1841 / 1871 Wilkes Map of the Oregon Territory / Vancouver, British Columbia

Map of the Oregon Territory by the U.S. Ex. Ex. - Main View

1841 / 1871 Wilkes Map of the Oregon Territory / Vancouver, British Columbia


1871 Reissue of a seminal 1841 map.


Map of the Oregon Territory by the U.S. Ex. Ex.
  1871 (dated)     22.5 x 35 in (57.15 x 88.9 cm)     1 : 3070000


This is the 1871 U.S.H.O. reissue of Commodore Wilkes' 1841 U.S. exploring expedition map of Oregon Territory, the finest and most important map of Oregon of the 19th century. The reissue was prepared from the original copper plate and is on higher quality paper than the original 1841 report issue.
A Closer Look
The map covers roughly from the 50th parallel to Mount Shasta, the upper Sacramento River, and Great Salt Lake (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 the 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.
Finest Map of Oregon Yet Published
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, Lewis and Clark, and others, the new information presented here can 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.
'54-40 or Fight : The Oregon Question
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 Americans 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 American interests, championed by Senator Lewis Linn, advocated for a border at 54° 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 inland 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.
United States Exploring Expedition
The U.S. Ex. Ex., as it is colloquially known, was one of the most expansive and successful voyages of exploration ever undertaken. Launched at the request of President John Quincy Adam, and under the subsequent presidency of Andrew Jackson, the U.S. Ex. Ex. was led by United States Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes.

The expedition launched from Hampton Roads, Virginia in August of 1838, heading across the Atlantic to Madeira. From Maderia it traveled southwest to Rio de Janeiro, then through the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific. Sailing up the coast of South America, it stopped at Valparaíso (Chile) and Callo (Peru). From Callo, it headed west into the Pacific, visiting Tahiti then Samoa, before arriving in Sydney, Australia. After resting in Sydney, the expedition travelled south, mapping the treacherous waters around Antarctica. Leaving the cold Antarctic climes, it then traveled northward, via Fiji, towards the Hawaiian Islands. This marks the midpoint in the journey. After a rest in Honolulu, the expedition sailed to the Pacific Coast of North America, exploring the Puget Sound and the Columbia River, visiting San Francisco Bay, before striking across the Pacific for Polynesia, the Philippines, Borneo, and Singapore. Thence, it cut southwest across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope, before heading northwest to New York, arriving in June of 1842.

Although there was little fanfare announcing its arrival, and Wilkes was hardly lauded as the hero he considered himself to be, the expedition he led was one of the most important and influential scientific expeditions of all time. It circumnavigated the globe, mapping more than 280 islands, exploring 800 miles of the Pacific Northwest Coastline, collected a staggering 60,000 bird and plant specimens, the seeds of 648 plants, and 254 live plants. The expedition significantly advanced the development of 19th-century science, laid the foundation of the American scientific establishment, spurred the founding of the Smithsonian Institution, and had global political ramifications.
Publication History and Census
This map was prepared by Charles Wilkes and engraved by J. H. Young and Sherman and Smith. Despite being dated 1841, and copyrighted in 1844, it was first published by Lea and Blanchard of Philadelphia to illustrate the atlas volume of the 1845 first edition of Wilkes' official U. S. Ex. Ex. report. The present example is an 1871 reissue printed by the United States Hydrographic Office (U.S.H.O.), identifiable as such by the higher quality paper, wide margins, and the 'No. 135' in the lower right.


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 to 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 (1861–1865) 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". More by this mapmaker...

James Hamilton Young (December 18, 1792 - c. 1870) was a Scottish-American draughtsman, engraver, and cartographer active in Philadelphia during the first half of the 19th century. Young was born in Avondale, Lanark, Scotland and emigrated to the United States sometime before 1817. Young was a pioneer in American steel plate engraving, a process superior to copper plate engraving due to the increased durability of steel. His earliest known maps date to about 1817, when Young was 25. At the time he was partnered with William Kneass (1780 - 1840), as Kneass, Young and Company, an imprint that was active from 1817 to 1820. He then partnered with with George Delleker, publishing under the imprint of Young and Delleker, active from 1822 to 1823. Young engraved for numerous cartographic publishers in the Philadelphia area, including Anthony Finley, Charles Varle, and Samuel Augustus Mitchell, among others. His most significant work includes maps engraved for Anthony Finley and later Samuel Augustus Mitchell. Mitchell proved to be Young's most significant collaborator. The pair published numerous maps from about 1831 well into the 1860s. Young retired sometime in the mid to late 1860s. In 1840 he registered a patent for an improved system of setting up typography for printing. ˆˆ Learn More...

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 E. 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. Learn More...


Very good. Overall toning. Some wear on original fold lines.


Library of Congress, (this state), G4240 1841 .W5 1871 TIL. Rumsey 4442.004. OCLC 899728918. 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.