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John Melish
(June 13, 1771-1822)

John Melish (June 13, 1771-1822) was a early 19th century American writer, publisher and mapseller based at 209 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Most consider John Melish to be the first truly great American cartographer. Melish was born in Scotland in 1771. As a young man he was apprenticed to Glasgow cotton Merchant and in this capacity visited America no less than four times between 1798 and 1809. In 1806 Melish attempted to create his own cotton important-export company based in Glasgow, Scotland and Savannah, Georgia. Unfortunately, deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Great Britain resulted in the 1807 trade embargo, which all but destroyed Melish's fledgling company. In 1811 Melish finally left Scotland to permanently relocate in Philadelphia. Melish had never been truly satisfied with the quality of travel writing available regarding the new republic and so, in 1812, published his own contribution to the genre. Melish based his first major publication, the cartographically rich, Travels in the United States of America in the Years 1806 & 1807, and 1809, 1810 and 1811, on the copious notes taken during his own travels as a cotton merchant. Travels enjoyed an immediate success and even caught the eye of Thomas Jefferson, then President, who sent copies of the work to friends in France and Italy. Partially in an attempt to illustrate his own travels and partly in response to a general need for good cartographic materials, Melish turned to map publishing. By 1814 his was styling himself as a "Geographer and Map Seller" and had published several independent maps, geographies and gazetteers. Melish's most important work is most likely his iconic representation of the United States published in 1816, Map of the United States with the contiguous British and Spanish Possessions. This visionary large format map was one of the first maps to show the United States from coast to coast and significantly predated both the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny and the acquisitions of much of the west coast. (Carter, E. C., Surveying the Record, pages 40 - 49. Ristow, W., American Maps and Map Makers, pages 110-115. 143, 154, 166-168, 191, 246, 281, 446. Wolfgang, M.E., "John Melish: An Early American Demographer." Pennsylvania Magazine 82 (1958): pages 65-81.) Click here for a list of rare maps from John Melish.

Rare maps by John Melish currently for sale.

Rare maps by John Melish in the Geographicus Antique Map Archive.

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