Skip to main content

Native American Spaces: Cartographic Resources at the Library of Congress

Featured Selection of Maps

Because the collections of the Geography and Map Division are comprehensive, as well as formidable to approach as primary resources, this guide is by necessity selective, while the descriptions accompanying each are abbreviated. Each map, however, has its own story, and here we examine a few of them at length below to illustrate for the researcher the richness of Native American history across a variety of cartographic materials. The fourteen maps displayed below have separate entries elsewhere in this research guide.

1. An Early Dutch Map of Manhattan

Joan Vingboons. Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier. 1639. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This pictorial manuscript map of Manhattan and its environs was copied around 1665 after a 1639 map by Joan Vingboons, the principal cartographer for the Dutch West India Company. In addition to evidence of Dutch settlement in Manhattan, the map features in the Brooklyn area four longhouses representing the Indian villages Wichquawank, Techkonis, Mareckweich, and Keskachauc. One of the settlements is noted as being "This is the type of houses the Indians live in." This is typical of the unexpected evidence of Indian settlement and culture that can appear on cartographic documents, but normally not considered resources for American Indian studies.

Harrisse Collection, Vingboons atlas, vol. 3. Manuscript, pen-and-ink and watercolor, 45 x 67 cm.  Call number G3291.S12 coll .H3 Vault. 

2. A Cawtaba Deerskin Map

Francis Nicholson. Map of the several nations of Indians to the Northwest of South Carolina. 1929. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This map describes the situation of the several nations of Indians to the north-west of South Carolina.  It was presented to the colonial governor of South Carolina, Francis Nicholson, ca. 1721, who summoned the local Creeks, Cherokees, and Catawbas to a meeting to discuss his intentions of constructing new forts in South Carolina's interior and building trade relations with the tribes.  Per a note on the map itself, it was "coppyed [sic] from a draught drawn & painted on a deer skin by an Indian Cacique and presented to Francis Nicholson Esqr. Governor of South Carolina by whom it is most humbly dedicated to his Royal Highness George, Prince of Wales."  Its preparation on deerskin may have been both symbolic and expedient: deer was a major food and textile source for the local Indians, but populations were being depleted due to the over-export of hides to Europe, with losses further exacerbated by conflict over the growing number of rice plantations on South Carolina's coastal plains. The map, likely drawn by a Catawba or Cherokee chief, features thirteen circles representing Indian tribes in the colony. The tribes are connected by a network of doubles lines representing footpaths. Along the left side of the map is a depiction of the city of Charleston, with its rectangular street grid pattern and a ship in the harbor. Although the map may appear rather schematic to modern viewers, it accurately reflects the spatial relationships of the Indian groups and their interconnecting trails.

Color photostat of original manuscript in the British Museum, London. Map 81 x 118 cm. Call number G3860 1724 .M2 1929. 

3. Copy of a sketch of the Monongahela, with the field of battle

John Montrésor. Copy of a sketch of the Monongahela, with the field of battle. ca. 1755. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Drawn by an unidentified Indian scout, this sketch is one of three original manuscript maps by an American Indian in the Geography and Map Division. It depicts the battle near Fort Duquesne in the colony of Pennsylvania between General Edward Braddock's British forces and the French and their Indian allies on July 9, 1755. With a sizable force of Indian allies and the advantage of fighting from the protection of natural cover, the French and Indians destroyed over half of the British force. Interestingly, the many wavy black lines illustrating the contours of the surrounding hills mimic a similar European method of depicting relief during that era, which was by way of drawing hachure lines, which employed equally spaced lines of varying thickness following the direction of maximum slope.

Manuscript, pen-and-ink and pencil, on sheet 26 x 27 cm. Scale not given. Call number G3824.P6S26 1755 .C6 Vault. 

4. A Revolutionary-era Map

A Map of the lands ceded by the Cherokee Indians to the State of South-Carolina at a congress held in May, A.D. 1777; containing about 1,697,700 acres. ca. 1777. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This manuscript map shows the land ceded by the Cherokee Indians to South Carolina and Georgia by a treaty signed on May 20, 1777. The Cherokee entered the Revolutionary War against the American colonists in 1776, but a counterattack by southern militia forced the Cherokee to sue for peace. That treaty and a later one with Virginia and North Carolina ceded over two-and-a-half million acres of Cherokee territory to the southern colonies, or eventually southeastern states.

Manuscript, pen-and-ink and watercolor, 51 x 60 cm. Scale 1:253,440. Call number G3910 1777 .M3 Vault.

5. Map Studied by Lewis and Clark

David Thompson. A Sketch of the North Bend of the Missouri River. [1798]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The American explorers, Lewis and Clark, are known to have studied various maps in preparation for their expedition across the American West, 1804-06. Merriwether Lewis was given this copy of map of a section of the Missouri River by David Thompson, a British explorer and fur trader employed as a surveyor/astronomer by the North West Company. Thompson's sketch of the river's Great Bend, near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota, proved to be a critical site, where Lewis and Clark established their first winter camp among Minitari-Mandan-Pawnee villages, which lay adjacent to the confluence of the Knife and Missouri rivers. In addition to the precise latitude and longitude of the Great Bend, Thompson has also noted the number of warriors, houses, and tents of each village.

Manuscript, pen-and-ink, annotated in pencil, 42 x 50 cm. Call number G4127.M5 1798 .B4 Vault. 

6. A Bitter-Sweet Victory for the Mohawk

Samuel Blodget, artist; Thomas Jefferys, engraver. A prospective view of the battle fought near Lake George, on the 8th of Sepr. 1755 bewteen 2000 English with 250 Mohawks. 1756 [1768]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This map illustrates the two stages of the battle on September 8, 1755, between a force of New Englanders with their Mohawk allies and French troops and their Iroquois supporters. This engagement was only a part of the long series of battles between French and British for control of North America that often involved Indian participants. Ambushed in the initial engagement near Crown Point on Lake George, the New Englanders, having suffered heavy losses, retreated south where they repelled another French attack. Although the English and Mohawk could claim victory, the success was bitter for the Mohawk, who had fought their fellow Iroquois.

Engraved print, source no. LC-DIG-pga-07166 DLC (digital file from original item). An original undigitized copy found under call number G1105 .J4 1768 Vault, no. 37. 

7. A Trade in Furs

Claude Joseph Sauthier, engraved by William Faden. A map of the inhabited part of Canada from the French surveys, with the frontiers of New York and New England. 1777. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This map of the Canadian, New York, and New England border areas highlights a region of immense commercial interest to both the British and North American Indians. As emphasized by the informative title cartouche in the northwest corner, the North American fur trade proved to be a sort of common ground over which British commercial agents and Native American trappers could exchange resources. In this illustration, the American Indian is handing a hide to a potential buyer, thus establishing the role of Native Americans as the chief supplier of a much demanded resource in colonial America and Europe. Behind the Native trapper is a pile of pelts, while behind the commercial agent is a bale covered by two pelts. Accompanying the agent ostensibly are his two assistants, one European and the other Indian, both smoking pipes. The agent's hand rests on a piece of paper -- a contract? -- to which his index finger appears to point to a specific term, whereas the paper sits on top of a barrel of goods for trade. The tableaux intimates that the Native trapper and Anglo-American agent are bartering pelts for tobacco, a commodity in demand among the Iroquoian-speaking peoples of the region. Local flora, fauna, and landscape in the background stage the scene.

Engraved print, hand-colored, 57 x 85 cm. Scale ca. 1:800,000. Call number G3401.F2 1777 .F3 Vault copy 1.

8. Sharing the Neighborhood

Nicolaes Visscher, Petrus Schenk, Novi Belgii Novæque Angliæ nec non partis Virginiæ tabula : multis in locis emendata per Nicolaum Visscher. [ca. 1690]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This is the fourth state of a popular map of the Dutch part of New England that appeared around the middle of the seventeenth century. It was drawn and published by the prolific Dutch cartographer, Nicholas Joannis Visscher, who had based it on a map that accompanied a set of grievances set before Holland's States General by a group of colonists who had become disgruntled with the Dutch West India Company's management of their colony, New Netherland, or Novi Belgii. In its first edition of about 1655 it provided the most detailed depiction of the region. Besides New England, it covers the Mid-Atlantic region southward to Hampton Roads.

The numerous place names on the map, especially in the Hudson River Valley, are a curious admixture of Algonquin, Iroquois, and Dutch terms, which indicates a blending of indigenous and European cultures that had been developing for almost a century.  Just to the west of the Susquehanna River, in what is now the state of Pennsylvania, the cartographer has included illustrations of Mohican (Muh-he-con-neok) and Minisink villages, as well as some native fauna, in an effort to endow the map with sense of authenticity for a European viewer.  Such depictions, however accurate they may be, enable us to reconstruct Native American settlement patterns. Curiously, those same two villages appeared on a 1718 French map of North America, but in the Southwest in the vicinity of New Mexico, suggesting that aspiring authenticity does not necessarily equal accuracy. 

Hand-colored map, 47 x 56 cm. Scale [ca. 1:2,200,000]. Call number G3715 169- .V6 Vault. 

9. A Good Vantage Point for Manifest Destiny

Johnson and Ward. Frontispiece from Johnson's new illustrated (steel plate) family atlas, with descriptions, geographical, statistical, and historical 1862.  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This frontispiece appeared in several editions of American atlases commercially published in the second half of the nineteenth century. It illustrates a group of Native Americans on a mountain ledge as part of their natural environment. From their perspective, they observe lands cleared of vegetation, a homestead, a riverboat, a railroad about to cross the river over a suspension bridge, a factory, and, in the background, a city. The image suggests the advance of population, agriculture, commerce, and industry of Western civilization, and thereby perpetuates a common trope of the American West that existed into the second half of the twentieth century: that of a passive and approving attitude among Amerindians towards manifest destiny, essentially the divine sanctioning of the westward expansion of the United States.

Engraved print, 45 x 35 cm. Scale not given. Call number G1019 .J5 1862 copy 1.

10. A Clash of Civilizations and Cartography

Luke Munsell. A map of the State of Kentucky: from actual survey Also Part of Indiana and Illinois, Compiled principally from Returns in the Surveyor-General's Office by Luke Munsell 1818. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Kentucky, then part of the Tennessee region, began experiencing colonial incursions around 1750, when Dr. Thomas Walker of the Loyal Land Company explored the Cumberland Gap. Whites began moving into the region after the French and Indian War, in spite of a royal proclamation of 1763 prohibiting British settlement. There followed a period of state challenges to title, surveying and exploration, and a growing population of Kentuckians, who came into constant conflict with local Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw over the land known as the "Great Meadow." White land sales continued to incite Indian antagonisms after statehood in 1792.

Kentucky experienced a brief economic boom following the War of 1812: demands for crops increased; prices rose; Kentuckans were lured into speculative investments in land; and banks were chartered to meet the demand for credit. Perhaps prompted by this period of financial progress or perhaps to satisfy a debt due to the state, a little-known cartographer named Luke Munsell compiled and published the first finely-drawn large map of the state, acknowledging the "patronage and liberality" of the people and legislature of Kentucky. Munsell's accomplishment later led him to be appointed a commissioner for the surveys to delineate the Kentucky-Tennesse Boundary.

Our interest is on the allegorical and very telling vignette above the title, which was prepared by Anglo-American artist, Thomas Sully. It depicts the team of surveyors in the foreground with their tools and cadastral surveys, measuring and dividing the land for White sale and settlement. They are presided over by the figure of Justice, using her scales of right and wrong to sanction the legitimacy of the proceedings. The characters exude the confidence of property owners who have staked out their new investment. Fading into the background, however, is a small band of Native Americans—possibly a family—as they descend a hill, being forced to abandon their ancestral lands. Because their backs are to us in the scene, we are given the impression that the events are the source of some shame, either to the perpetrators or to the victims or to both. This small illustration demonstrates the role that surveying and cartography contributed to the process of Indian removal, in its attempt to bring Anglo order and legality upon the land, but also incurring collateral damage upon its original inhabitants who are portrayed as having been divested of their most valuable possession.

Colored map, 98 x 229 cm. G3950 1818 .M8 Vault Copy 2. 

11. Trading Land for Debt

Map showing Indian land &c. 1772.  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Sometime around 1770 the Cherokee inflamed other Indian factions in Georgia when, in the words of one geographer, they devised a scheme "to satisfy their indebtedness to a consortium of traders by signing over title to a large tract of land lying along the tributaries of the Savannah River in Georgia." The transfer occurred on February 22, 1771, when the Cherokee ceded to the traders "'a certain tract of land upon Broad River Georgia side, beginning at the mouth of the Kayugas, extending five measures up Savannah River, and Running five measures extending toward the oconies, Viz. five measures long and five measures broad or sixty miles square'." The Creeks objected, citing their right of conquest from the Cherokee to that territory. The situation was exacerbated when the governor of Georgia, wishing to add Indian territory to his frontier colony, intervened and demanded that Indian land transfers fell under the jurisdiction of the British government. Ultimately, the Creeks and the Cherokees were forced to make the desired cession to Georgia, and the confiscated lands were opened up to frontier families eager to flood into the area upon the Indian surrender of title. This map illustrates the lands assigned by the Cherokee to void their debt, and was endorsed on the verso by Superintendant of Indian Affairs, John Stuart, on June 13, 1772, who likely negotiated with the Creek and Cherokee and served as intermediary for the entire transaction.

Information derived from "American Indians and the Early Mapping of the Southeast," by Louis De Vorsey, Jr., in The Southeast in Early Maps, William P. Cumming, 3d ed. revised and enlarged (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, c1988), p. 92-3.

Manuscript, pen-and-ink and watercolor, 102 x 94 cm. Scale ca. 1:200,000. Title from verso annotation. Call number G3920 1772 .M3 Vault.

12. Cessions Before the Recession

Map showing the lands assigned to emigrant Indians west of Arkansas and Missouri. Prepared at the [U.S. Army] Topographical Bureau [Washington, D.C.]. 1836. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Indian policy in the early nineteenth century favored the formation of an Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River that would both alleviate the continuing clash of opposing cultures and open eastern Indian lands to White settlement. Indian Territory nevertheless included both local tribes and those removed from east of the Mississippi. This 1836 map incorporates the surveys of Baptist missionary and Indian advocate, Isaac McCoy, and the provisions of several treaties negotiated by the U.S. Government in the 1830s. Beginning in the 1850s a series of land appropriations reduced this supposedly inviolate Indian reserve until the land Indian lands were incorporated into the state of Oklahoma.

Colored map, 46 x 47 cm. Scale ca. 1:2,534,000. Call number G4051.E1 1836 .U5 TIL. From [Documents concerning Col. Henry Dodge's expedition to the Rocky Mountains], House Document 181, 24th Cong., 1st session, 1835-36, Serial Set no. 289. 

13. Indians on the Move

Emma Willard. Locations and Wanderings of the Aboriginal Tribes, Introductory Map to Accompany Willard's History of the United States. From A series of maps to Willard's History of the United States, or, Republic of America. Designed for schools and private libraries. 1828. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

This nineteenth century map is one of the first attempts to graphically illustrate the distribution and migrations of Amerindian tribes in the eastern United States. It was created by Emma Willard, an American publisher, author, and educator. Rather than separating Indian nations via the Western tradition of delineating precise geopolitical boundaries—the custom of identifying nation states on maps of Europe and the World at the time—Willard chose to portray Indian ethnic and linguistic group along more fluid lines, essentially as a loose affiliation of independent clusters prone to migration.

Colored map, 25 x 29 cm. Scale ca. 1:9,000,000. Call number G1201.S1 W5 1828b Vault.

14. A 19th-Century Snapshot of Tahlequah

Sanborn Map Company. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma. 1899. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps were produced to provide fire insurance underwriters with detailed information about the buildings they insured in the event of claims being submitted for loss. This map of the Cherokee community of Tahlequah is one of about 700,000 individual sheets covering towns and cities in North America. The Sanborn series of Tahlequah includes nine editions issued over the period 1894-1949, and furnishes researchers with a unique graphic history of the growth and development of Tahlequah from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The sheet here, from the 1899 edition, depicts the Cherokee Male and Female seminaries, while other sheets depict the Cherokee National Capitol, the Cherokee National Penitentiary, and various dwellings and businesses within the community. Because religious colleges, democratic government, prisons, and commercial establishments were not traditional Cherokee social institutions, the map prompts inquiries into the politics of American Indian assimilation, the irreversible transformation of Native American life by the end of the nineteenth century, and the overall nature of social, economic, and cultural change in western America just prior to the twentieth century.

Colored map, 64 x 54 cm. Scale ca. 1:600. Filed in Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Collection.