Even in 1784 America, It Was Impossible to Make a Map Without Infuriating Someone

Abel Buell’s map was the first in the country submitted for a copyright

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The first map of the United States drawn and printed in America by an American was, until a few years ago, hardly known at all. Only seven original copies exist, and the best preserved is now on display for the first time, as the centerpiece of "Mapping a New Nation," an exhibition at the Library of Congress. Printed by Abel Buell, an engraver from Connecticut, in March 1784—six months after the Treaty of Paris—the map relied so heavily on published sources that it contained no original cartographic material. But Buell made sure that his fanciful compilation reflected his politics. Several states, looking hungrily toward French and Spanish possessions on the continent, extend west of the Mississippi River—"Manifest Destiny for the 18th century," says Edward Redmond, the library's curator of geography and maps. In a flourish, Buell banished the word "New" from a number of place names, including New Orleans and New Hampshire. Buell's skills were diverse. An inventor and metalsmith, at 21 he was arrested for counterfeiting. As a part of his sentence, the tip of his ear was cropped off, and he lived the rest of his life with a "C" branded onto his forehead.

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