The Clements Library website includes events, exhibits, subject guides, newsletter issues, library staff, and more.

Home » Public Programs » Online Exhibits » Building on a Century of Collecting at the Clements Library » Pair 7: The Grid, Large and Small

Pair 7: The Grid, Large and Small

Pair 7: The Grid, Large and Small

No geometric shape has defined the American experience as much as the rectangular grid. A mainstay of urban planning from the fifth century BCE, it is not surprising to find the grid plan in early Native American cities such as Tenochtlan in Mexico and Hochelaga in Canada, nor in the cities founded by European settlers throughout the Americas, as exemplified by Captain Thomas Holmes’ plan of Philadelphia in 1683 (101 Treasures p. 46).

Rufus Putnam (1738 –1824), “Township No. VII, Range No. XIV [in Meigs County, Ohio].”
Manuscript map;
40.2 x 32.3 cm. (15 ¾ x 12 ¾ inches)
Small Maps 1787

The grid also became a defining feature of trans-Appalachian landscape thanks to the post-Revolutionary Land Ordinance passed by the Continental Congress in 1785. The Ordinance created a system of land division whose primary unit was the township, six miles square, containing 36 numbered “sections” of 640 acres each. Six lots in each township were reserved: one for education, one for religious purposes, and four to congress for future disposal. The forward-looking map on display here, from 101 Treasures, shows an early township in what is now Meigs county, southeastern Ohio, with the sections numbered and allocated, some subdivided into smaller, more affordable tracts.

The personal names on the sections include many investors in the Ohio Company of Associates, a speculative real estate company. The map is signed by Rufus Putnam, military leader during the Revolution, who was the first Surveyor General of the United States (1796-1803) and a founding partner of the Ohio Company.

Such a map as this was designed for future sales and investment. Thus the quality of the land and access to transportation were important, though not immediately visible on the plan. A close look finds two main waterways drawn in blue (Shade River and Leading Creek) with feeding streams shown by arrows, red numerals giving their breadth. Crossed lines, stars, and arrows are explained at the bottom of the map: symbols that qualify the land, denote hills and gradients, and mark springs, stones, and bottomland.

The map is thus an advertisement for tracts to be sold at auctions at a minimum of one dollar per acre, payable either in specie or Revolutionary War debt certificates. Lands were surveyed only after Indian titles had been extinguished by federal treaty. Although the company purchased the land from the Continental Congress, no treaty had yet been signed with the Shawnee and Delaware Native Americans who lived on this land, nor are these aboriginal inhabitants shown anywhere on this plan for the future.

“Plan de la Ville du Cap où est marqeé en noir ce qui à été Incendié les 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 &26 Juin 1793.” [Plan of the city of Cap where is marked in black that which was burned on the 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 & 25 of June 1793]
8.8 x 16 cm (3 ½ x 6 ½ inches).
Small maps 1793 Pl

The urban grid is at the core of the second map, a recent acquisition, that looks backward to a moment in history: the great fire that swept through Cap Français in the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue, today Cap Haitien in Haiti. The six-day fire in June 1793 was set off during a complex battle between rival French colonial factions and Haitian rebels and was a catalyzing event of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). The Ville du Cap (“city of Cap”), founded by French colonists in 1670, was the largest city in Saint Domingue by 1789, with a population of nearly 19,000, roughly the same size as Boston at the time.

Although unsigned, the plan is executed in a style similar to French military maps of the period: its use of red for existing structures and black or gray for ruined areas. Its precise delineation of the city block and public squares, at a size too small to label any streets or building, and its sketchy rendering of Cap Français’ surrounding hills, are based on previous plans created by French engineers stationed in Saint-Domingue who were responsible for urban fortifications and many public structures.

The plan is undated and its small size yet carefully rendered style (decorative cartouche, scale, north arrow,delicate calligraphy of the title) suggests it has been prepared as both an aide-mémoire of an eye witness or a rendering of an eyewitness account of fire damage onto a previously outlined base map. It is one of only a few maps created close to the time of the fire that records the extensive damage done to the city.

Two possible candidates vie for author of the plan: Charles Joseph Warin (? – 1796), a military engineer who was adjutant to Victor Henri Collot, governor of Guadeloupe, at the time of the Cap Français fire. After Collot surrendered Guadeloupe to the English in 1794, Warin and Collot fled to Philadelphia and made a famous journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in 1796, for which Warin drew maps and plans. Warin signed an undated manuscript plan of Cap Français showing the effect of the fire, which can be seen as the base map for a printed plan of the Cap, published in New York City in 1793 by John Harrison, publisher of the Columbia Gazette, and advertised in the September 30 issue, 1793. A copy of the Harrison plan (drawn by John Francis Renault and engraved by Cornelis Tiebout) is now in the American Antiquarian Society.

A second candidate is Georges Maillard de Bois Saint Lys (1766 – ), like Warin, a military engineer, graduate of the Ecole Militaire in Paris, who served in Saint Domingue from 1789 until evacuation after the fire. He was living in Philadelphia in 1799 where he prepared a series of maps of Saint Domingue to be presented to Edward Stevens, first US ambassador to Haiti. A collection of these maps of Saint Domingue are now in the American Philosophical Society. He owned property in Saint Domingue, to which he returned by at least 1808 to serve again in the engineers. He is also connected to Warin and Collot in that he prepared many of the Ohio River maps for the posthumous publication of Collot’s Voyage dans l’Amérique Septentrionale (1826); the preparatory maps for this publication are now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France and display a similarity of style, particularly in the cartouche design to the small Clements map of Cap Français. The connection with the Ohio River brings us back to the Putnam township survey plan and the small world of map makers.