Historical Research Maps: Pennsylvania in the 1790s

Image via David Rumsey Map Collection.

On this day in 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the US Constitution. (Delaware, now appropriately nicknamed the First State, ratified the document five days earlier.) Celebrate the anniversary with this map of the Keystone State, created just nine years after Pennsylvania was admitted to the Union. At the time, Philadelphia (then the state’s capital, located in the bottom-right corner of the map) was the second-most populous city in the country and the temporary capital of the United States, and the burgeoning town of “Pittsburg” (no H) was just a few decades old.

This map stands out for its detail. The state’s rugged Appalachian Mountains are clearly visible (particularly in the eastern part of the state), showcasing the difficulty early settlers must have had when venturing west. The key (top right) indicates map labels for houses of worship, forges, and even “Indian towns,” providing some insight into each town’s importance. The map also has separate markers for county and township borders, as well as for roads that form county and township lines.

Notice that the map’s key and some of its titles have German translations. According to David Rumsey (which has an online copy of this map), the map is part of a US atlas created by German mapmaker Daniel Friedrich Sotzmann, who intended to create an 18-map collection but only finished 10. The mapmaker’s German origins is appropriate; since its founding, Pennsylvania has been home to a prominent “Pennsylvania Dutch” community of German-speakers from central and southeastern Europe.

You can use maps like these (including the other Sotzmann maps, which are also available on David Rumsey’s site) to visualize your ancestor’s community. Was your Pennsylvania ancestor’s town prominent enough to be on the map? Do you notice any forges or houses of worship that your ancestor may have frequented?


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