Monday: Map Day! – The United States of North America, 1825

UPDATED August 16, 2021, to include more information on the Ho-Chunk language, inadvertently omitted from the original post.

I’m working on more posts for our series about the early Mequon immigrants and “How’d they get here?” I needed a map that showed all of the Great Lakes, as well as the Eastern seaboard states and ports from which these immigrants began their westward journeys. And hey, I found a great map from 1825, the year the Erie Canal was completed:

Finley, Anthony and David H. Vance, Map Of The United States Of North America. Philadelphia, 1825. Credit, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, non-commercial use permitted under Creative Commons license. Click image to open larger map in new window. 

Three maps in one

There’s a lot to see on this map. The full title is pretty self-explanatory; let’s break it down:

  • Map Of The United States Of North America. Compiled from the Latest And Most Authentic Information By David H. Vance. Philadelphia Published by Anthony Finley. Entered … July 12th, 1825. Engraved by J.H. Young.
  • (inset) Map Of North America Including All The Recent Geographical Discoveries 1825.
  • (inset profile) Comparative Elevation of the Principal Mountains and Hills in the United States.

…and steamboats, too!

At the top center, there is a table of “The Principal Steamboat Routes throughout the United States,” as of 1825. This table also includes the distances—presumably in (nautical?) miles—between steamboat stops, and the cumulative distances between starting and ending ports, for example, this 330-mile route between Buffalo, New York, and Detroit, Michigan Territory, with stops in Erie, Pennsylvania; the mouth of the Grand River (at Fairport, Ohio), the Ohio ports of Cleveland and Sandusky; and the city of Detroit, Michigan Territory:

Finley, Anthony and David H. Vance, Map Of The United States Of North America. Philadelphia, 1825 (detail). Click to open larger image in new window.

The number of more-or-less-regular steamboat routes in this 1825 table is really rather large, considering that the first successful American commercial steamboat—Robert Fulton’s North [i.e., Hudson] River Steamboat Claremont—went into service less than 20 years previously.

But the westward routes from Buffalo—as shown above—were much more limited than they would be only a decade later. In 1825 the regular Lake Erie route ends in Detroit. We know from other records that Green Bay, and Fort Howard, would have a handful of steamboat visits during navigation season in the 1820s and very early ’30s. Regular steamboat service to Green Bay, and further on to Milwaukee and Chicago, does not seem to be available until around 1833 or so.

Canals and rivers

Some notable canals and proposed canals appear on the main map. The Erie Canal is shown, and the table of steamboat routes includes distances on the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo. The shorter Northern Canal between Troy and Whitehall, New York—joining the Hudson River and Lake Champlain—is also marked on the map, but does not appear on the steamboat list. Perhaps the route was too short to make steamboat travel profitable in 1825.

At the southern end of Lake Michigan, a “Prop[osed] Canal” joining the village of Chicago with the Des Plaines River, as part of a hoped-for link to the Mississippi River via the Illinois River is shown. The actual courses and relationships of the Chicago, Des Plaines and Illinois rivers are not exactly correct though. The real need for a canal was farther west, at the portage between the south branch of the Chicago river and the Illinois river. That canal, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, was completed in 1848.


This map is a product of its time. There were errors in the surveys that had been completed, and large parts of the continent that had not yet been surveyed. The inset profile of the “Comparative Elevation of the Principal Mountains and Hills of the United States” is particularly incomplete and probably not very accurate. It appears that the list of mountains got no further west than Colorado’s Front Range. And the Rocky Mountains, including “Longs Peak the highest of the Rocky Mnts, Missouri Territory,” have been seriously under-measured. Longs Peak has an elevation of 14,259 feet above sea level, not 12,000. And it’s only one of Colorado 52 peaks over 14,000 feet elevation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other elevations, at least for the mountains of the West, were similarly inaccurate.

The U.S. in 1825

The United States of 1825 was rapidly expanding westward, and this map makes that easy to see. States are defined with contrasting colors, and every county is outlined and labeled. The most recent states admitted to the Union were Maine (1820) and Missouri (1821). No additional states will be admitted again until Arkansas in 1836 and Michigan in 1837. The western parts of the old Michigan Territory would not split from Michigan to become the Wisconsin Territory until mid-1836. (And the anti-slavery western portion of Virginia will not separate from its parent state until the middle of the Civil War.) Otherwise, the United States of 1825, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic seaboard, is pretty easy to recognize.

On this map there are clues that let you know if you are looking at a settled U.S. state or a territory that has not yet achieved statehood. One clue is the number and geographical size of counties within a state. The more settled and populous a state is, the more counties it will have. And since county boundaries often reflect population size, a heavily-settled area will have counties that cover a smaller area. Even a large state, like Pennsylvania had several dozen counties, whereas a newer state, like Illinois (1818) had far fewer, and some of those were very large. (In fact, this 1825 map is not completely up-to-date with Illinois counties, see this map and select an 1825 date from the menu for comparison.)

And in the lower-left corner of today’s 1825 map, just to the left of Louisiana, there is a “Statistical Table of the United States.” It presents a wide range of useful statistics, including various population data, capitals and populations of the states and territories, size of militias, and numbers of “Different Classes of Inhabitants,” namely whites, free Blacks, enslaved persons, and Indians living east and west of the Mississippi River.

Native Americans and westward expansion

The map gives a general location for some of the larger tribes or tribal groups of Native Americans. Tribal names are shown in an Italic, all-caps, shaded font. As is often the case, tribal names used by white mapmakers often differ from preferred group names. For example, “Winnebago,” while very common in the 19th-century and beyond, is not the preferred name of the Ho-Chunk people:

Until 1993, the Ho-Chunk Nation was formerly known as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe, but the term Winnebago is a misnomer derived from the Algonquian language family and refers to the marsh lands of the region.

The Hocąk language, or Ho-Chunk language, is the parent language of over 15 languages of the Siouan language family, as noted in how the Ho-Chunk refer to themselves as People of the Big Voice.  Like many First Nations, the Ho-Chunk are focused on language renewal and revitalization following the end of federal assimilation policy in 1975 and after the closing of eleven assimilative boarding schools in Wisconsin, including in Tomah and Wittenberg.  Today, there are approximately 200 fluent Ho-Chunk language speakers, mostly elders, and in this time of cultural revitalization, the Ho-Chunk Nation sustains early childhood, and middle and high school language programs throughout the five districts of the Ho-Chunk Nation to teach Hocąk to youth today.

(Ho-Chunk Nation)

Generally speaking, this map does not show Indian tribes in the older states in the Union. From the government’s point of view, the issues of Native American property and legal status had been resolved in the eastern U.S. in favor of the government and the white settlers, and few Indians were allowed to remain on ancestral lands. Most—but by no means all—Native Americans from the eastern states had been forced to give up their lands and move westward. Although some Native Americans did remain in the east, their presence is not recorded on this map.

An exception to this is found in the southern states. Chickasaws and Choctaws are shown in Mississippi, Upper Creeks in eastern Alabama, Lower Creeks in western Georgia and Cherokees across northern Alabama and Georgia. These tribes would remain in the southern states until force-marched westward by U.S. troops during the brutal displacements of the federal government’s Indian removal policies of circa 1830-1850 (including the infamous Trail of Tears).

North and Central America in 1825

For modern Americans, one “eye-opener” on today’s map may be the large inset in the lower right area, the Map Of North America Including All The Recent Geographical Discoveries 1825, (which also includes all of Central America and most of the Caribbean Islands).

Map Of North America Including All The Recent Geographical Discoveries 1825, inset detail from Finley, Anthony and David H. Vance, Map Of The United States Of North America. Philadelphia, 1825. Credit, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, non-commercial use permitted under Creative Commons license. Click image to open larger map in new window. 

This map was published almost half a century after the Declaration of Independence was signed. In that time the United States grew in population, wealth, and—to some degree—power upon the world stage. But this map reminds us that in 1825 the United States may have “owned” a substantial piece of North America, but it was only one of at least four nations with claims to vast areas of North American land (large parts of which were still occupied by their original inhabitants).

  • In the north, shaded pink, the British Empire ruled over an enormous hodgepodge of provinces, colonies and at least one land-holding and self-governing commercial venture (e.g., the Hudson’s Bay Company). One of the British provinces, Lower Canada (originally Québec), had its roots—and maintained a heritage—as a former French colony. The conflict between 1825’s Protestant, English-speaking government, and the Catholic and Francophone heritage of Québec was real, and remains a sensitive issue to the present day.

  • West of the British possessions of (most of) the future nation of Canada are the Russian Possessions of the future U.S. state of Alaska (shaded green) and parts of the future Canadian provinces of British Columbia, the Yukon and possibly some of the Northwest Territories. The United States will purchase this colony of Russian America (Русская Америка) from the Russian Empire in 1867.

  • The United States of 1825 is shown in dark green, outlined by aqua colored northern and southern boundary lines. In 1825, the area extending northwest from Illinois to the present states of Washington and Oregon was little-known, mostly not surveyed, and was known as the Missouri Territory. In the northwest corner of the territory, the border between the U.S, Russian America, and the British Possessions was not settled and would remain in dispute for many years.

  • And all the area shaded in yellow (except for the Spanish island colonies of Cuba and “Porto Rico”) belongs to newly-independent Mexico. From Cape Mendocino in the northwest, to Guatemala in the south and the Sabine River and Gulf of Mexico in the east, the nation of Mexico—heirs of the Spanish Empire—ruled a huge territory. Mexico’s 1825 boundaries included some of all of the future U.S. states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming (and I may have missed one or two there).

Enjoy the map

This map pre-dates the earliest official white settlement of Wisconsin Territory by a dozen years. Even so, it is a very detailed and useful map, as it gives us a picture of the quicksilver changes to American geography—and transportation—in the 1820s, ’30s, and beyond. In coming posts, I will use it to illustrate some of the journeys of Mequon’s earliest white settlers.

See you soon.



In case you are interested, the curators of the David Rumsey Map Collection had this to say about today’s map:

Scarce map of the United States west to 27 degrees from Washington. Predates Tanner’s 1829 Map of the United States. Contemporary with Lay, but a much more ambitious production. With a large inset Map of North America (the same map that appeared in the 1826 Finley American Atlas), a list of the Principal Steamboat Routes, a Statistical Table of the United States, and an illustration showing the Comparative Elevation of the Principal Mountains and Hills in the United States. This map was advertised in the 1824 General Atlas by Anthony Finley. The country west of the Mississippi is clearly derived from Long’s map of 1822. There are curious and indecipherable lines and small white squares (contemporary?) on the upper part of the map. Full color by county, with dark orange silk edging. Map is dissected into 40 sections, folds into marbled end sheets and lies in half leather marbled covers 29.5×22 with “Map Of The U. States. Philadelphia 1825.”; the original map and covers lie in maroon cloth folding covers which slip in a slip case 31×23 with a leather label reading “Vance. Map Of U.S. 1825” on the spine.

David Rumsey Map Collection