Item #16000058 Abraham BRADLEY JR.

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The First Truly American Map of the United States As Well As a Remarkable Record of the Early U. S. Postal System
[Washington, DC, 1804 [1809]]

United States/ Postal History.  BRADLEY Jr., Abraham. [Washington, DC, 1804 [1809]]  Map of the United States Exhibiting the Post-Roads, the situations, connexions & distances of the Post-Offices Stage Roads, Counties, & Principal Rivers By Abraham Bradley, Junr. [Imprint:] Entered According to the Act of Congress the 2nd day of June 1804 by Abraham Bradley Junr. of the District of Columbia. 37 x 51 inches.  Four engraved sheets expertly re-mounted on new linen and fully stabilized; original color, oxidized to brown; overall age-toned as usually seen; tack holes along top margin, relatively minor abrasion, overall a superior example relative to this map’s usual condition.     

Very rare. This is arguably the foundation map of American-produced cartography.  In addition to being one of the earliest maps of the United States published in the United States, it “represented the first clear cartographic break from European-dominated mapmaking and introduced a new, more distinctly American style of cartography to the United States” (Ristow).  Moreover, “the map was largely based on new information,” personally gathered by Bradley in his capacity as assistant postmaster general of the United States.  As a result, no map of the period provides a cartographic portrait of the early Federal-period United States with anything approaching the depth of detail and freshness of information of this one.  Moreover, Bradley continuously updated the map with new information. 

Despite its many iterations, few examples of this map survived. Most examples of it were originally hung as wall maps in postal administrative offices and thus didn’t survive heavy use and exposure.

The Bradley map apparently was for many years the de facto status as the map-of-record of the then, rapidly expanding postal system of the United States.  It was formally named the official map of the Postal Department around 1825.  The map delineates the postal routes throughout the United States as well as gives the distances and times between stops.  The map is, however, a matchless historical resource simply by virtue of the plethora of place names that appear.  These seem to have been continuously augmented judging from the fact that several place names on this copy have clearly darker inking.  (Remarkably, this crucial aspect of the map has yet to receive a thorough study that would attempt to correlate date of issue with the presence of particular place names.)  Another aspect of the Bradley map that merits further study are towns on it that did not survive, which is a largely untold story of the development of the United States.  Bradley’s map was also very current as to political geography and was continuously updated to show newly created states, territories and counties, as well as their boundary lines. 

The Bradley map has a relatively complex publication history, which has been far from completely studied.  In part, the map’s rarity has contributed to the difficulties.  This has been significantly remedied by an excellent, recent study of the Bradley map; see reference below. As rare as it is, the complete Bradley map is nevertheless known in three separate version with several states of each.  (Some months prior to the publication of a complete version of the map in 1796, a separate publication of the Northeast sheet appeared (Wheat & Brun 127); it, however, was a different engraving than the Northeast sheet that would be used for the complete map.)  Wheat and Brun (nos. 128-130) identify three states of the 1796 edition. 

A second, significantly updated, re-engraved version of the map appeared in 1804; our example is a state of this version, as is explained below.  The 1796 Bradley map soon became outmoded as a result of the expansion of both the United States itself and of the postal system; the latter increased from 450 to 1405 post offices between 1796 and 1804.  Many of the changes necessitating a new map were the direct result of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.  Most evident is the expansion of the coverage of the map much farther west than the 1796 edition.  (Over all, the 1804 map was 50% larger than the 1796.) This allowed the map to incorporate the just-formed Orleans Territory (existing from 1804 to 1812) as well as other Trans-Mississippi West information. A significant change involves the large inset at lower right.  In the 1796 map this space was occupied by a diagram of the postal system, whereas in the 1804 map there is a large map of North America, which clearly displays the extent of the Louisiana Purchase and names it as such. It also shows the boundaries of the newly formed territories of the youthful country.  Rumsey says he has identified states of this edition dating from 1804, 1806, 1809 and 1812, but adds that more are almost certain to emerge.  A final version of the map was published by Harrison in 1819, and it was issued as late as 1829. 

Internal evidence suggests the example offered here is an 1809 state of the map.  Illinois is shown on the map as a territory, which was formed in 1809, but Louisiana, which became a state in 1812, is not shown as such.  The short-lived Orleans Territory, which existed from 1804 to 1812, out of which the state of Louisiana would be formed with somewhat altered boundaries, is shown.  Other recent information reflected on the map is the depiction of Michigan as a territory (formed in 1805) and of Ohio as a state (1803).  Also, of the great importance, the map provides an up-to-date picture of the extent of the U.S. Ordnance Survey.  Not only are surveyed lands in New York and Ohio shown as expected, but then more recent surveys in the Indiana Territory and western Ohio also appear.

Ristow, W. American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 70-1; Rumsey 3043 & cf. 2929; cf. Wheat & Brun 128-130; Caldwell, L./ Buehler, M. “Picturing a Networked Nation: Abraham Bradley’s Landmark U.S. Postal Maps.” The Portolan;  Issue 77, Spring 2010.




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