Archive for April, 2010

Antique Map of the Week: 1839 David Burr and Jedediah Smith Map of the United States

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Map of the United States Of North America With parts of the Adjacent Countries

Burr's extraordinary map of the United States.

Entitled “Map of the United States Of North America With parts of the Adjacent Countries”, this is David H. Burr’s all but unobtainable 1839 wall map of the United States. Burr’s map is an accomplishment of staggering significance and is considered the culmination of one of the most dramatic and romantic periods in the mapping of the American West. It is further one of the most significant maps in the opening of the American West to the Gold Rush that, in just a few years, would transform the nation. Between the expedition of Louis and Clark in 1804 – 1806 and the work of Fremont in the 1840s, the exploration of the Transmississippi experienced a kind of dark age. Nevertheless, while no official teams were pushing cartography westward, trappers and fur traders were slowly penetrating the region. Most of these figures were illiterate and did little to extend cartographic knowledge. The exception was Jedediah Smith, a trapper whose wanderings in the west and subsequent cartographic innovations the historian C. I. Wheat considers a “tour-de-force unprecedented and never equaled in the annals of Western exploration”. Smith spent roughly 9 years, between 1821 and 1830, exploring the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada, the Rocky Mountains and the valleys of California, but sadly perished before his important work could be published. Smith’s now lost map was taken by his partner and friend, Missouri Congressman William H. Ashely, and eventually made its way into the hands of David H. Burr, who was then composing his own important map of the United States – offered here. Smith’s work must have seemed a revelation to Burr who struggled to reconcile conflicts between the mappings of Humboldt, Pike, Miera, and of course, Lewis and Clark. Burr, realizing the importance of Smith’s work, incorporated it throughout his map, thus redefining the cartographic representation of the region. Shortly after Burr published this seminal map, Smith’s original manuscript was lost, making Burr’s map the sole printed representation of Smith’s work. Curiously and somewhat inexplicably, this map never attained significant popularity in its day, leading to a very small publication run and, today, extreme rarity.

Our survey of Burr’s map must begin in the east. Burr, having just competed individual state plates for the 1835 issue of his New Universal Atlas had a relatively easy task of assembling the individual mappings into a cohesive whole. However, several elements do bear note. Burr identifies the nation’s fledgling rail network, which is strongest in the northeast, with bold blue and red lines. In the state of Maine both the disputed British boundary, roughly along the 47th parallel, and the far northern boundary claimed by the state of Maine are noted.

Heading west the territory becomes less settled and the character of the map changes. Particularly in Wisconsin and what would soon become Iowa, towns are few and far between, instead the map shifts its focus to notating American Indian Nations as well as the locations of forts, mills, lakes, portages, rapids, and waterfalls. Several land exchanges and treaties with various American Indian groups including the Sioux, the Sacs and Foxes, and the Chippewa are also identified.

When Burr drew this map, Missouri was the westernmost state and the jumping point for most significant journeys westward. Beyond the borders of Missouri the territory is dominated by the American Indian Nations recently relocated to western lands by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. These includes the Osages, Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw. Further north the territories of the Otoes, Kansas, and Shawnees are noted. The map also identifies important landmarks on the route westward including the fur trapping forts on the Arkansas River (Gant and Bent), various springs, Pikes Peak, James Peak, and the Spanish Peaks. Where known military routes through the region are sketched in, including Major Long’s Route and more importantly the Route of the Dragoons under Col. Dodge who, just a few years previous in 1834, initiated the first official contact between the U.S. Government and the Plains Indians.

As Burr took up the pen to draw this map, Texas was in the process of declaring its 1836 independence from Mexico. Years earlier the Mexican government offered significant land grants to those with the means and interest to settle Texas – which in accordance to Humboldt, many considered to be a wasteland. Nonetheless, many citizens felt that the United States had been cheated of Texas, which according to some treaties should have been included in the lands acquired under the Louisiana Purchase. Burr notes this border, along the Rio Grande or Rio del Norte, as the “Ancient Boundary of Louisiana as possessed by the French.” Consequently, when Mexico began offering grants, land hungry adventurers from north of the border seized the opportunity. The result is etched upon the Texan landscape to this day – Austin, Dewitt, McGloin, Burnett, Williams, McMullen, Wilson, Padilla, Chambers, and Cameron received grants to large swathes of territory that they were eager to develop. Many of these grants Burr notes with care, perhaps predicting the Mexican American War and the annexation of Texas that, as more expansionist Americans flooded into the newly independent region, seemed inevitable. Himself uncertain of the outcome of the Texas independence movement, Burr offers a curious compromise. On the Texas – U.S. border, Burr pens a distinct line with color coding that suggests a separate nation distinct from both Mexico and the United States. The Mexican border with Texas is, on the other hand, noted only as the aforementioned ancient Louisiana border. Ever the cartographic diplomat, Burr is thus able to appease both the U.S. recognition of an independent Texas and the Mexican denial of the same.

To the north and west of Texas from the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River to the modern Mexican border, Jedediah Smith’s cartographic work comes to the fore. Clearly composing this map with Ashley’s copy of the Smith map in hand, Burr delineates Jedediah’s nine years of wandering throughout the region. Most of the copious notations and commentary are drawn directly from Smith’s map, as are the corrected courses of many of the region’s river systems. It was Smith’s significant study of this vast area that ultimately united the discoveries of the 18th century Escalante-Miera map to the more contemporary mappings of Louis and Clark – finally brining the entire region into context. Smith also accomplished the first successful crossing of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada range. In the Sierra Nevadas he identifies Mount Rogers (likely Mt. Shasta) and, just to the South, Mt. Joseph. This map, via Smith, is the only published period example of Smith’s trailblazing work in this region, the extent of which is far too broad and significant to fully embrace in this simple medium, but which ultimately played a significant role in the American expansion westward. (With regard to further research on Smith’s cartographic significance we refer you to Wheat’s classic study, Mapping the Transmississippi West where an unprecedented entire chapter is dedicated to Smith’s travels) In 1849, when settlers and prospectors flooded into the region in response to the Gold Rush, they traveled along passages that “Old Jed” Smith had trail-blazed years before as a trapper and fur trader.

In the northwestern quadrant of the map Burr leaves the Oregon border open to the north, extending well into modern British Columbia. The British believed this territory fell into the land controlled by the Hudson Bay Company, while expansionist Americans asserted a claim to the region as far north as Russian America (Alaska). Five years following the Burr’s construction of this map this conflict would escalate into the 54°40′ dispute. The turmoil ultimately gave rise to slogans like “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” and the catchphrase “Manifest Destiny”. However, exhausted with war following the Mexican-American conflict, the two sides finally signed the 1846 Oregon Treaty, settling the border along the current 49th parallel.

Wheat considers this map “in every respect a towering example especially in the Far West” and an essential chapter in the cartographic history of America. Burr composed this map in preparation for inclusion in his impossibly rare 1839 American Atlas. Most of the maps in the American Atlas were dissected and mounted linen – a common procedure at the time. This map, however, though clearly issued from the same printing plate, was a contemporaneous, but entirely independent issue. Though a few lucky libraries and museums, including the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the David Rumsey Collection, do possess examples of this map from the American Atlas, none possess a wall map issue. We have been able to identify no other examples of this map in wall map format in any collection, public or private, nor, as far as our records indicate, has it ever been offered at auction or in any dealer catalog. This is a once in a lifetime collecting opportunity.

Links:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/UnitedStates-burr-1839

Gog and Magog in Antique Maps

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Gog and Magog in Sanson's Map of the World

Gog and Magog in Sanson's 1691 Map of the World

The appearance of the lands of Gog and Magog in many early maps is one the most interesting and enduring examples of Biblical lore being translated into the cartographic medium. The kingdoms of Gog and Magog appear in many early maps of Asia and the World produced between about 1200 to 1750. Generally these kingdoms are situated somewhere west of the Caspian Sea and, more frequently, to the north of China around Mongolia or Siberia. How did they get there?

The tale of Gog and Magog is, of course, Biblical in origins with elements in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. They appear in Genesis and Ezekiel as cursed grandchildren of Noah and are set up early on as enemies of the righteous. The most alarming mention of Gog and Magog appears in Revelation 20:7-8:

… And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed from his prison, and shall go out to seduce the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and shall draw them to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea…

But who exactly where Gog and Magog and where did this terrifying empire have its lands? The Biblical location “the four corners of the earth”, is not exceptionally helpful save that it puts these nations at the extreme edge of existence. The Jewish historian Josephus associates Magog with the Scythians. In antiquity Scythia was an empire to the north of Parthia or Persia that included much of central Asia as far east as India and Tibet.

Building Alexander's Walls

The Building of Alexander's Gates from an early Arabic manuscript.

The Alexander Romance, a c. 300 CE compendium of stories and myths associated with Alexander the Great, brings Gog and Magog into a historical context. Apparently when Alexander marched his army into the Caucuses he discovered a people beset and harassed by the empires of Gog and Magog to the north. Alexander responded to this threat by constructing an enormous wall of adamantine between two mountains known as the “Breasts of the World”. Today this is commonly associated with the Caspian Gates of Derbent. This mighty wall, reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, stretches some forty kilometers between the Caspian Sea and the nearby mountains, effectively blocking passage through the Caucuses. Though Alexander had nothing to do with this wall, it was actually constructed by the Sassanid Persians to defend against Gokturk invasions, it does once again place the lands of Gog and Magog somewhere to the north and west of the Caucuses.

Pliney too locates Gog and Magog behind a great set of gates in the Caucuses, describing a place where the mountains have been torn asunder and “gates have been placed, with iron covered beams, under the center of which flows a river emitting a horrible odor; and on this side of it on a rock stands the fortress called Cumania, erected for the purpose of barring the passage of the innumerable tribes.”

The Qur’an next takes up this story and adds its own more mythical element. The great hero Dhul Qarnayan (literally “two-horned one”, a reference to the ram horns Alexander wears on coins minted during his rule to indicate his descent from the Egyptian god Amun) is said to have walled the infernal armies of Gog and Magog behind a great gate where they will remain – until doomsday. At this point,

when Gog and Magog are let loose and they rush headlong down every height (or advantage). Then will the True Promise draw near. (Qur’an 21:96-97).

Al-Idrisi World Map

Al-Idrisi's World Map with Gog and Magog behind the wall and circled in red. Note, this map is oriented to the south so here Gog and Magog are in the proximity of China.

In the 9th century the Caliph Al-Wathik-Billa actually sent out an expedition, under one Sallam the Interpreter, to discover the Gates of Alexander. Sallam is said to have searched the Caucuses high and low without success before heading deeper into Asia where he discovered the mighty wall. Sallam’s report influenced a number of important Islamic geographies, most importantly for this story, the 12th century geographer Muhammed al-Idrisi, who was employed by the Sicilian monarch Roger II. Idrisi directly associates Alexander’s Gates, and consequently Gog and Magog, with the Great Wall of China. Idrisi’s work includes some of the most sophisticated and advanced cartographic work of pre-modern Europe and profoundly influenced European cartography for the next several hundred years. Though not widely distributed in his lifetime, nor solely responsible for the presence of Gog and Magog in later European maps, the influence of Idrisi’s map and geographical notations cannot be ignored in any consideration of how these Biblical kingdoms/figures entered the mainstream of later European cartography.

In the rest of Europe, tales of Gog and Magog and the horrors associated with them were a constant element in mediaeval religious rhetoric, which preached of an imminent “end of days”. Saint Augustine in his 15th century religious classic “City of God” discourses at length on the duo suggesting that when “final judgment is imminent . . . the whole city of Christ being assailed by the whole city of the Devil, as each exists on earth . . . which he names Gog and Magog”. Augustine did not associate Gog and Magog with an actual place, but rather with an evil that existed all around us. Even so, this concept must have been too abstract for the medieval man who continued to look for the lands of Gog and Magog. History was about to oblige.

In 1241 CE the hoards of Ghengis Khan swept out of Asia destroying and conquering everything in their path. The brutal, efficient, and alien Mongols must surely have seemed to be the wrath of god unleashed – the prophesied end of days had come and with it, Gog and Magog. One Russian chronicler says: “In those times there came upon us for our sins unknown nations. No one could tell their origin, whence they came, what religion they professed. God alone knows who they were, God, and, perhaps, wise men learned in books.” The period of the Mongol invasions lasted roughly from 1241 to 1285 CE. Nonetheless, after devastating the Chinese Empire, sacking Baghdad, laying waste to Russia, and storming into Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Poland, the invincible hoard simply vanished … or so it must have seemed in Europe. In fact, beset with internal political turmoil and the death of the Great Khan, the hoards retreated to Central Asia in order to reorganize. At this time Europe, who had yet to rediscover Ptolemy and truly develop a modern cartographic tradition, wasn’t actively making maps, but when it did, a place of origin Tartars or Mongols (Gog and Magog) would have to be identified.

1697 Rossi Map of Asia - Magog appears north of China.

1697 Rossi Map of Asia - Magog appears north of China.

Marco Polo, in his Travels, is possibly the first European literary figure to identify Gog and Magog with the Tartars. Polo, claimed to have lived in China from 1271 to 1298, where he became an important functionary in the court of Kublai Khan. Polo worked for years as an emissary of the Great Khan and traveled extensively throughout the vast empire. Much of the information about Asia appearing on early maps of the continent, including the Vinland Map and the Waldseemuler Map, can be directly linked to Polo’s narratives. Polo associates Gog and Magog with the lands of Tenduk, a province to the north of China ruled by Prester John. In Polo’s narrative Gog is translated as Ung and Magog is the home of the Tartars. Ibn Battuta, the great 14th century Moroccan traveler, referring to the tale of Dhul Qarnayan, supports Polo by himself connecting the Great Wall of China with the gates setup to restrain Gog and Magog, “Between it [the city] and the rampart of Yajuj and Majuj is sixty days’ travel.”

Zoom of of Magog in Rossi's 1697 Map of Asia.

Zoom of Magog in Rossi's 1697 Map of Asia.

Though many dispute the validity of Polo’s journals, his impact on the European conception of the world was profound. With the rediscovery of Ptolemy’s Geography by Italian humanists and the development of a sophisticated European cartographic tradition the need for more advanced and updated Ptolemaic maps emerged. Many of these maps referenced Polo and al-Idrisi in adding Gog and Magog in the unknown lands of east Asia, thus influencing the cartographic representation of this area for centuries to come.

Today Gog and Magog are considered by many scholars to be a Jungian representation of “the other”, “the frontier”, or both.

References: (partially researched by Lindsay McMullen)
Augustine, Saint, The City of God, (Translated by Marcus Dods), page 658.
The Bible
The Koran
Stoneman, Richard (editor and translator) (1991). The Greek Alexander Romance. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044560-9.
Boyle, J. A., “The Alexander Romance In The East And West”, Bulletin Of The John Rylands University Library Of Manchester, 60 (1977), pp. 19–20.
Yule, Henry; Cordier, Henri (1923), The Travels Of Marco Polo, Mineola: Dover Publications, ISBN 9780486275864.
Pliny, Natural History, (translated by H. Rackham).
Lester, Toby, The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Making of History’s Greatest Map, pp. 45-64.
Anderson, A. R., Alexander’s Gate, Gog and Magog, and the Inclosed Nations, 1932.
The Chatauquan, Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Chautauqua Institution, vol 3, pp. 304.