, an early primitive attempt is made (by the Arrowsmith firm in original outline color) to delineate the recently created Alabama Territory.   Curiously, this has been done in away that truncates the southeastern tip of Louisiana, placing Lake Ponchetrain and vicinity in Alabama Territory.

The Previously Unknown Final State

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the map is the treatment of the progress on the construction of the Erie Canal.  Prior to these last few states, the Canal had not yet commenced in earnest but by 1819, construction was well under way.  Beginning in about 1819, the route of the Canal was shown, with a dotted line, which appears intermittently between Albany and Grand Island, just north of Buffalo.  Commenced in 1817 and completed in 1825, the progress of the Erie Canal would have been followed closely by British investors and commercial interests, as its completion would meaningfully change the commercial routes in America. To a great extent, the Erie Canal was financed by British investors,  even if this was seldom direct. If an importer bought British goods, it was safer to pay in bonds than gold. An American importer might buy bonds issued by the New York state to pay for the canal, then send them to London as payment for goods.  

The present example, unlike all other known examples, identifies the Erie Canal as the "Gr. Canal" (the Canal is unnamed in all other states).  The placement of the name between the Seneca River and the Mohawk River likely coincided with the completion of the so-called middle section of the Canal (between the two rivers), which occurred in 1820.  Along Muddy Creek, just to the west of the name, there are several changes to the course of the Canal from the earlier 1819 states of the map.  The entire canal route is outlined in blue by the publisher, the only known example of the map to show the outlining of the Canal.

It must be assumed that the progress of the Erie Canal was likely the impetus for the creation of this final state of the map.

States of the Map

We note the following states:

  • State 1: Dated 1796.  Charles Street address for Arrowsmith. The ‘Tennassee Government’ is so labelled. In the lower left, there is panel of text, headed ‘Boundaries Communicated by Geo. Chalmers Esq.r’.
  • State 2:  (1796) Tennassee named. With map extensively revised and updated.
  • State 3:  (circa 1799) Arrowsmith’s address changed to Rathbone Place.
  • State 4:  Dated 1802.  Imprint updated to "Additions to 1802".
  • State 5: (Circa 1804)  Text block noting boundaries communicated by Chalmers has been deleted.
  • State 6: (Circa 1808)  Arrowsmith’s address changed to 10 Soho Square.
  • State 7: (Circa 1810)  Arrowsmith is now referenced as "Hydrographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales".
  • State 8: (Circa 1810) Michigan and Ohio Territories are now delineated with borders and named.
  • State 9:  Dated 1815.  Imprint now reads "… Additions to 1802 ___ 1815."
  • State 10: Dated 1816. Imprint now reads "… Additions to 1802 ___ 1816."
  • State 11: Dated 1818. Imprint now reads "… Additions to 1802 ___ 1818."
  • State 12: Dated 1819. Title now reads "...Additions to 1819’. The Northwest Territory, Indiana, Louisiana, Illinois Territory, Missouri Territory and Mississippi Territory are marked. This state can be found with or without extension 2 flaps affixed to the left-hand sheets (top left extending Mississippi River and bottom left, extending Mississippi Delta).
  • State 13: (Circa 1820) Title now identifies Aaron Arrowsmith as Hydrographer to H.R.H. His Majesty.  Includes flaps noted above.
  • State 14:  (Circa 1820) Erie Canal re-engraved and “Gr. Canal” added either in manuscript or print.  The course of the Erie Canal has been revised in several places along the Middle Section of the Canal between the Mohawk River and Seneca River, primarily in 3 places in the Muddy Creek area.  State of Alabama indicated by added outline color, outline color to Louisiana erroneously shows its eastern boundary along the Mississippi.


This State 14 was previously known to bibliographers and scholars.

State 13 is known in two confirmed examples.  David Rumsey Collection/Stanford University and University of Illinois.

Condition Description
Segmented and laid on linen, with 2 additional paste down additions (one tipped-on to margin, one pasted to margin). Printed on 4 sheets, which have been joined and then segmented.
Stevens & Tree 79(e).
Aaron Arrowsmith Biography

The Arrowsmiths were a cartographic dynasty which operated from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The family business was founded by Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), who was renowned for carefully prepared and meticulously updated maps, globes, and charts. He created many maps that covered multiple sheets and which were massive in total size. His spare yet exacting style was recognized around the world and mapmakers from other countries, especially the young country of the United States, sought his maps and charts as exemplars for their own work.

Aaron Arrowsmith was born in County Durham in 1750. He came to London for work around 1770, where he found employment as a surveyor for the city’s mapmakers. By 1790, he had set up his own shop which specialized in general charts. Arrowsmith had five premises in his career, most of which were located on or near Soho Square, a neighborhood the led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Joseph Banks, the naturalist, and Matthew Flinders, the hydrographer.

Through his business ties and employment at the Hydrographic Office, Arrowsmith made other important relationships with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others entities. In 1810 he became Hydrographer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1820, Hydrographer to the King.

Aaron Arrowsmith died in 1823, whereby the business and title of Hydrographer to the King passed to his sons, Aaron and Samuel, and, later, his nephew, John. Aaron Jr. (1802-1854) was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and left the family business in 1832; instead, he enrolled at Oxford to study to become a minister. Samuel (1805-1839) joined Aaron as a partner in the business and they traded together until Aaron left for the ministry. Samuel died at age 34 in 1839; his brother presided over his funeral. The remaining stock and copper plates were bought at auction by John Arrowsmith, their cousin.

John (1790-1873) operated his own independent business after his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith Sr., died. After 1839, John moved into the Soho premises of his uncle and cousins. John enjoyed considerable recognition in the geography and exploration community. Like Aaron Jr., John was a founder member of the RGS and would serve as its unofficial cartographer for 43 years. Several geographical features in Australia and Canada are named after him. He carried the title Hydrographer to Queen Victoria. He died in 1873 and the majority of his stock was eventually bought by Edward Stanford, who co-founded Stanford’s map shop, which is still open in Covent Garden, London today.