A highly educated merchant from Scotland, John Melish first visited America on business in 1806. He returned in 1811 to settle in Philadelphia and continue his successful business of commercial cartography where he quickly became one of America’s greatest mapmakers. Until the publication of this grand map of the United States, the growing body of geographical knowledge about America was assimilated primarily on military maps and British commercial maps, none of which had ever encompassed the entirety of U.S. Territory.
With American nationalism strengthening after the War of 1812, a friend mentioned to Melish that he would like to see a map that would condense one grand view of the whole of U.S. Territory. Recognizing the seemingly endless demand for geographical information on the American West, Melish produced his six-sheet map with the help of Philadelphia engravers John Vallance and Henry S. Tanner, which would later be known as his finest achievement. He drew on published eastern state maps and west coast surveys and city studies to create this mammoth sized map which is the first map to show the U.S. Territory stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Little was know about the West, and this map seemed to embody the burgeoning notion of Manifest Destiny.
Although quite beautiful and magnificent to behold, this map functioned as a key in treaties and border disputes between the United States and Mexico in later years. It also improved knowledge of the American West and Texas, and thus promoted settlement in these areas by Anglo-Americans where opportunities for self-advancement and freedom seemed possible.
This map is currently on view at our Jackson Square location at 435 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Please contact us if you have any additional questions about this important map.