Map with a “Birdseye View” of 1830s America

While browsing historical maps on David Rumsey’s Map Collection today, I stumbled upon this historical oddity: a hand-drawn outline of a bald eagle, superimposed over a map of America in 1833. While it won’t win any awards for its detail or zoological accuracy (its head looks more like a dove’s than it does an eagle’s), the map still provides a snapshot of the country in the early 1830s.

The Eagle Map of the United States Engraved for Rudiments of National Knowledge. 1833. (David Rumsey Map Collection)

The country, which at the time was intrigued by the scandalous Petticoat Affair and reeling from the Black Hawk War, looks significantly different than it does today. Some of those differences might affect your research:

  • Virginia and what is now West Virginia are still one state. The two would separate shortly before the Civil War after some western counties protested Virginia’s succession from the Union.
  • Wisconsin, Minnesota and upper Michigan are listed as part of the “North West Territory.” In reality, these were part of the Michigan Territory until 1833, when the US government created the Wisconsin and Michigan Territories. Michigan became a state in 1837, and Wisconsin became a state in 1848. (Minnesota wouldn’t become a state until later, in 1858.)
  • Arkansas is still a territory. The region became a state (with its current boundaries) in 1836.
  • Texas remains part of Mexico. Mexico secured its independence from Spain just a few years later in 1836, and the self-governing Republic of Texas declared its own independence later that year before being annexed to the United States in 1845.
  • The Great Plains and the Upper Midwest are all combined in the “Missouri Territory,” the unorganized land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Iowa, admitted to the Union in 1846, was the first state to be carved out of this land. The rest wouldn’t be organized until 1854, with the creation of the Kansas, Nebraska and Indian Territories.

At the time this map was created, the United States also owned land that would later become Washington and Oregon, though these territories aren’t shown on this map.