Mathew Carey (1760-1839) was an American publisher who founded what would become the largest American publishing house of the nineteenth century. As a young man, he emigrated from Dublin to Philadelphia in 1784. A year later, in 1785, he set up a print shop and publishing house, where he was primarily a publisher of journals and serials, including the Pennsylvania Evening Herald. His first cartographic production, A General Atlas for the Present War, was issued in 1794. It is largely based on maps drawn from William Guthrie’s Atlas to Guthrie’s System of Geography, a popular text book of the period first issued in London in 1770.
In 1795, Carey published The General Atlas for Carey’s Edition of Guthrie’s Geography Improved, which included sixteen maps of the American States. These maps, plus five others, were issued under the title American Atlas later in 1795. The American Atlas holds the distinction of being the earliest general atlas of the United States. Engravers included William Barker, Joseph T. Scott, James Thackery and John Vallance of Philadelphia, Samuel Hill of Boston, Amos Doolittle of New Haven, Connecticut, and Benjamin Tanner of New York. Samuel Lewis served as geographer, draftsman, mapmaker and penman, and made substantial contributions to the work. Later, he partnered with Aaron Arrowsmith of London.
In 1796, Carey released his General Atlas, which included maps of the rest of the world. This work was issued with periodic updates through 1818. A second edition of Carey’s American Atlas was published in 1809, expanding the American coverage to 26 maps. During this time period, two of the maps which were offered with the atlas do not appear in all editions, Lewis’ map of the United States and his map of the Old Northwest Territory, which was published to illustrate the United States’ new land rights obtained in the Treaty of Grenville. Carey would also publish the first miniature atlas published in America, his American Pocket Atlas, published from 1796 to 1814.
Mathew Carey retired in 1822, leaving his son Henry Charles Carey and his son-in-law Isaac Lea the publishing house he had built over the prior four decades. He died in 1839. The pair conducted business as Carey & Lea, during which time they published A Complete Historical, Chronological and Geographical Atlas from 1822 to 1827. This work included roughly twenty maps engraved by Fielding Lucas Jr., as well as an American edition of Starling’s Cabinet Atlas. However, the firm increasingly turned away from cartographic publications.