J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Maps of Eighteenth-Century Native America

A couple of stories about maps created or co-created by Native Americans in contact with British settlers recently caught my eye.

At Atlas Obscura, Sarah Laskow wrote about a map drawn on deerskin, now lost, in South Carolina in the early 1720s:
It depicted geographic and social relationships among the Native American nations in the surrounding area. Squares represent European settlements, with Charleston at one end and Virginia at the other, and circles in between represent Native American communities, connected by double lines that resemble paths.

This map, now known as the “Catawba Deerskin Map,” is one of the only examples of a map created by a Native American and given to Europeans. Colonial settlers reported that native tribes regularly made maps—etched in ash or on tree bark—and that this local cartographic knowledge helped the settlers develop their own maps of areas they wanted to occupy. . . .

This particular example combined geography with information about the relations between people living in the area, and some scholars argue that the paths drawn between the communities represent social and political distance, rather than geography. “This was a map that was meant to illustrate a trade relationship,” Max Edelson, a historian at University of Virginia, told BackStory radio. Edelson’s new book, A New Map of Empire, explains that the center of the map is the Catawba community of Nasaw, and Edelson compares it to the famous “View of the World From 9th Avenue” map, in which New York City takes on a disproportionate amount of space to represent its inhabitants’ view of the world.

There is some question, though, about who actually made the deerskin map. . . . Historian Ian Chambers, for instance, has argued that the map is of Cherokee origin. One of the keys to his assertion is the path that runs across the top of the map, which connects the Cherokee directly to Charleston. Trade along this connection, Chambers writes, had been logistically challenging, and a Cherokee leader had once promised a trader that “they would make a new path” to ease the way. The central position of the Catawba communities, in this theory, highlights their position as an obstacle to direct trade between the Cherokee and the British, much like a British map might put the Atlantic Ocean at the center of a map of the North American colonies and the British Isles, the center of power, in one corner.
Meanwhile, the Cornell University library spotlighted a recent acquisition “showing Seneca and Cayuga villages and native footpaths in addition to natural features” in what is now upstate New York:
It consists of three maps: a finished map of Hudson County, and sketched maps of Schoharie Creek and Seneca and Cayuga territory.

The Seneca-Cayuga map depicts Cayuga and Seneca lakes as well as six small triangles representing indigenous villages. Five of these villages are named, and all are connected by a network of dotted lines indicating footpaths.

“It’s one of the most detailed early European reconnaissance of what we now call the Finger Lakes, and what’s striking about that from a colonial/historical perspective is how late that is,” said Jon Parmenter, associate professor of history.

The map was likely created between 1760 and 1770. By then, the Finger Lakes region was well known to European colonists, but they had limited access for detailed surveying. . . .

For example, a spot on Cayuga Lake labeled “Tarry” on the map was probably a spot where people waited for canoes to come and ferry them across to the other shore. A spot near what is now Montezuma, N.Y. is labeled, “The resort of gees and ducks of all sorts all the year.”


HemlockBob said...

Fascinating. I live in the Finger Lakes near a couple of the Native villages destroyed in the Clinton-Sullivan campaign. It'd be really neat to see the village triangles and how close the trails between villages are to the modern roads of today. Are any images of this New York map available on-line?

J. L. Bell said...

I couldn’t find it, but Cornell might digitize that map after conservation.

Unknown said...

Nice map for the Iroqouis and their Southern Cherokee neighbors. I agree that the Catawba Map was probably Cherokee based. Cherokee controlled the trade route along the Carolinas. There have been a few dissertations written about the trade route along the Carolinas with correlating maps. As an Algonquin historian, I usually use the 1718 Guillame DeLise Map. It covers from the Eastern Seaboard to as far west as the Gulf of Mexico and tends to be agreed upon by historians as very accurate for it's location of tribal villages. Especially along the Eastern Seaboard and the Ohio River Valley. Most of it is in 18th century French, so I guess this where I am happy that I speak French. The originals are at Cornell, Library of Congress and National Archives. I have two prints- one bound and one unbound. I've reviewed a million times and still see something new everytime!! I adore maps, most especially early maps depicting Native villages.

J. L. Bell said...

For folks curious about the 1718 Guillaume DeLise map, it’s here on Wikimedia. Thanks!