The young nation’s roads were limited in quantity and wretched in quality, a hindrance to communication, economic development, and defense of the far-flung frontiers. By the early 1790s therefore, the nation was embarked on an epic road- and canal-building effort, with most projects catalyzed by the state and Federal governments but executed by private chartered companies. In keeping with these developments a new American cartographic genre—the road map—began to emerge.

20. Christopher Colles, Survey of the Roads of the United States. New York, 1789[-1792]. Images courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection.

Colles failed at every major endeavor he attempted, yet he is one of the great figures of early American applied science. Among other accomplishments, he designed New York City’s first public water supply (though work was halted by the Revolution) and was the first to advocate for what became the Erie Canal.

His best-known accomplishment was the Survey of the Roads of the United States. Advertised in 1789 and issued in parts through 1792, it too was never finished and is today excessively rare. The most complete version consists of 83 sheets of “strip maps” covering roughly 1000 miles of roads between Albany, NY and York, VA. Those south of New York City are based on maps made during the Revolution by Simeon DeWitt, Geographer to the Continental Army, while those to the north and east are likely based on surveys by Colles using an odometer of his own design.

Illustrated here are the title page, subscription form, and the first two sheets of Survey of the Roads of the United States.

21. John Adlum and John Wallis, A Map Exhibiting A GENERAL VIEW of the Roads and Inland Navigation OF PENNSYLVANIA … [Philadelphia, probably late 1792-early 1793]. Image courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

Due to the lack of easy communication between Philadelphia and the West, leading Pennsylvanians were concerned about maintaining the city’s position as a commercial hub. For that reason the Society for Promoting the Improvement of Roads and Inland Navigation advocated developing a turnpike and canal system linking Philadelphia to the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes. The Society probably commissioned Adlum and Wallis to make this map, which depicts the region’s existing transportation network and lays out numerous “improvements.”

Adlum was a prominent Pennsylvania surveyor and had been involved in surveys of the state’s boundaries and for a canal linking the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Rivers (Oddly, that route is not shown on this map). Unlike most of his fellow mapmakers he did very well for himself and was able to establish estates in the District of Columbia and Havre de Grace, Maryland. He became a pioneer of American viticulture, sufficiently prominent that he exchanged advice and vine cuttings with Jefferson.

22. Abraham Bradley, Jr., Map of the United States… Philadelphia, September 26, 1796. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

During his long tenure as First Assistant Postmaster General, Bradley produced three remarkable maps of the United States. Appearing in 1796, 1804, and ca. 1825, each documented the expansion of the country and the fast-growing network of post roads that bound it together.

Displayed here is Bradley’s first map, depicting every American post route and post office, with the mileage between post offices indicated. The map is a complex compilation, and his sources included commercial maps; Federal surveys of the public lands; military and civilian surveys; and post road information obtained from legislators, postmasters, and postal contractors.

Bradley’s map is a fitting close to this exhibition. It shows how in just a few years since the Treaty of Paris the country had adopted a Constitution; welcomed Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee to the Union; created a model for settling the West; and built a bureaucracy and thousands of miles of roads to connect and serve its growing population. The national aspirations of 1783 had become a reality.