the Allegheny Mountains
Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis,
and William Clark were all culturally and intellectually Virginians.
As the leading figures in what became the Lewis and Clark Expedition,
they were steeped in a colonial legacy that optimistically looked
westward in anticipation of exploiting the treasures of an Eden
that lay beyond the Allegheny Mountains. In the earliest stages
of Chesapeake tidewater settlement, Virginia, like other colonies,
had an imperial mentality and vision that encompassed the entire
breadth of the continent. During the last half of the eighteenth
century Virginia's leaders, as well as those in other colonies,
began to consider more practical means to reach Eden beyond the
mountains. Virginians, including Jefferson and George Washington,
believed that by building canals and improving navigation on the
colony's major rivers--the James and the Potomac--they could defeat
similar schemes that centered on the Hudson River and New York City.
And at its grandest, the Virginia imperial vision also reached out
to the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers. Jefferson's Notes
on the State of Virginia confidently declared that such rivers
could extend the reach of an American empire beyond the mountains,
perhaps even to the western sea.
Pacific Beyond the Alleghenies
Originally published in 1651 by John Farrer,
a representative of the Virginia Company, this 1667 edition
was issued by Farrer's daughter, Virginia. It perpetuates
the notion that the Pacific Ocean lay just across the Allegheny
Mountains--separated by a narrow strip of land that could
be traveled in only "ten days marche." At this time, the actual
distance between the two oceans was unknown, but the intention
was to link Sir Francis Drake's 1577 landing in New Albion
(Point Reyes, California) with the recently settled Virginia
colony, thereby substantiating British claims to the breadth
of the continent.
Fry and Jefferson Map of Virginia
Drawn by surveyors Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson,
father of Thomas Jefferson, this map was the pre-eminent cartographic
representation of Virginia during the French and Indian War
and the American Revolution. The map was commissioned by the
Board of Trade in 1748 in order to determine the extent of
Virginia's western settlement and possible French encroachment
on English claims. It is the first reasonably accurate map
of the colony to show the various ranges of the Allegheny
Mountains and the potential connections of the James and Potomac
Rivers with the westward flowing tributaries of the Ohio.
Indian Map of Ohio River Valley
Attributed to a Native American named "Chegeree"
and an anonymous English official, this map and accompanying
notes portray the extent of French forces and troop strengths
in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys at the outset of
the French and Indian War. Such information, outlining the
French presence in the region, was vital to English forces
as the two European powers fought for control of the North
Land Speculation in the Ohio River Valley
George Washington became an active land speculator,
acquiring more than 20,000 acres of land in the Ohio Valley,
beyond the Allegheny Mountains. Like many other Virginians,
he wanted to capitalize on trade flowing from the Ohio River
Valley by routing it through the Tidewater region of Virginia.
Shown here is a survey for 2,314 acres of land patented in
1771 by George Washington. The property contained over five
miles of valuable contiguous Ohio River frontage currently
located in Washington's Bottom, West Virginia.
Mitchell's Map of British North America
John Mitchell's 1755 map was published on the
eve of the French and Indian War, yet the French claims in
the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys, as defined by the Treaty
of Utrecht (1714), were not recognized. Instead, the colorist
showed individual English colonial claims extending west over
the Alleghenies to the western margin of the map. A note found
near the northwestern edge of the map illustrates the contemporary
geographical concept of continental symmetry: "Missouri River
is reckoned to run Westward to the Mountains of New Mexico,
as far as the Ohio does eastward."
Compass and Chain
Instruments used by colonial surveyors as well
as nineteenth-century explorers include the surveyor's compass
for measuring direction and the Gunter chain for measuring
distance. Philadelphian Benjamin Rittenhouse and his brother
David were well known for making the most accurate surveying
compasses, like the one displayed here, during the colonial
period. The Gunter chain, introduced in 1620 by English mathematician
and astronomer Edmund Gunter introduced a surveyor's chain
with 100 links, measuring 66 feet (or 4 poles). With this
design, one square chain equals 484 square yards, ten square
chains equal an acre, and eighty chains equal a mile.
image is not available online:
Benjamin Rittenhouse (1740-1825)
Surveyor's compass with case, ca. 1885-1796
Wood and brass
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History,
Behring Center, Washington, D.C. (9A)
[belonged to John Johnson (1771-1841),
Surveyor General of Vermont]
Steel and brass
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History,
Behring Center, Washington, D.C. (9B)
The Spanish Entrada into the Southwest
Spanish exploration and settlement
in the present-day American Southwest can be traced back to the
early sixteenth century. By the last half of the eighteenth century
Spanish soldiers and missionaries had made their way as far as San
Antonio, Santa Fe, Tucson, and San Francisco. Several expeditions,
including those of Father Eusebio Kino, José de Urrútia
and Nicolás de Lafora, and Father Silvestre Vélez
de Escalante, had explored large parts of the southwest. However,
the geography of this region remained virtually unknown outside
the Spanish empire, since the maps and accounts of Spanish exploration
remained in manuscript and were not published. Not until the beginning
of the nineteenth century, when the noted German geographer Alexander
von Humboldt visited Mexico City and was given access to the Spanish
archives, did this information become more widely available. Although
von Humboldt's map of Mexico was not published until 1811, he did
visit Washington, D.C., in 1804, and shared his preliminary findings
with President Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin.
Knowing that such geographic knowledge would be useful in determining
the boundaries of the new Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson and Gallatin
were keenly interested in von Humboldt's depiction of the Spanish
empire in the southwest.
Escalante Expedition Diary
Copied by a lieutenant of the Spanish Royal Corps
of Engineers, this volume includes the diary of the expedition
conducted by the Franciscan priests Silvestre Veléz
de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez. It records their route
that started out from Sante Fe on July 29, 1776, making a
circuit through what is now Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. The
diary describes geographic features and mentions passing the
ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde in Colorado.
Information on the Southwest
President Jefferson sought information on the
territory west of the Mississippi River from a wide variety
of sources. When Baron Alexander von Humboldt visited Washington
in 1804, after his South American tour, Jefferson took the
opportunity to gather information about the newly acquired
Louisiana territory. In this note to von Humboldt, Jefferson
was particularly interested in the population "of white, red,
or black people."
A Cartographic Myth Dispelled
Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, an Italian-born
Jesuit missionary, explored the area around Tucson from 1687
to 1701, traveling as far as the mouth of the Colorado River.
He proved that California was not an island, a myth that had
endured for almost a century. Although his cartographic findings
first appeared in 1705, a slightly later version of his map
was published in a German missionary periodical on display
here. This map shows the Gila River flowing into the Colorado
directly above its mouth and extensive settlements in northern
Spanish Military Survey of Southwest Borderlands
This detailed map of the Internal Provinces of
New Spain (northern Mexico and southwestern United States)
reflects the Spanish government's concern during the second
half of the eighteenth century about frontier defenses, especially
in response to American Indian attacks and the potential movement
of European enemies into the region. The 1766-1768 survey
involved a two-year, 6,000 mile trek extending from the Gulf
of California to the Red River in Louisiana. Since this map
was never published, British Americans were not aware of the
extent of geographical and ethnological information known
about the Spanish frontier.
Reaches the Rockies
A party of ten, led by Franciscan Fathers Francisco
Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante
departed Santa Fe in late July 1776, and returned to that
location on January 2, 1777, as part of a failed effort to
link Santa Fe with the new Spanish settlements along the Pacific
Coast. The expedition did obtain substantially more knowledge
of the regions north, northwest, and west of Santa Fe than
any previous party, penetrating further into the unknown central
Rockies. The manuscript map displayed above, made by expedition
cartographer Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, reveals Spain's northernmost
efforts to explore the interior of western North America.
of the Escalante Expedition
maps from the Escalante expedition were never published,
multiple manuscript copies were prepared
and circulated throughout New Spain. The 1777 copy shown
here covers only the Colorado, Utah, and Arizona portion
expedition. A 1778 version, prepared
by cartographer Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, provides a fuller
reference to the area covered by this ambitious expedition.
It is reported that von Humboldt reviewed these manuscript
maps as he prepared his atlas of New Spain. It is also probable
that Miera and Escalante used LaFora and Urrútia's
1769 map in planning their
Humboldt's Atlas of Mexico
Baron Alexander von Humboldt, a highly esteemed
geographer and man of science, visited Mexico in 1803. In
the process of preparing his atlas on Mexico, he received
current information on the northern regions of Spain's holdings
in what is now the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico. Von
Humboldt's general map of Mexico brought knowledge of the
geographic relationship of the emerging United States with
the American Southwest to a broad reading public. Zebulon
Pike may have had access to von Humboldt's work during the
German cartographer's visit to Washington in 1804.
Exploration of the Missouri River
For nearly 150 years, beginning
in the early seventeenth century until the middle of the eighteenth
century, France claimed a major portion of North America extending
in an arc from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to New Orleans. Working
with Indians to exploit the fur trade, the French explored and
mapped much of the continent's interior east of the Rocky Mountains,
on the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, and the lower Mississippi.
Although the French lost this territory to the British following
the French and Indian War in 1763, small, scattered French settlements
persisted along these major water routes. For the Lewis and Clark
expedition no western settlement was more important than the French
settlement of St. Louis. Just becoming the "Gateway to the West,"
St. Louis was home to traders, merchants, and boatmen who knew
the Missouri as far up as present-day North Dakota. Their everyday
of the river proved invaluable as the American expedition made
its way west. And it was in St. Louis where the American explorers
from the maps and exploration experiences of men like the Scottish
trader James Mackay and the Welsh adventurer John Thomas Evans.
This image is not available online.
James Mackay (ca. 1759-1822)
"Notes on Indian Tribes,"1796-1804
Courtesy of Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis (16)
on Indian Tribes"
During the course of several ventures up the
Missouri River as far as the Mandans in the 1780s and 1790s,
James Mackay, a Scottish trader and explorer sponsored by
the Spanish government, and his assistant, John Thomas Evans,
a Welshman, had accumulated vital information about the tribes
of the Missouri River valley and even planned their own venture
to the Pacific Ocean. While at Camp Dubois in Illinois during
the winter of 1803-1804, Lewis and Clark acquired some of
this knowledge through talking with Mackay and examining the
trader's notes, journal extracts, and maps.
Nicollet's Copy of the Mackay/Evans Map
The influence of the 1797 Mackay-Evans map of
the Missouri River is underscored by this apparent copy by
Joseph Nicollet, who mapped the upper Mississippi River and
the adjacent region west to the Missouri River from 1836-1840.
This small, incomplete copy traces the Missouri River from
the Great Detour (near present-day Chamberlain, South Dakota)
to River LaBombe (possibly Cannonball River south of Bismarck,
North Dakota). While few landmarks were labeled, the course
of the river and the location of selected islands and Indian
villages correspond closely to the Mackay-Evans delineation.
The Missouri-Mississippi Rivers
Most likely prepared for the Lewis and Clark
expedition on the eve of its departure from St. Louis, this
map was part of a collection accumulated by William Clark.
Although place names are in French, its Spanish origins are
implied by the dramatic, albeit conjectural, bend of the Missouri
River towards the south into modern-day New Mexico. The map
locates the Missouri's headwaters near Santa Fe presumably
in an attempt to validate the Spanish notion that northern
Mexico was embraced by both the Mississippi and the Missouri
rivers. The mid-course of the Missouri River is based on the
latest contemporary information obtained from explorer-traders
James MacKay and John Evans.
Mackay-Evans Map of the Missouri River
several copies of this detailed and influential manuscript
map were made, only this copy survives. It was drafted for
the use of Lewis and Clark and carried by them on the first
leg of their journey up the Missouri River. Based on surveys
up to the Mandan-Hidatsa villages by explorer-trader James
Mackay with the assistance of John Evans, the map is recognized
as a milestone in Great Plains cartography since it was the
first to employ extensive astronomical observations and compass
readings. It furnished Lewis and Clark with the most detailed
cartographic representation of the lower and middle courses
of the Missouri River before they reached the area.
St. Louis - Gateway to the Missouri
Although French General Victor Collot traveled
through the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys in 1796, his
two-volume account was not published until 1826. During his
inspection tour, Collot observed the topography, resources,
and people of these American and Spanish-held lands, which
he illustrated with regional maps, town plans, and views in
an accompanying atlas. His plan of St. Louis displayed the
town's military fortifications, which he found sadly lacking.
But the image also reveals the town emerging as the gateway
for the fledgling Missouri River fur trade.
"The Missouri is in fact the principal river"
As early as 1785 in his Notes on the State
of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson asserted "The Missouri
is in fact the principal river, contributing more to the common
stream than does the Mississippi, even after its junction
with the Illinois." Jefferson's intense interest in the Missouri
River eventually led to his dispatching the Corps of Discovery
up the Missouri to search for the water route to the Pacific.
This edition of Jefferson's only published book is the first
published in the United States. It raced through nineteen
editions in five countries before Jefferson's death.
British Passage to the Pacific
The last part of the North American
coastline to be explored and mapped by Europeans was the northern
portion extending from the Pacific Northwest around Alaska and along
the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Much of the energy for such explorations
came from the persistent search for a northwest passage, the elusive
water route from Atlantic to Pacific. During the last half of the
eighteenth century, the Russian fur traders and imperial officials
began to take an interest in Alaska while the British focused on
the regions of Hudson's Bay, the Arctic Ocean, and the Pacific Northwest.
The new geographic knowledge of interior North America provided
by the fur trading activities of the Hudson's Bay Company, the North
West Company, the coastal explorations of Spanish and British navigators
including James Cook and George Vancouver, and the transcontinental
trek of Alexander Mackenzie were incorporated into the 1802 map
of North America published by the noted British geographer Aaron
Arrowsmith. This map and its depiction of British discoveries in
the northwestern portion of the continent were among the materials
that proved crucial to Jefferson in defining the Lewis and Clark
Chart of the Pacific Northwest
This chart records the explorations of British
Naval Captain George Vancouver along the Pacific Northwest
Coast and into the entrance of the Columbia River, as far
as present-day Portland, in the early 1790s. Vancouver was
directed by the British government to collect information
about the fur trade and search for a possible northwest passage.
Using Vancouver's charts, Aaron Arrowsmith recorded this information
on his 1802 map of North America. Meriwether Lewis also studied
and traced Vancouver's chart of the Columbia reinforcing Jefferson's
notion about a potential link between the Columbia and Missouri
British Misconceptions of Western Geography
Massachusetts-born Jonathan Carver, one of the
first English colonists to venture west beyond the upper Mississippi
River, explored several northern tributaries of the Mississippi,
attempting to find a river passage to the west coast. His
map of North America depicts the hypothetical "River of the
West," promoting the misconception that the Pacific could
be reached directly from the Mississippi River. The map also
demonstrates Carver's belief in the concept of a "pyramidal
height-of land" in the western interior, from which the continent's
Carver's account of his geographical discoveries
and observations about various Indian tribes stimulated widespread
interest in seeking a passage to the Pacific. His Travels
through the Interior Parts of North America was published
in London in 1778 and became an instant best seller, issued
in more than thirty editions and translated into several languages.
While Carver's account was heavily re-written and sometimes
exaggerated, scholars now recognize its ethnographic and geographic
Captain Cook and Nootka Sound
Sailing under the British flag with the intention
of locating the western gateway to the fabled Northwest Passage,
Captain James Cook devoted his third and final voyage to exploring
the Pacific Basin and the northwest coast of North America
from Oregon to Alaska. His account of the voyage included
illustrations like this view of the native "habitations" of
Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in present-day
British Columbia. Like expeditions to follow, Cook was instructed
to observe the flora, fauna, and geology he encountered and
". . .to describe them as minutely, and to make as accurate
drawings of them, as you can . . ."
"A Canoe of Nootka Sound"
Joseph Ingraham was a trader and an explorer
who commanded the brigantine Hope on a trading
venture from Boston to the northwest coast of North America
in 1790-1792. The venture was a commercial failure, but Ingraham
chronicled the journey, by way of South America's Cape
in a four-volume journal that includes written descriptions
of native peoples, local flora and fauna, as well as numerous
illustrations. He writes in his journal, "I shall likewise
present a drawing of a canoe of Nootka Sound," which is
Map of Western North America
Peter Pond, an American fur trader from Connecticut
working for the British North West Company, drew on first-hand
experience and information gathered from Indians to create
an influential image of the northwestern portion of North
America. Reflecting the geographic wisdom of the time, he
sketched the Rocky Mountains as a single, narrow range close
to the Pacific Ocean and suggested that the headwaters of
the Missouri River might be close to the source of a western
river in the country of the Flathead Indians. Much of Pond's
concept of western geography was conjectural, but it nonetheless
guided future voyages of western discovery.
First Transcontinental Travel Account
In 1793 North West Company trader Alexander Mackenzie
became the first European explorer to cross the American continent
north of Mexico, following a route through northern Canada.
His published journal includes several Indian vocabularies
as well as an early history of the fur trade. It was reprinted
in twenty-six editions in four languages. After reading Voyages
from Montreal in the summer of 1802, Thomas Jefferson
accelerated plans for what became the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
P. Conde's frontispiece engraving is based on the only known
authentic portrait of Mackenzie.
Indian Map of the Missouri Headwaters
Peter Fidler, a surveyor, explorer, and cartographer
for the Hudson's Bay Company, drew this highly stylized map
in 1801 from one provided to him by Ac ko mok ki, a Blackfeet
Indian chief. This Indian map illustrates the headwaters of
the Missouri and Saskatchewan River systems flowing eastward
from the Rocky Mountains. It provided the best depiction of
the area at that time for advancing fur trappers. Fidler's
copy of Ac ko mok ki's map was forwarded to the Hudson's Bay
Company in London, where Aaron Arrowsmith incorporated selected
elements into the 1802 edition of his North American map.
1802 Map of North America
Aaron Arrowsmith's 1802 map was the most current
and accurate cartographic representation of the American West
available to Lewis on the eve of the journey. Lewis studied
this edition closely during the summer of 1803 and even carried
a copy on the first leg of the expedition. Among Arrowsmith's
sources were Indian maps, reports and manuscript maps from
the British fur trade, and British Navy exploration reports
and charts of the Pacific Coast. But various elements in the
map reinforced Jefferson's misconceptions of western geography,
among these were depictions of the Rocky Mountains as a single
long chain and the headwaters of the upper Missouri River
at the eastern edge of the Rockies, suggesting those mountains
were readily portaged.
Following the French and Indian
War (1754-1763), France lost its possessions in North
Spain acquired the former French territory of Louisiana (French
lands west of the Mississippi) and New Orleans. Britain added
St. Lawrence Valley, along with the lands north of the Great Lakes
and east of the Mississippi, to its well-established Atlantic
At the conclusion of the American Revolution in 1783, the new United
States gained not only the British territory that constituted
original thirteen colonies but also the lands west of the Alleghenies,
with the Mississippi River serving as the new nation's western
For American farmers intent on selling their produce down the
Mississippi River, New Orleans was a port of vast importance.
New Orleans remained
under Spanish control, but American merchants did have the right
of free passage on the Mississippi River and the use of the port
paying heavy customs duties. However, free navigation on the river
was threatened when Napoleon secretly regained control of New
and the lands west of the Mississippi. In an attempt to secure
access to New Orleans, Thomas Jefferson directed Robert R. Livingston,
U. S. Minister to France, and American diplomat James Monroe to
negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and the Floridas for $10,000,000.
Surprisingly, Napoleon not only agreed to sell New Orleans but
also offered all of Louisiana for $15,000,000. The Americans quickly
accepted the deal, thereby doubling the size of the nation.
between British and Spanish Territories
This British military map illustrates the Mississippi
River as the boundary separating the Spanish and English empires
in North America, by terms of the 1763 treaty ending the French
and Indian War. Spanish lands are shaded blue, and the British
are shown in yellow. By the treaty, Great Britain gained the
right to navigate the river, thus providing it with an opportunity
to exploit the Mississippi Valley fur trade, although the
river's major port New Orleans was under Spanish control.
Following the American Revolution, the United States acquired
these British lands, except for the Floridas, and the right
of free navigation on the Mississippi.
The Purchase of Louisiana
In his letter to James Madison, James Monroe,
U.S. special envoy, explains why he and Robert R. Livingston,
America's minister to France, were obliged to purchase
"the whole" of Louisiana. Monroe and Livingston later quarreled
over who deserved credit for the acquisition of the Louisiana
Territory. Monroe complained to Madison in this letter that
the "most difficult vexations and embarrassing part of my
labors has been with my associate." Monroe's role in the acquisition
propelled him into contention for the presidency in 1808.
Treaty with France to Acquire Louisiana
After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. acquired
British lands up to the Mississippi River. But the Spanish,
who obtained the lands west of the Mississippi from France,
barred American access to the river and the port of New Orleans.
Only in 1795, by the Pinckney Treaty, did Spain allow American
farmers and merchants the right to deposit and export goods
on the Mississippi. This arrangement was jeopardized by France's
secret acquisition of Louisiana. On learning that Napoleon,
threatened by wars in Haiti and elsewhere, might sell Louisiana,
Jefferson sent his emissaries to France to conclude the purchase.
Above is James Monroe's copy of the treaty he negotiated for
the United States.
First Post-Purchase Account of Louisiana
President Jefferson sought detailed information
from knowledgeable men living in Louisiana regarding its geography,
population, settlements, government, laws, and trade, in an
effort to expedite Congress's ratification of the treaty of
the Louisiana Purchase. He presented a compilation of their
responses to Congress in November 1803 that included valuable
information from John Sibley (1757-1837)--a Massachusetts-born
physician and Indian language expert, residing in Natchitoches,
Louisiana. This first reporting included extensive facts and
useful charts, as well as some myth and rumor, that stimulated
a public thirst for knowledge about the newly acquired land.
First Published Map of Louisiana Purchase
Prepared in 1804 for inclusion in a general reference
atlas by London publisher Aaron Arrowsmith, this map, more
than any other, embodied how Jefferson and his contemporaries
envisioned the West. River systems promised a quick passage
across the continent and the single ridge of the Rockies proved
no barrier to that passage. The central mission of the Lewis
and Clark Expedition--"to explore the Missouri river, &
such principal stream of it, as, by it's course and communication
with the waters of the Pacific ocean"--was based on the geographic
conceptions made visible in this map.
Transferring Power in Louisiana
James Wilkinson, ranking general in the U. S.
Army and charged by President Jefferson to oversee the military
aspects of the new territory of Louisiana, issued these General
Orders on December 20, 1803, for the formal transfer of power
over Louisiana. After the United States acquired Louisiana
from France, the transfer of control occurred without any
serious incidents. This was remarkable since many Spanish
and French officers had overlapping authority, and there were
many conflicting territorial claims.
Louisiana Purchase Treaty published in the press
On July 4, 1803, the National Intelligencer
and Washington Advertiser carried the first official
public announcement that France had sold the Louisiana Territory
to the United States. The Intelligencer was published
in Washington, D.C., by Samuel Harrison Smith (1772-1845),
a political ally of President Thomas Jefferson. It was considered
the "official" newspaper of Jefferson's administration and
the Jeffersonian Republican political party.
Thomas Jefferson's plan in 1805 to build on the
Louisiana Purchase by buying West Florida from Spain is lampooned
here by cartoonist James Akin. Induced by the sting of the
hornet Napoleon, Jefferson vomits gold coins before a dancing
Spanish representative holding maps of East and West Florida
and carrying French Minister Talleyrand's instructions in
his pocket. By the end of the War of 1812, the U.S. had gained
possession of most of West Florida. The remainder of West
Florida and East Florida were acquired by Treaty in 1819 during
James Monroe's administration.
"We received the treaty from Paris"
Although Meriwether Lewis already knew of the
purchase of Louisiana, he received this written confirmation
from President Jefferson while in Pittsburgh securing supplies
and equipment for the western journey ahead. Of more interest
to Lewis was the inclusion of British Lieutenant Broughton's
description of the location of "the source of the Missouri
. . . in the Stony mountains" and his calculations on the
short distance between Mount Hood in Oregon and the range
of the Stony Mountains.