Mitchell's Map of New Orleans
Published at the cusp of the Civil War, the SA Mitchell Jr. map of New Orleans provides a captivating window into the city's history during a tumultuous period. As a cartographic document, it captures the changing urban landscape of one of America's most vibrant cities. It also echoes the city's evolution from its colonial past into a bustling metropolis, characterized by economic growth, cultural diversity, and the shadows of a brewing national conflict.
In the mid-19th century, New Orleans stood as the South's largest city and a significant player in the national and international economy. The city's location at the mouth of the Mississippi River had cemented its role as a crucial hub for trade and commerce. Cotton, sugar, and slaves were the lifeblood of its economy, connecting the city to a broad network of regional and global markets.
Oriented with West at the top, the map is hand-colored by wards, and offers a detailed snapshot of the city at this pivotal time. It illustrates a thriving metropolis.
Key infrastructural elements are also depicted on the map. The rail lines, freshly laid and reflecting the technological advances of the era, represent the city's increasing interconnectedness with the broader American landscape. Notably, these tracks would play a strategic role in the imminent Civil War, serving both military and civilian transportation needs. The canals, built earlier in the century, are also prominently shown.
Following the Civil War, the city underwent significant transformations. Reconstruction brought a period of political and social upheaval, with the city witnessing waves of changes in its urban structure and racial dynamics. By 1880, New Orleans had become a microcosm of the New South, grappling with the legacy of its past while seeking to define its future.
Samuel Augustus Mitchell Jr. inherited the Mitchell Company from his father in 1860. For over thirty years, the company had specialized in the production of school atlases and wall maps of America. They were one of the pioneers on engraving on steel plates. In 1860, Samuel Jr. released the New General Atlas, which had been compiled in house and replaced a previous atlas by Tanner. The elder Mitchell died in 1868 and Samuel Jr. continued the business until the 1890s. At its height, the Mitchell Company employed 250 people and sold 400,000 publications annually.