Prior to the Revolution one of many American grievances against Great Britain was the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement west of the Appalachians. Following independence the Proclamation was rendered null and void and one of history’s great land rushes began, as settlers poured over the mountains into Kentucky and the “Old Northwest” (the vast triangle of land between the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers). The Continental Congress sought—with limited success—to impose order on the process through diplomacy with the native tribes and legislation regulating the governance of new territories, their progression to statehood, and the systematic survey and sale of public lands.

The many players and complicated dynamics of this process are documented in the four maps displayed here. One of their distinguishing features is their “promotional” character, in that their makers had personal stakes in the regions depicted and saw map publication as a means of advancing their own interests.

16. John Filson, This Map of KENTUCKE, Drawn from actual Observations … Philadelphia, 1784. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the 1780s settlers such as John Filson poured into Kentucky via the Ohio River and Cumberland Gap. Filson purchased some 13,000 acres with land warrants—used in lieu of currency to pay Continental soldiers—and settled in Lexington. There he taught school, conducted surveys, and gathered information for his 1784 Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke.

Filson’s book was accompanied by this map, which was based on his own observations and “distinguished assistance” provided by Daniel Boone and other Kentucky pioneers. Though crude in appearance it is superior to any previous depiction of the area and provides a rich picture of the landscape, including roads (“some cleared, others not”), towns, dwelling houses, mills, forts, and even salt springs. Note “Boonsburg” and “Col. Boon’s” at right center. Filson’s book did little to benefit himself—he died violently in 1788—but did establish Boone as a frontier legend.

17. John Fitch, A MAP of the north west parts of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. Philadelphia, [1785]. Image courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection.

Fitch served briefly in the Continental Army but spent much of the Revolution engaged in business ventures that ultimately netted him little. Like Filson he sought his fortune in Kentucky, where he invested in land and worked as a surveyor. His travels took him far afield, including extensive surveys along the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. Captured by Indians in 1782, he was taken to Detroit, across Lakes Erie and Ontario, and finally to Quebec before being repatriated.

Before becoming consumed by his invention of the steamboat, in 1785 Fitch published this map, having compiled it primarily from McMurray’s map of the United States augmented by his own surveys (For the McMurray map, see item 2 in the “Nation” section of this exhibit.) He engraved it himself and printed it on a press of his own construction, purportedly a retrofitted cider press. Like McMurray, Fitch depicted the Old Northwest carved into ten proto-states as specified by the Land Ordinance of 1784 (Thomas Jefferson proposed to name them Illinoia, Michigania, Saratoga, Washingon, Chersonesus, Sylvania, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Polypotamia, and Pelisipia.)

17a. H[enry] D. Pursell, A MAP of the United States of N. AMERICA. Philadelphia, [1784]. Image courtesy of Boston Rare Maps.

This little map first appeared in Bailey’s pocket almanac (1784) and was—along with William McMurray’s map, which appears as item 2 in this exhibit–one of the first maps of the United States to appear in this country. It was also the only published map to give Jefferson’s names for the proposed states to be carved out of the Old Northwest. Of these, it is perhaps fortunate that only “Illinoia” and “Michigania” endured, albeit not in the locations they were originally assigned.

18. [Manasseh Cutler], Map of the Federal Territory from the Western Boundary of PENNSYLVANIA to the SCIOTO RIVER … [Salem, Mass., 1788]. Image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 required the public lands west of the Ohio to be surveyed into six-mile square townships and one-mile square sections before being sold to the public. This 1788 map by Cutler shows the progress of these surveys, with the grid pattern of townships clearly visible. Note the blank sections within each township reserved by the government for later sale and the shaded sections set off to benefit educational and religious establishments.

The map’s regularity conceals the complexity—and corruption—that marked the sale of public lands. Note for example the “Tract of Land purchased by the Ohio Company,” a vast parcel obtained for far less than the $1 per acre price set by the Ordinance of 1785. The deal was negotiated by Cutler, a clergyman, lawyer and gifted wheeler-dealer from Ipswich, Mass., who seems to have greased the wheels by making key legislators shareholders in the Company.

19. [Rufus Putnam], PLAN of the CITY MARIETTA … [No place of publication noted, ca. 1789?] Image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

Marietta was the first permanent American settlement beyond the Ohio River and marked a key step in implementing the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Ordinance gave the Old Northwest territorial status, provided for its governance, and prescribed its future division into several states. Marietta was the first capital of this new Northwest Territory and the headquarters of governor Arthur St. Clair.

This plan was likely drawn by Rufus Putnam, who in early 1788 led the city’s original settlers. Putnam was a Massachusetts native who had served in the Continental Army as a surveyor, engineer and infantry commander. He helped found the Ohio Company, which he saw as a means of giving war veterans a means of redeeming the land warrants with which they had been paid, while helping the new nation extend its control over the Northwest.

The plan is extraordinarily rare, with the only other known example residing at Marietta College.