“A . . . historical atlas refashioned for the 21st century”

After having posted the diary entries of Elizabeth House Trist on December 23 and 26 when she was traveling from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, on December 26 I came upon the article “Trove of Information From the 1930s, Animated by the Internet” in the The New York Times. It reported on the completion of a project by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab to digitize one of the greatest historical atlases: Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright’s Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932. The twenty topics in the atlas include, for example: Boundaries 1607-1927, Indians 1507-1930, and Political Parties and Opinions 1788-1930. The digital edition reproduces all of the atlas’s nearly 700 plates but, in addition, many have been “georectified,” that is warped so that they can be placed on top of a digital map of the United States and moved from year to year to show changes during the time span under consideration. You can toggle back and forth between the two versions, plate and georectified; clickable sidebars provide underlying data and information about sources.

Naturally, the topics that appealed to me most were those that included information about the country during the Revolution and early nationhood: Public Post Roads and Stage Routes 1774, Plans of Cities 1775-1803, and Iron and Steel Works 1725-1775, to name a few.

To get back to Elizabeth House Trist, I was particularly interested in Rates of Travel from New York City in 1800 under the heading Industries and Transportation, 1620-1931. The atlas plate is on the left. Although she departed from Philadelphia in the year 1783, I thought this map would provide fairly accurate information for Trist’s trip.

In the digital image you can hover over a location for the time and distance to New York City. According to the map, the trip to Pittsburgh (276 miles) would have taken one week traveling at a speed of 1.6 mph. Of course this was unrealistic for Trist’s journey given the time of year and circumstances (see posts). She left Philadelphia on December 23 and arrived in Pittsburgh on January 9; her trip took two weeks and three days.

Elizabeth House Trist was traveling to join her husband in New Orleans. Her diary breaks off on July 1, 1784, just above Natchez, when she heard the news that her husband had died while she was wintering over in Pittsburgh. According to the digital map, the trip from New York City to New Orleans (1167 miles) would have taken four weeks in 1800, traveling at a speed of 1.8 mph. That estimate, of course, did not take into account low water on the Ohio and Mississippi, Indian unrest, what Trist called “a Passionate sort of climate,” and a host of other complications.

Do spend some time examining the maps in the amazing Richmond project.

Excerpts from Elizabeth House Trist’s diary can be read on pages 277-285 of In the Words of Women.

posted December 30th, 2013 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Maps, Travel

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