Version classiqueVersion mobile

Le livre technique avant le xxe siècle

 | 
Liliane Hilaire-Pérez
, 
Valérie Nègre
, 
Delphine Spicq
, 
et al.

Deuxième partie - La littérature d'usage ou les entrepreneurs de la technologie

Geography as a How-to Guide: Zadok Cramer’s Pittsburgh Navigator and the Uses of Maps and Texts in Early American Western Settlement along the Ohio River, 1800–1813

La géographie comme guide pratique : le Pittsburgh Navigator de Zadok Cramer et l’utilisation de cartes et de textes au début de la colonisation de l’ouest américain le long de la rivière Ohio, 1800-1813

Simon Andre Thode

Résumé

Cet article examine l’œuvre de Zadok Cramer qui dirigea une maison d’édition à Pittsburgh au début du dix-neuvième siècle. Sa maison était connue pour ses livres sur la navigation des fleuves, ses almanachs, et ses récits de voyage des premières explorations de l’ouest des États-Unis. Il s’agit ici de présenter les publications les plus importantes de Cramer et de retracer les effets qu’eurent ces publications sur la diffusion du savoir concernant les territoires occidentaux auprès des premiers colons occidentaux. Cramer utilisa la publication comme outil pour traduire le savoir scientifique en forme plus utile et compréhensible à un public plus large et varié. Le but de ses publications n’était pas d’être précis et technique, mais plutôt de créer un modèle simplifié d’un territoire, qui pouvait aider les colons à traverser les environnements inconnus et à intégrer ces régions à l’imaginaire d’un espace national.

Texte intégral

Introduction1

  • 1 I would like to acknowledge the assistance given to me by a number of institutions in the research (...)

1In the early nineteenth century, Pittsburgh printer and publisher Zadok Cramer produced navigators, almanacs, and travel accounts that were very popular in the Western Country. It was in this territory – which included the area around Pittsburgh and down the Ohio river system – where significant American settlement beyond the Appalachian mountain chain began and accelerated from the 1780s onward. I discuss here three types of work that Cramer produced to assist settlers and travelers in traversing this unfamiliar environment. These were: the Navigator, an instructional manual for descending the river system; travel literature and appendices; and the Western Gleaner, the first journal of useful knowledge published in English in the American West. Each of these books was directed at a certain type of settler with a particular relationship to the territory. They each contributed to the process of settlement, and were all-important because they existed at the boundary between scientific knowledge production and idea dissemination to wider publics and communities.

  • 2 On the preponderance of early Americans who received geographical knowledge about new lands from c (...)

2Many poor settlers moved westward in the early nineteenth century without resorting to the written word. But Cramer’s publications were popular enough that they remained in print for years after his death in 1813.2 A major reason settlers had for reading these texts was that other sources of information, from land company prospectuses, to political and commercial treatises, to informal and verbal sources of information, often painted a deceptively rosy view of riches in the west and the ease of settlement. Warnings such as that found in the anonymous 1796 emigration text Look Before you Leap were common:

  • 3 Look Before you Leap, or, A Few Hints to Such Artizans, Mechanics, Labourers, Farmers and Husbandm (...)

It is a fact not generally known, but undoubtedly true, that there are always plenty of agents hovering like birds of prey on the banks of the Thames, eager in their search for such artizans, mechanics, husband-men, and labourers, as are inclinable to direct their course for America. These harpies improve their already unsettled dispositions, and induce them to visit such parts of the continent, as are most suitable to the interest of their employers.3

3Navigational texts and settler guides were published to correct false impressions. They warned potential settlers about the dangers of the Western Country by drawing on authoritative texts of well-known scientific and technical observers: explorers, surveyors, and mapmakers of civilian and military origin.

4An example of an authoritative source from which Cramer drew knowledge about the Western Country was the British military surveyor and mapmaker Thomas Hutchins. Hutchins had been stationed along the Ohio River at Fort Pitt during the Seven Years War. He undertook reconnaissance, negotiated with Native Americans, and helped in the production of a number of well-regarded sketches and maps of the region, including the draft of the Ohio River on expedition in 1766 (fig. 1). Later, he joined the American revolutionary army during the War of Independence and became the Geographer General of the United States under the Continental Congress. His Topographical Description and map of the Western Country was produced from observations collected during his wartime experiences, his commercial journeys, and reconnoitering expeditions between 1764 and 1775. This book and map was published in London in 1778, and it was the direct ancestor to many geographical descriptions later produced of the western region.

  • 4 Kesterman M. L., “American River Guides from 1800 to 1860”, Bookman Weekly, 27 July 1998, p. 125-1 (...)

5Zadok Cramer’s Navigator was sourced from the work of surveyors such as Hutchins. When Cramer arrived in Pittsburgh in 1800, it was still very much a frontier settlement and way-station for settlers moving west. Cramer’s daily encounter with swarms of settlers passing through Pittsburgh motivated him in producing this work, for many people lingered in the town trying to obtain knowledge to assist them in their navigation of the rivers and exploitation of the lands ahead.4

Fig. 1. The Muskingum tributary southwest of Fort Pitt, as seen on a 1766 map drafted from the observations of Thomas Hutchins. Gordon H., “River of Ohio,” Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The Pittsburgh Navigator

  • 5 For example, see Cramer Z., The Navigator, Containing Directions for Navigating the Monongahela, A (...)
  • 6 Kesterman M.L., op. cit., p. 125-32; Dahlinger C.W., op. cit., p. 172-179.
    For example, see Cramer’ (...)

6The Navigator contained descriptions of important rivers, towns and other locations along the river system, travel itineraries and instructions for voyages, lists of the natural productions of the Western Country, and commentary on climate. Early editions had itineraries only for the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers, but their number expanded in later editions.5 The first edition was published in 1801, and the Navigator subsequently went through numerous reprints over the span of the next twenty-five years, increasing in size and scope with US territorial expansion.6

  • 7 On the epistemological work required in order to make empiricism seem self-evident, see Ogilvie B. (...)
  • 8 Cramer Z., op. cit., p. 11-14; Postlethwaite S., Journal of a Voyage from Louisville to Natchez, 1 (...)

7Cramer offered practical insight of a river descent for readers whose experience of such vast waterways – particularly rivers such as the Mississippi – was limited. The path along these rivers appears to be a simple voyage when we examine it on a map, and yet the process of river-borne travel was far from easy. There were differences between technical forms of knowledge used to describe the river system; whereas the map produced by Hutchins of the Ohio was precise in laying down the path of the river on paper, Cramer’s reproduction was more concerned with putting this knowledge into practice in the real countryside. It did this by offering a less precise account. Navigation of rivers required some form of pre-requisite knowledge either tacitly learned or consciously acquired, to ensure survival against hazardous islands, the timber obstacles known as planters or sawyers, the unstable and shifting banks, complex currents, and the false side streams along the way.7 Cramer’s Navigator collected observational knowledge of these hazards, and organized it according to an ideal travel itinerary for readers not necessarily trained in the techniques of navigation or map reading. In later editions, Cramer even included rough wooden plates of his ideal river path to accompany written description (fig. 2).8

Fig. 2. The Muskingum section of the Ohio River as portrayed by Zadok Cramer in his Navigator. The wood plates used by Cramer were far simpler than the works of those “gentlemen of observation” that formed his evidentiary basis. Cramer Z., Navigator, 9th ed., Pittsburgh, Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, 1817, p. 86.

  • 9 Cramer Z., op. cit., p. 35.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 35.

8Cramer organized his itineraries by river. Each specific location was noted, sometimes with short descriptions and sometimes not. Along the right-hand side of a page, the distance between each location was given in miles and feet. For example, on the itinerary for the Ohio River, the Big Bone Lick, a famous site of Mastodon bones, was identified at a certain point.9 When readers drew their attention to the right side of the page, they then identified two numbers at the top and bottom of the description. The first was the distance upstream to the mouth of the Miami River, the previously identified marker. The second number was the distance to the mouth of the Kentucky River, which was the access point to “perhaps the most extensive body of good land in the known world.10” If one added the next number on the itinerary to the previous, then the voyager found himself at the Falls of Ohio, at which point the town of Louisville was located.

  • 11 Ibid., p. 37.
  • 12 Cuming F., Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country, through the States of Ohio and Kentucky: A V (...)

9When describing a town such as Louisville, Cramer noted its position in relation to the local waterways, the number of houses and other public buildings there, and provided descriptions of land and trade. He also offered a judgment on its climate.11 As a site of habitation, Cramer deemed Louisville an important future node of travel and trade in the Western Country, but one that, at present, suffered from a “character of unhealthiness.” In other texts, we find out that the character to which he referred was the bilious (airborne) disease prevalent in the area.12 By attaching these diseases to the town itself, Cramer created the image of a valuable though flawed location, an image that in the years to come the townsfolk removed by making improvements such as the draining of swamps and the construction of streets and buildings that allowed better circulation of the air.

10Discussions of climate were important for Cramer, especially when he became sick and was forced to travel for his health. Many of his texts provided information to his readers of the diseases of the Western Country and the swampy areas which were thought to be their cause. In this manner, Cramer’s navigators for western rivers transformed observations from surveyors and geographers such as Hutchins into a format that was understandable to a popular readership. The aim of this type of technical book was to assist in acts of movement; the precision of the observations contained within were secondary to how well they helped readers negotiate their environments.

Travel Literature Appendices

11Travel literature was a second group of technical books Cramer helped produce. Whereas the Navigator was an instructional manual, the appendices attached to travel accounts provided readers a medium through which to create a more complete knowledge of the entire region. Cramer’s best known travel account was the 1807 Journal of Patrick Gass, which became the first published account of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

  • 13 Dahlinger C. W., op. cit., p. 179-180.
  • 14 Cuming F., op. cit., p. vii-viii.

12Cramer used material from this journal to compile accounts of the Missouri and Columbia rivers in the expanded Navigator of 1808.13 Excerpts of this journal are also found later within abundant notes attached to other publications. Cramer appended material to travel accounts to provide readers with a larger picture of the region beyond the single experience of the account author. Appendices in travel literature became sites of exchange between the publisher, Cramer, and western readers, where contemporary understandings of the landscape were negotiated through repetition of commonly-held observations and interpretations.14

  • 15 Rudwick M. J. S., Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations & In (...)
  • 16 Cuming F., op. cit., p. 376-81; Volney C.F., A View of the Soil and Climate of the United States o (...)
  • 17 Forsyth in Cuming F., op. cit., p. 381-387. Another example is S.P. Hildreth in Imlay G., A Topogr (...)

13Here are some examples of what we find in a travel account appendix. A letter by Dr. Gideon Forsyth, a resident of Wheeling, Ohio, dated August 1808, attempted to draw together Forsyth’s experiences of the west to offer some insight into the theory of the earth, a subject which at that time was dominated by the thinking of Georges Cuvier.15 Forsyth assembled facts in order to prove that prehistoric, catastrophic inundation had occurred in the Western Country. The doctor also attached these observations to the theories of the winds and climate in North America posited by French geographer, historian, and traveler, the Comte de Volney.16 A second letter, dated November 1808, described medical ailments common to regions of the Ohio and modern medical practices which could counteract them.17

14With such material, appendices propagated the latest scientific concepts to a broader range of readers. They allowed people in the West to combine practical observations of their surroundings with important scientific theories of the day.

The Western Gleaner: A Western Receptacle for Useful Knowledge

  • 18 Dahlinger C. W., op. cit., p.193-195, 201.

15A third type of technical book is the scientific journal, or the journal of useful knowledge. One of Cramer’s last projects was the publication of the first such English language journal in the Western Country, named the Western Gleaner. Unfortunately, Cramer did not live to see its first volume published, and without him it lasted no longer than two years.18 However, in its conception and short life, we see a technical book for settlers serving a third goal. Whereas the Navigator helped settlers move through the land, and travel literature appendices offered them a medium in which to collect and synthesize knowledge, the journal envisioned the creation of a national space, that is, knowledge that would help establish economies, create infrastructure, and produce, in Cramer’s words, civilization in what was once unrefined territory.

  • 19 “Prospectus,” The Western Gleaner; or, Repository for Arts, Sciences, and Literature 1, n 1, Decem (...)
  • 20 Ibid., p. 3. The prospectus matches in intention the aims of contemporary periodicals being establ (...)

16The prospectus of the journal stated that its aim was to quench the desire for information from citizens of the Western Country by offering them, “a periodical work, in which we shall endeavor to follow the famous precept of Horace, by blending together, as much as will lie in our power, the useful and the agreeable.19” Cramer and his printing partners listed their intentions for their volume. The first was to offer useful science to local readers, by bringing them practical ideas that were often out of their reach, and doing so in an understandable format. Articles covered subjects such as practical preparations of chemicals and materials, natural history of western species and minerals, and news of the latest scientific thought and ideas. The publishers specifically dismissed the need for originality, insisting that “our principle business in this respect will be, to retail as it were, to the immediate consumer the merchandise that he may stand in need of, and which he could not easily procure in a direct manner from the more ostentatious warehouses.20” Its intention was to advance the state of practical knowledge, and to discover and lay claim to the zoological, botanical, and mineralogical resources of the region.

  • 21 “Prospectus,” op. cit., p. 2.

17However, a second set of intentions centered on improving the intellectual tastes of western citizens. This task was based primarily on republican selflessness, which tried to combat the rise of degenerative luxury by disciplining western minds through the acquisition of knowledge, both useful and imaginative.21 The editors carried out this task through the publication of original reviews of American literature which, in contrast to typical reviews, the authors claimed, would strive to avoid too much patriotic bias. They undertook translations of French and German, and occasionally Spanish and Italian, texts into English. It was hoped that this activity might encourage more cultural interchange between ethnically diverse immigrant groups, who tended to keep to their own language and customs at the expense of the development of a US national character. The editors were not championing English as a mother tongue; rather, they wanted to improve communication and the circulation of ideas between western inhabitants, who possessed disparate linguistic resources. As they put it:

  • 22 Ibid., p. 6.

We have often thought that a man would perhaps possess a considerable degree of personal merit, by blending in his character the most shining traits of the principal nations of Europe, as they shew themselves in the most accomplished classes of society; the solid judgment of an Englishman, the sprightly manners, the urbanity and refined taste of a Frenchman, the brilliant imagination of an Italian, and the heart of a German.22

  • 23 On the idea of geography as a form of national language, see Brückner M., The Geographic Revolutio (...)

18Language here is identified as the foundational component of nationhood, and one can compare the explanation of language communication in interesting ways to the spatial communications involved in mapping geographic space for new western communities.23 Whether physical or verbal, contemporaries viewed such pathways of communication to be essential components of a well-run society. Their cultivation allowed for the development of a cohesive nation out of many moving parts, unlike the earlier Navigators that worked only to bring people to a location, without concern for what happened to them afterward.

Conclusion

  • 24 Dahlinger C. W., op. cit., p. 205; Kesterman M. L., op. cit., p. 125-126.

19Zadok Cramer died of consumption in Pensacola in August 1813 while on his way to Havana. His doctor had recommended travelling as a remedy for poor health, and in his last few years he journeyed often for the dual purpose of bodily restoration and improving the observations in new editions of the Navigator.24 His almanacs and travel accounts remained in demand years after his passing, showing there was no shortage of opportunities for making a living reproducing and disseminating people’s knowledge of the Western Country. The borrowing and recycling of material was commonplace, so much so that certain packets of useful knowledge describing the geography and natural productions of the country became far removed from the observers who initially recorded them. This separation allowed individual accounts to be recombined into a collective, geographical narrative.

20We see how, in the transformation of observations made by expert surveyors and explorers into “useful knowledge” for navigation and settlement that perspectives on accuracy change. Whereas expert observers were judged by the detail and precision of their observations, authors such as Cramer, purposefully sought unoriginal and commonly repeated material from which to form a simplified model of the region. In this state, knowledge was constructed not from the perspective of the individual observer but from that of the region, or the combined groups of inhabitants who wished to claim it. This group-knowledge formed an object that was far easier to comprehend and act upon than the complex nature that individuals experienced on a daily basis living in a new and unfamiliar land.

21Over time, a virtual canon of observational knowledge about the Western Country, consisting of trusted authors and commonly accepted observations, was established. This canon provided a set of expectations over what any published account about the Western Country should include. This idealized and textual conception was an archetype against which future publications and observations of the region were assessed for accuracy. It was formed both by the expectation of readers, built from what they had already read, and by new scientific observers, who planned their journeys west in accordance with these expectations. In many ways, such a template is an imprecise picture of a landscape; however, its very imprecision allowed people to act by reducing the complexity of experienced nature into something that was knowable, reproducible, and manageable. The role of Zadok Cramer and other early disseminators of navigational and settlement knowledge was to provide the elements for such language to a broader public.

Notes

1 I would like to acknowledge the assistance given to me by a number of institutions in the research of this subject. The William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, offered a Price Visiting Fellowship to assist in the access of its collections. The Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (PACHS) and the American Philosophical Society offered dissertation and resident research fellowships, which were a tremendous help for visiting archives in the Philadelphia area. Both the Department of History of Science and Technology and the Singleton Center for the Study of Pre-modern Europe at Johns Hopkins University provided me with summer support for carrying out archival research in the Baltimore-Washington DC area.

2 On the preponderance of early Americans who received geographical knowledge about new lands from cheap texts produced either as replicas or composite materials, see Furstenberg F., In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, New York, The Penguin Press, 2006, p. 131-34.

3 Look Before you Leap, or, A Few Hints to Such Artizans, Mechanics, Labourers, Farmers and Husbandmen, as Are Desirous of Emigrating to America, Being a Genuine Collection of Letters, from Persons Who Have Emigrated; Containing Remarks, Notes and Anecdotes, Political, Philosophical, Biographical and Literary, of the Present State, Situation, Population, Prospects and Advantages, of America, Together with the Reception, Success, Mode of Life, Opinions and Situation, of Many Characters Who Have Emigrated, Particularly to the Federal City of Washington, London, Printed for W. Row, 1796, p. v.

4 Kesterman M. L., “American River Guides from 1800 to 1860”, Bookman Weekly, 27 July 1998, p. 125-132; Dahlinger C. W., Pittsburgh: A Sketch of its Early Social Life, New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1916, p. 161-174, 179-180, 187-190.

5 For example, see Cramer Z., The Navigator, Containing Directions for Navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers: With an ample account of these much admired waters, from the head of the former to the mouth of the latter: And a concise description of their towns, villages, harbors, settlements, & c.: With maps of the Ohio and Mississippi. To which is added an appendix, containing an account of Louisiana, and of the Missouri and Columbia rivers, as discovered by the voyage under Capts. Lewis and Clark, 8th ed., Pittsburgh, Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, 1817.

6 Kesterman M.L., op. cit., p. 125-32; Dahlinger C.W., op. cit., p. 172-179.
For example, see Cramer’s description of the confusing path of the Ohio River. Cramer Z., The Ohio and Mississippi Navigator: Comprising an ample account of those beautiful waters, from the head of the former, to the mouth of the latter: A particular description of the several towns, posts, caves, ports, harbours, & c. on their banks, and accurate directions how to navigate them, as well in times of high freshes, as when the water is low: A description of its rocks, riffles, shoals, channels, and the distances from place to place. Together with a description of Monongahela and Allegheny rivers: First taken from the journals of gentlemen of observation, and now minutely corrected by several persons who have navigated those rivers for fifteen and twenty years, 3rd corrected ed., Pittsburgh, Printed by John Scull for Zadok Cramer, 1802, p. 5.

7 On the epistemological work required in order to make empiricism seem self-evident, see Ogilvie B. W., The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006, p. 8; Rosenberg D. and Grafton A., Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p. 11.

8 Cramer Z., op. cit., p. 11-14; Postlethwaite S., Journal of a Voyage from Louisville to Natchez, 1800, Samuel Postlethwaite Papers, Folder 1, MHM 6-15; Kesterman M. L., op. cit., p. 125-132.

9 Cramer Z., op. cit., p. 35.

10 Ibid., p. 35.

11 Ibid., p. 37.

12 Cuming F., Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country, through the States of Ohio and Kentucky: A Voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and a Trip through the Mississippi Territory and part of West Florida, Pittsburgh, Cramer, Spear & Eichbaum, 1810, p. 235.

13 Dahlinger C. W., op. cit., p. 179-180.

14 Cuming F., op. cit., p. vii-viii.

15 Rudwick M. J. S., Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations & Interpretations of the Primary Texts, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1997, p. 74-79; Rudwick M. J. S., The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology, 2nd ed., New York, Science History Publications, 1972, p. 93-95, 101-103.

16 Cuming F., op. cit., p. 376-81; Volney C.F., A View of the Soil and Climate of the United States of America: With Supplementary Remarks upon Florida; on the French Colonies on the Mississippi and Ohio, and in Canada; and on the Aboriginal Tribes of America, trans. C. B. Brown, Philadelphia, J. Conrad & Co., 1804.

17 Forsyth in Cuming F., op. cit., p. 381-387. Another example is S.P. Hildreth in Imlay G., A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America: Containing a Succinct Account of its Soil, Climate, Natural History, Population, Agriculture, Manners, and Customs: With an Ample Description of the Several Divisions into which that Country is Partitioned, 3rd ed., London, Printed for J. Debrett, 1797, p. 394-398.

18 Dahlinger C. W., op. cit., p.193-195, 201.

19 “Prospectus,” The Western Gleaner; or, Repository for Arts, Sciences, and Literature 1, n 1, December 1813, p. 2-3.

20 Ibid., p. 3. The prospectus matches in intention the aims of contemporary periodicals being established back east. See, for example, “Prospectus of the American Medical and Philosophical Register: or, Annals of Medicine, Natural History, Agriculture, and the Arts,” The American Medical and Philosophical Register: or, Annals of Medicine, Natural History, and the Arts 1, 1811, p. iii-iv.

21 “Prospectus,” op. cit., p. 2.

22 Ibid., p. 6.

23 On the idea of geography as a form of national language, see Brückner M., The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2006, p. 1-15. On the idea of maps as equivalent to a graphic language, see Harley J. B., “The Map and the Development of the History of Cartography,” in Harley J. B. and Woodward David ed., The History of Cartography, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987, p 1-5.

24 Dahlinger C. W., op. cit., p. 205; Kesterman M. L., op. cit., p. 125-126.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. The Muskingum tributary southwest of Fort Pitt, as seen on a 1766 map drafted from the observations of Thomas Hutchins. Gordon H., “River of Ohio,” Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/27712/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 225k
Légende Fig. 2. The Muskingum section of the Ohio River as portrayed by Zadok Cramer in his Navigator. The wood plates used by Cramer were far simpler than the works of those “gentlemen of observation” that formed his evidentiary basis. Cramer Z., Navigator, 9th ed., Pittsburgh, Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, 1817, p. 86.
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/docannexe/image/27712/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 223k

© CNRS Éditions, 2017

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search