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1803-1875

David H. Burr is of one of the first and most important truly American cartographers and map publishers. Burr was born in Bridgeport Connecticut in August of 1803. In 1822 Burr moved to Kingsboro, New York to study law. A year and a half later he was admitted to the New York Bar association. Shortly after being admitted to the Bar, he joined the New York State Militia.

Though largely untrained in the art of Surveying, Burr was assigned to work under Surveyor General of New York, Simeon De Witt, to survey several New York Roadways. Burr was able to negotiate with the governor of New York at the time, De Witt Clinton, to obtain copies of other New York survey work in order to compile a map and Atlas of the state of New York.

The United States. Map. c 1833. David H. Burr.

Recognizing the need for quality survey work of its territory, the government of New York heartily endorsed and financed Burr's efforts. The resulting 1829 Atlas of the State of New York was the second atlas of an individual U.S. State and one of the most important state atlases ever produced. Burr went on to issue other maps both of New York and of the United States in general. In cooperation with publishing firm of Illman & Pillbrow, he produced an important New Universal Atlas and, with J. H. Colton, several very important maps of New York City.

In recognition of this work, Burr was appointed both "Topographer to the Post office" and "Geographer to the House of Representatives of the United States." Later, in 1855, Burr was assigned to the newly created position of Surveyor General to the state of Utah.

July 31, 1856, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

Later from Great Salt Lake.

By the arrival of the steamer Sea Bird from the Southern Coast, we are placed in possession of files of the Deseret News from the 4th to the 25th June, inclusive. That paper of the 18th June contains the following:

News from Agent Hurt and Party.

By the politeness of Surveyor General David H. Burr, we are enabled to furnish the following items from a letter to Gen. Burr from Dr. Hurt, written on the 5th of June, 20 miles below the bridge on the Humboldt or Mary's river.

On the morning of June 1st, A. P. Hawes came to the camp with information that some Indians had reported that Carlos Murray and wife, and a young man named Redden had been killed by the Indians. Mr. Hawes was inclined to believe that they had been killed somewhere between the point at which the letter was written and the head of Mary's river, and probably about three weeks previous. Dr. Hurt informed the few diggers then in camp of the report, who replied that they had not before heard of it.

At the head of Mary's river Valley, 130 Indians were met, who at first seemed friendly; part of them were painted and shy, and upon receipt of some presents, they packed up in great haste, and left for parts unknown.

Nothing was found to give a clue to the murderers, except a gold pencil and an ear-ring which Mr. Hawes said belonged to his sister, Murray's wife; Mr. Hawes also stated that he had seen Murray's pistols in the possession of some emigrants, who said they had bought them from the Indians.

Burr retired from the position and from cartographic work in general in 1857.

Jedeiah Smith and David Burr

Jedeiah Smith spent roughly 9 years, between 1821 and 1830, exploring the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada, the Rocky Mountains and the valleys of California, but sadly perished before his important work could be published. Smith's lost map was taken by his partner and friend, Missouri Congressman William H. Ashely, and eventually made its way into the hands of David H. Burr, who was then composing his own important map of the United States (above). Smith's work must have seemed a revelation to Burr who struggled to reconcile conflicts between the mappings of Humboldt, Pike, Miera, and of course, Lewis and Clark.

Burr, realizing the importance of Smith's work, Mapmakers.incorporated it throughout his map, thus redefining the cartographic representation of the region. Shortly after Burr published this seminal map, Smith's original manuscript was lost, making Burr's map the sole printed representation of Smith's work.


The Mapmakers: Revised EditionThe Mapmakers. John Noble Wilford.

The Mapmakers. John Noble Wilford, author.

In his classic text, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner John Noble Wilford recounts the history of cartography from antiquity to the space age. With this revised edition, Wilford brings the story up to the present day, as he shows the impact of new technologies that make it possible for cartographers to go where no one has been before, from the deepest reaches of the universe (where astronomers are mapping time as well as space) to the inside of the human brain. These modern-day mapmakers join the many earlier adventurers including ancient Greek stargazers, Renaissance seafarers, and the explorers who mapped the American West whose exploits shape this dramatic story of human inventiveness and limitless curiosity.

The Fourth Part of the World:
An Astonishing Epic of Global Discovery, Imperial Ambition, and the Birth of America

Toby Lester
Global Discovery.Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports."Old maps lead you to strange and unexpected places, and none does so more ineluctably than the subject of this book: the giant, beguiling Waldseem?ller world map of 1507."

So begins this remarkable story of the map that gave America its name. For millennia Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia. They drew the three continents in countless shapes and sizes on their maps, but occasionally they hinted at the existence of a "fourth part of the world," a mysterious, inaccessible place, separated from the rest by a vast expanse of ocean.

It was a land of myth until 1507, that is, when Martin Waldseemulller and Matthias Ringmann, two obscure scholars working in the mountains of eastern France, made it real. Columbus had died the year before convinced that he had sailed to Asia, but Waldseem?ller and Ringmann, after reading about the Atlantic discoveries of Columbus's contemporary Amerigo Vespucci, came to a startling conclusion: Vespucci had reached the fourth part of the world.

To celebrate his achievement, Waldseemuller and Ringmann printed a huge map, for the first time showing the New World surrounded by water and distinct from Asia, and in Vespucci’s honor they gave this New World a name: America.

1833 Map of the United States

Following is David H. Burr's 1833 map of the United States. Burr's map is considered the culmination of one of the most dramatic and romantic periods in the mapping of the American West. It is further one of the most significant maps in the opening of the American West to the Gold Rush that, in just a few years, would transform the nation.

Between the expedition of Louis and Clark in 1804 - 1806 and the work of Fremont in the 1840s, the exploration of the Mississippi experienced a kind of dark age. Nevertheless, while no official teams were pushing cartography westward, trappers and fur traders were slowly penetrating the region. Most of these figures were illiterate and did little to extend cartographic knowledge.

Antique Map of the World. 1507. Martin Waldseemuller.

The Age of Discovery (15th and 16th centuries) was marked by great advances in mapmaking. Leading cartographers of the period were Martin Waldseemuller of Germany and Gerhardus Mercator and Ortelius of the Low Countries. From the 17th to the 19th century European nations concentrated on mapping their territories at home and abroad. These maps had great military value, and at first were kept secret. Early colonists used Waldseemuller's map of 1507, which is accredited to giving Western Hemisphere lands the name “America.”

Maps that helped open the interior of North America to settlement were made by Nicolas Sanson, Jonathan Carver, and others.

After the Louisiana Purchase (1803), Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike headed early military expeditions to map the Far West. The U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor of the National Ocean Survey, was established in 1807 and was at first concerned mainly with mapping for navigation. The U.S. General Land Office, established in 1812, took over the survey of public lands. The Army's Corps of Topographical Engineers (later combined with the Corps of Engineers) directed the extensive series of Pacific Railroad Surveys in the 1850's. The U.S. Geological Survey was established in 1879.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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