Monday: Map Day!

First official map of Wisconsin, 1837


Some of my favorite characters in film are the dogs in Pixar’s animated feature Up. It’s clear that Pixar’s artists and writers have a deep understanding of our canine friends, especially their tendency to be distracted by, for example, a…squirrel! 1

Likewise, some of the pleasures (or hazards?) of history research are the many squirrel!-like moments where you manage to be completely distracted by cool stuff that is not at all related to the topic you are actually trying to research. Like the dogs of Up, I am easily distracted, although my attention is drawn more to old maps, books, newspaper clippings, sepia photographs and colorful lithographs.

This week, I was looking for more information about possible Clark connections in Lower Canada in the early 1800s, to add to our earlier posts, including this one, this one and this one. But what did I find? Glad you asked…

First map of Wisconsin Territory from official surveys, 1837

Click image to open larger map in new window.

This is the Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory / compiled from the Public Surveys on file in the Surveyor General’s office … by Samuel Morrison, Elisha Dwelle [and] Joshua Hathaway. It was engraved by Doolittle & Munson and published in 1837. It is another one of the remarkable maps from the American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Click here for a link to this map at UW-M and its complete bibliographic information.

This is the first large-scale map of the Wisconsin Territory based on actual surveys. The map was compiled and published by the surveyors Samuel Morrison, Elisha Dwelle, and Joshua Hathaway and engraved on three copperplates. In 1785, the United States Congress passed the Land Survey Ordinance, which provided for a system of square townships six miles on a side, divided into 36 one-square-mile sections. The map shows townships in the Wisconsin Territory surveyed by 1837 […] Maps such as these helped immigrants and settlers understand the survey system and locate the land they bought. A prospective buyer could go to any U.S. Government Land Office and look in tract books that contained detailed descriptions of the land. As the inscription states, the map once belonged to the American writer Eugene Field (1850-95.) 

Source: AGS Digital Map Collection

Where’s the rest of Wisconsin Territory?

This is “Wisconsin” as Jonathan Clark, Peter Turck and other early Mequon settlers—such as Isham Day, Isaac Bigelow, Daniel Strickland, Jesse Hubbard, James W. Woodworth and Cyrus Clark—would have understood it in 1837. The only land surveyed, and therefore available for purchase from the U.S. government, were those lands that had been purchased from and “cleared” of Native Americans2 by the end of 1836. That was the territory to the south and east of a diagonal line from Green Bay in the northeast, running generally southwesterly along the Fox River to Portage County and the portage near Ft. Winnebago, and then continuing southwesterly along the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi River and Ft. Crawford at Prairie du Chien.

Many, many details

This map is filled with information. Along with clear indications of all the surveyed townships, ranges and sections, there are symbols for typical man-made features such as roads, trails, towns as well as natural features such as hills, lakes and rivers. This detailed map also includes symbols for other natural features such as ledges, natural mounds, prairies, swamps and marshes, and recent human features such as mills (for sawing wood or grinding grain, presumably) and lead and copper mines.

Topographical map of Wisconsin Territory, 1837 (detail). Click to open larger image in new window.

A particularly notable feature of the map are the various “Artificial Mounds” that are noted in several parts of the surveyed territory. These include the “Ancient Ruins or Aztallan” (sic, Aztalan) in Jefferson County (click here for background info and a good introductory video of this remarkable site).

Ft. Howard, Green Bay, Navarino, and the French influence

In earlier posts we’ve examined Jonathan M. Clark’s service in the U.S. Army at Ft. Howard, near Green Bay. This map gives a very detailed and useful view of the relationship between the fort, the village of Green Bay and the neighboring settlement of Navarino, home to one of the territory’s first newspapers, the Green-Bay Intelligencer and Wisconsin Democrat.3

The French were the first European explorers, traders and settlers in the Old Northwest. Many of the geographical and man-made features on this map are given French names, or French transcriptions of indigenous names. Examples from the detail map, above, include the settlements of Petite Kaukalau, De Pere and the small peninsula in Green Bay itself, called Pt. au Sable.

One other example of French influence in this detail are the long, thin, land partitions running perpendicular to the Fox River, southwest of Ft. Howard. These parcels are smaller, but their shape and orientation are the same as the seigneurial system partitions along the St. Lawrence River in maps of Quebec that we have previously discussed, such as this 1802 map of Lower Canada.

Coming up…

In future posts I’ll have more to say about this map. For now, take some time to click and enlarge the map. It’s remarkable feat of cartography and well worth time spent looking at its details.


  1. Or a… ball!

    Image of Dug the dog—distracted by a squirrel—from Pixar’s Up (1997). Copyright Pixar, used here under Fair Use educational commentary provision of U.S. copyright law.

    If you’ve never seen Up, you’re overdue. It’s a wonderful story with lots of laughs. And if the opening montage doesn’t move you, you have a heart of stone, and my condolences.

  2. By 1837, the federal government, via various treaties, payments, land exchanges, and threats of military force had—officially—”cleared” the surveyed portion of Wisconsin of its Native American inhabitants. In reality, many Native Americans remained in southeast Wisconsin after 1836, and their descendants still live throughout the state today. According to various records—mostly written by white settlers—the Native Americans that remained in the surveyed areas co-existed amicably with the new, white, immigrants to the territory. I would like to focus on these original Wisconsin peoples in future posts; I still have a lot of study to do before I feel confident to present their stories properly.

  3. has digital images of a (incomplete?) run of 47 issues of the Green-Bay Intelligencer and Wisconsin Democrat from December 11, 1833 through June 1, 1836. There may be additional issues at other sites.

    From what I can tell, including a search of the Library of Congress US Newspaper Directory, 1690-present, the Green-Bay Intelligencer and Wisconsin Democrat is the earliest—or certainly among the very earliest—Wisconsin newspapers with a known starting date.

    The location of the settlement of Navarino is now part of the greater City of Green Bay. Today’s map is one of the few I’ve seen that shows the location of the settlement of Navarino.