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1841 Wilkes Map of the Oregon Territory (Oregon, Washington, Utah, British Columbia, California)


Map of the Oregon Territory by the U.S. Ex. Ex.
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Price: $2,000.00
Title:    Map of the Oregon Territory by the U.S. Ex. Ex.

Description:    This important and extraordinary production is Commodore Wilkes' 1841 U.S. Exploring Expedition map of Oregon Territory. The map covers roughly from the 50th parallel to Mount Shasta, the upper Sacramento River, and Great Salt Lake (labeled Youta Lake) and from the Pacific to the Black Hills. It includes, either in part or full, modern day Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Vancouver, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, and California. A large inset occupying left quadrants focuses on the Columbia River where the United States Exploring Expedition lost one of its ships, the Peacock, on the infamous Columbia Bar. Topography is rendered by hachure and the engravers even made some attempt to illustrate the vast pine forests of the Pacific Northwest.

In its day Wilkes' map was the finest and most detailed map of this largely unknown region yet published and is considered by map historian Carl I. Wheat to be 'really quite extraordinary'. Although dated 1841, this map, like the others from the U.S. Exploring Expedition, was actually published in 1845 with Wilkes' official report. As such, the cartography represented here draws not only on the discoveries of the U.S. Ex. Ex. but also later explorations such as those of Lieutenant Fremont in 1843, the oral records of the Hudson Bay Company, and the remarkable explorations of independent trappers like Jedediah Smith. While of course, much of this map is based on earlier cartographic work by Vancouver, Louis and Clark, and others, the new information presented here be divided into four areas:
  1. The Pacific Coast and the regions to the west of the Great Basin, especially the Columbia River Valley as far as Walla Walla, and the Sacramento River Valley, that were actually explored by the U.S. Ex. Ex.
  2. Those regions to the east of the Rocky Mountains benefited from the explorations of Lieutenant Fremont. These also include Fremont's South Pass located just northeast of Great Salt Lake (Youta). Fremont is credited in a textual annotation just to the east of the Rocky Mountains.
  3. Those regions between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific explored in detail by the trapper Jedediah Smith. Smith is not specifically credited but the note 'This Country is extremely Rocky and rough, the Rivers running through Clift Rocks' is taken directly from Jedediah's map.
  4. Those regions to the north of the Columbia River extending well into modern day British Columbia. In order to offer a detailed presentation of these areas Wilkes relied on oral testimony by Hudson Bay Company trappers he met while exploring the Columbia River. These sources are tenuously credited along with Fremont in the upper right quadrant. The most likely source is John McLoughlin, a regional chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company who proved particularly helpful to Wilkes and the expedition in general.
The extraordinary detail presented, nevertheless, can be misleading. The embryonic form of Great Salt Lake (Youta) gives evidence to just how little this area was known. Other errors include the misplacement of various rivers including the Bear River, the Pitts River, and 'Ogdens or Unknown River', among others.

The U.S. Ex. Ex. arrived in the Pacific Northwest at a crucial historical juncture. According to treaties signed in the early 19th century, both American and British had equal access to the rich lands of the Pacific Northwest. However, due to their control of John Jacob Astor's former trading post at Fort Astoria and an overwhelming presence in British Columbia, regional dominance generally fell to the British Hudson Bay Company - which often militantly opposed the presence of American fur traders and settlers. Nonetheless, American settlers did begin to penetrate the region in increasing numbers. This only increased tensions ultimately spurring the '54-40 or Fight' dispute in which Americans interests, championed by Senator Lewis Linn, advocated for a border a 54 deg. 40' N, far north of its present location. The British, by contrast argued for a more southerly border at the Columbia River. Numerous proposals and counteroffers were fielded by diplomats on both sides. Even so, it was generally accepted that the geography of this region was too poorly understood to suggest a naturally defined border. One of the stated goals of the U.S. Ex. Ex. in the Pacific Northwest was to provide enough cartographic information for diplomats in London and Washington to make an informed decision. Wilkes' report firmly supported Senator Linn's 54 40 border,
the southern border never ought to have been entertained, and cannot be carried into effect without great detriment to our rights, as well as of vast injury to the territory, both as regards its defense, Commercial importance, and to its ever becoming a free and independent state.
Wilkes map thus places the border at the 54 40 line, extending in land as far as the Rocky Mountains, which it follows southward until meeting the current 49th parallel and extending eastward. A second boundary line, further south, also proved definitive of the future California - Oregon border.

This map was prepared by Charles Wilkes and engraved by J. H. Young and Sherman & Smith. Despite being dated 1841, and copyrighted in 1844, it was first published by Lea & Blanchard of Philadelphia to illustrate the atlas volume of the 1845 first edition of Wilkes' official U. S. Ex. Ex. report.

Collectors will note that most of the maps from Wilkes' official report of the U.S. Exploring Expedition were issued in small and large formats. This is the large format edition and is exceptionally scarce. The full run consisted of only 150 presentation copes and 100 official copies. Twenty-five of these are known to have been lost in a fire, leaving only 225 possible examples.


Date:    1841 (dated)

Source:    Wilkes, C., Atlas. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard) 1845.    

References:    Rumsey 4442.004. Wheat, C. I., Mapping of the Transmississippi West, 1540 1861, #457. Hayes, D, Historical atlas of Canada: Canada's history illustrated with original maps., 199. Viola, H. J., 'The Wilkes Expedition on the Pacific Coast', The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol 80, No 1 (Jan, 1898), pp. 21-31.

Cartographer:    Charles Wilkes (April 3, 1798 February 8, 1877) was an American naval officer and explorer. Wilkes was born in New York City to a prominent family. His mother died when he was just three years old. Consequently Wilkes was raised by his aunt Elizabeth Ann Setton, the first American born woman to be canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Inspired by tales of nautical adventure, Wilkes embarked on several merchant voyages, including one to the South Pacific. Finding shipboard life unpleasant, he returned to New York City where attended Columbia College (today's Columbia University) studying various aspects of mathematics and the sciences. For a time Wilkes was a prodigy of Coast Survey Superintendent Ferdinand Hassler. Before the relationship went foul, Wilkes mastered Hassler's sophisticated techniques for navigation and nautical surveying. Though the Coast Survey at this time was underfunded, several coastal mapping expeditions were launched, one of which focused on Narragansett Bay and was headed by Wilkes. In 1833, impressed with his work on Narragansett Bay, the Navy placed Wilkes in charge of the Navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington, D.C, out of which developed the Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office. In 1838, after years of political posturing, he was chosen to lead the U.S. Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex. Ex.), a multidisciplinary voyage to the Pacific with the lofty goal to
collect, preserve, and arrange every thing valuable in the whole range of natural history, from the minute madrapore to the huge spermaceti, and accurately describe that which cannot be preserved.
The expedition lasted from 1838-1842. Wilkes gained the reputation for being a harsh and dictatorial leader often at odds with his sailors and sub commanders - so much so that some suggest he was the real life inspiration for Herman Melville's characterization of Captain Ahab. Nonetheless, the U.S. Ex. Ex. was a resounding success with long term political and scientific ramifications. Under Wilkes, the expedition surveyed 1500 miles of the Antarctic continent, mapped over 280 islands, explored over 800 miles of the Pacific Northwest, and catalogued over 60,000 plant and bird specimens. Despite his scientific achievements, the end of the expedition Wilkes was court-martialed for the loss of one of his ships on the Columbia River, for the regular mistreatment of his subordinate officers, and for excessive punishment of his sailors. He was acquitted on all charges except illegally punishing the men in his squadron. During this post-expedition period he was also employed by the U.S. Coast Survey, but it was mostly an honorary position with most of his energies being focused on preparing the influential five volume expedition report. Later, during the American Civil War (18611865) Wilkes commanded a Union naval vessel in the Trent Affair, a diplomatic incident in which Wilkes intercepted the British mail packet RMS Trent and removed, as contraband of war, two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell. Wilkes died in Washington, D. C. on February 8, 1877 at the rank of Rear Admiral. In August 1909, the United States moved his remains to Arlington National Cemetery. His gravestone reads "he discovered the Ant-arctic continent". Click here for a list of rare maps by Charles Wilkes.

Cartographer:    James H. Young (fl. c. 1817 - 1866) was an Irish-American draughtsman, engraver, and cartographer active in Philadelphia during the first half of the 19th century. Young engraved for numerous cartographic publishers in the Philadelphia area, including Anthony Finley, Charles Varle, William Kneass, Delleker, and Samuel Augustus Mitchell, among others. His most significant work includes the maps for Finley and later Mitchell's New American Atlas. Mitchell proved to be Young's most significant collaborator. The pair published numerous maps from about 1834 well into the 1860s. In 1840 he registered a patent for an improved system of setting up typography for printing. Unfortunately little has been discovered regarding his personal life. Click here for a list of rare maps from James H. Young.

Cartographer:    Sherman and Smith (fl. c. 1829 - 1855), sometimes working as Stiles, Sherman & Smith, were American engravers active in New York City during the middle part of the 19th century. The firm including John Calvin Smith (surveyor and engraver), George Sherman, and sometimes, Samuel Stiles. Their work primarily focused on government publications, including the maps and engravings prepared to illustrate the official records of the 1838-42 United States Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex. Ex.), maps issued for the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, and various U.S. Coast Survey Charts. They also engraved privately for Thomas Bradford and John Disturnell, among others. Sherman and Smith maintained offices at the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street in New York City and were highly regarded as the finest cartographic engravers in the city. Their non-cartographic legacies include George Inness, who apprenticed with them for two years before going on to become a well regarding American landscape painter of the Hudson River School. Click here for a list of rare maps by Sherman and Smith.

Size:   Printed area measures 35 x 22.5 inches (88.9 x 57.15 centimeters)

Scale:    1 : 3041280

Condition:    Very good. Backed with linen as issued. Overall toning. Some wear on original fold lines. As in most examples, lower left margin partially trimmed to neat line.

Code:   OregonTerritory-wilkes-1841 (to order by phone call: 646-483-0487)

Tags:    Wilkes , U.S. Ex. Ex. , Sherman and Smith , Oregon Territory , Great Salt Lake , Hudson Bay Company , Lieutenant Fremont , Jedediah Smith , Speculative Cartography , Young

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