Department of Special Collections and University Archives
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Maps of the American West


Henry S. Tanner's 1822 Map of North America


 

Map of North America
by Henry Schenck Tanner, 182
2


Henry S. Tanner was one of America’s foremost engravers and map makers in the first half of the 19th century.  By the time he began producing his own maps he had engraved many notable maps for cartographers Aaron Arrowsmith, Samuel Lewis and John Melish.  In his Geographical Memoir, Tanner claimed he had devoted nearly ten years of his life to his monumental map of North America. 

Tanner declared his map to be “constructed to the latest information.’’  His map, like that of Alexander von Humboldt, made good use of and was built upon a large number of recently produced maps.  These included Alexander Mackenzie’s and Aaron Arrowsmith’s works as the basis for the British Canadian possessions,  von Humboldt’s of “New Spain,” the Lewis and Clark map, various maps from Zebulon Pike’s 1806 expedition, Stephen H. Long’s 1822 map and Juan Pedro Walker’s 1810 “Map of New California.”  

Tanner carefully corrected the source of the Arkansas River in the central “Stoney Mountains (the Rockies) from the Pike maps, important since the boundary dividing the new Republic of Mexico and the United States depended on it.  His map also shows that the territorial expansion of the United States was anything but certain in the first decades of the 19th century.  The West was still contested terrain at this time, where rival empires would keep the area’s political borders in flux for the next twenty-five years.  

As Tanner mapped the West Coast and the inland areas of Mexican territory, he relied on the work of Spanish cartographer Juan Pedro Walker.  But Tanner hedged just a bit as “The paucity of correct and authentic data for this section of my map compelled me to make use of this document, altho it is confessedly a work deserving of very little confidence.”  This lack of confidence did not extend to Humboldt’s “A General Map of the Kingdom of New Spain,” drawn in 1804.  Tanner states “The map that he has given the world, so far as he has become responsible for its correctness, bears the stamp of accuracy which the test of twenty years has not impaired.” 

Tanner hinted at the effort and frustrations in creating this landmark map at the conclusion of his memoir.  “If I have in any manner succeeded in the object of my humble but earnest endeavours of presenting to my fellow-citizens an accurate and complete geographical view of this highly-favoured portion of the world, for the attainment of which no exertions on my part have been withheld, nor any expense thought too great; I shall never regret the personal inconveniences to which an inadequate capital has sometimes subjected me, during the execution of this expensive work.”

Tanner’s “Map of North America” would serve as a foundation or master map for the next generation of significant maps of the American West.  It was also a bridge between the maps of the Jeffersonian explorers, represented by Lewis and Clark, Zebulon M. Pike and Stephen H. Long to the mapping done by the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers.

It would be another thirty years before the errors of western geography in Tanner’s map were fully corrected, and only after extensive on the ground exploration of the area had occurred.  With its beautifully engraved cartouche of the Falls of Niagara, Virginia’s Natural Bridge and animals of the West, Tanner’s map provides us a wonderful example of cartography being that special convergence of art and science.      
Wrapper, outside

Wrapper, inside
      On the TU Catalogue

Special Collection's Maps of the American West

Thomas Jefferys' 1776 American Atlas

 

Alexander von Humboldt's 1803 Map of Kingdom of New Spain Zebulon M.Pike's 1810 A Chart of the Internal Part of Louisiana Stephen H. Long's 1822 Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory (from the Carey  and Lea Atlas of 1822) Henry S. Tanner's 1822 Map of North America Josiah Gregg's 1844 A Map of the Indian Territory, Northern Texas and New Mexico Showing the Great Western Prairies Augustus Mitchell's 1846 A New Map of the Texas, Oregon and California With the Regions Adjoining 


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Revised: 02/13/11.