Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A 19th Century Map Worth Studying

If you’ve ever looked at our Jonathan Sheppard Books website, you know that we have more than a passing interest in maps. Maps can often present information in dramatic ways that words cannot.

So, it was great to see a unique historic Civil War era map featured on the New York Times website earlier this month.   It became even more timely last week – all because of a fancy dress ball.

Last week, some folks in Charleston, South Carolina hosted a “Secession Ball”  to mark the beginning of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. The ball was held exactly 150 years after South Carolina representatives signed their Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860. A few days later, on Christmas Eve 1860, the South Carolina representatives issued a document titled “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union”.    Slavery and its future (or the lack of same) under the government headed by newly elected Abraham Lincoln was a major issue of concern.

On April 12th 1861, the first engagement of the Civil War took place at Fort Sumter – in Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor.

About five months later, in September 1861, the United States Coast Survey published a fascinating map showing the distribution of the slave population in the southern states, based on the information in the 1860 census. The data were presented on a county by county basis, both numerically and with shading, making it easy to see those counties where slaves made up the largest percentage of the population.

The map cost 50 cents and the proceeds from the map’s sale were to be used for the benefit of the sick and wounded soldiers of the U. S. Army.  You can see the map here.   [Hint: Click on the “PDF of map” hyperlink; it will let you look at the great detail available.]

The map was – for its time – a superb way to present complicated data, especially considering the number of people who could not read English.

An interesting side-note: at the time the map was published, the United States Coast Survey – a leader in the development of innovative, content-rich maps -  was headed by Alexander Dallas Bache (1806 – 1867), the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin.

Bache, a West Point graduate and a professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, was appointed Coast Survey superintendent in 1843 upon the death of its first leader Ferdinand Hassler. He remained in that position until his death in 1867. Among his other accomplishments, Bache was one of the founders and the first president of the National Academy of Sciences.  His papers, including his diaries and personal letters, are now housed in Washington at the Smithsonian Institution.

Source note: The "Negroes, Negroes" broadside above is from -
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library Advertising Ephemera Collection - Database #A0160
Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History

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