What map is this?: Part 1.

So, you want to learn about old maps of North Carolina or, perhaps, you have an old map and are curious about its origin. What are the best published references from which to learn about antiquarian North Carolina maps?

If one is looking for a reference book for pre-Revolutionary maps of North Carolina, one should be quite pleased to learn that there are two superb choices. The first major cartobibliography for maps pertaining to the Carolinas was compiled by our map society’s namesake, Professor William P. Cumming, of Davidson College. The first edition of The Southeast in Early Maps was published in 1958, followed shortly thereafter by the 2nd edition in 1962. In 1998, a 3rd edition was published, revised and enlarged by Louis De Vorsey, Jr.  Dr. Cumming’s book includes descriptions of almost every manuscript and/or printed map of the Carolinas from discovery through 1775, followed by a number of color and black & white illustrations.

Providing a broader geographic coverage, but with slightly less extensive temporal coverage, is Philp Burden’s The Mapping of North America. The first volume, covering maps printed 1511-1670, was published in 1996. A second volume, including maps printed 1671-1700, was published in 2007. If there is a map of the North American continent, or any portion thereof, printed before 1700, you’ll find it in this extraordinary reference set. The text includes descriptions of all the known states of a map and at least one illustration of every map. The Mapping of North America is, quite simply, one of the finest cartobibliographies ever produced.

Those two references are “the essentials” for pre-Revolutionary maps of North Carolina. What if your interest is post-Revolutionary maps? Well, that gets a bit tougher. Although there are several outstanding books available, the definitive cartobibliography for maps of North Carolina after the Revolutionary War does not exist. Two excellent general references are recommended, both of which are out of print:

Walter Ristow’s American Maps and Mapmakers (1985) provides a superb overview of the birth and development of the cartographic publishing industry in the United States.

Wheat & Brun’s Maps & Charts Published in America Before 1800 (revised edition, 1978) lists, by state and region, all known maps & charts printed in the United States before 1800.

Dozens of other books may briefly mention maps pertaining to North Carolina but, as stated above, the definitive reference does not exist. If you’ll write it, I’ll buy it. You may wish to begin your research with this bibliography on the North Carolina Maps web site.

What are some of your favorite cartographic reference books?

What's on your mind?