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The Library of Congress > Exhibitions > Mapping a New Nation: Abel Buell’s Map of the United States, 1784 > Special Presentation

Take a Closer Look

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  • Why is the

    More than a decoration, the cartouche provides historical and allegorical context that sheds light on cultural and political conditions of the time the map was created.


  • Who is the

    The goddess Liberty is shown sitting majestically under a tree. At her feet Buell engraved the date of the first Independence Day.


  • What is Liberty

    Liberty is holding a liberty pole that supports a liberty cap (also known as a Phrygian cap), which symbolizes freedom and escape from an enslaving authority. She also holds a globe showing a new nation facing outward.


  • What are the
    special features
    of the flag?

    The flag displays 13 stars and stripes that represents the 13 original colonies. The flag is flanked by the goddess Fame proclaiming the victorious revolution and a brilliant sun that shines upon the flag of the new nation and Liberty.


  • What is the
    cherub holding?

    The cherub is holding the seal of Connecticut, Abel Buell’s home state. Buell was commissioned in May 1784 to engrave an early, possibly the first, version of the state seal after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.


  • What is different
    about the state

    Buell’s map represents earlier colonial claims as expressed on the maps he used as source material.


  • What does Buell
    depict west of the
    Mississippi River?

    West of the Mississippi River was territory held by Spain. Buell was unsure exactly what was there. “Unbounded Plains supposed to extend to the South Sea” he wrote vaguely. In 1803 Lewis and Clark would explore this area.


  • Where is
    New York state?

    Although Buell depicted many of New York’s towns, rivers, and lakes, he did not name the state on his map. It is not known why. Perhaps he had personal or political reasons. Perhaps it was an inadvertent omission in his haste to complete the map.


  • Why is
    so large?

    At the time this map was created, many states, including Buell’s home state of Connecticut, claimed ownership of land extending to the Mississippi River. The current western boundary of Connecticut was finalized in 1800.


  • Why is
    spelled "Pensilvania"?

    The spelling of place names in the United States was not standardized until 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation that established the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.


  • Is there a
    prime meridian
    on this map?

    The prime meridian is the point from which all east west geographic coordinates, also known as longitude, are measured. Buell chose to use both London and Philadelphia, the capital of the new United States, as the points from which all distances are measured.


  • How does Buell
    represent Indians
    on the map?

    Buell’s map shows how significant a presence Indians were on the American landscape in 1784. He shows the great territories of the Iroquois and Cherokee; also a “Chipeway Rice Village” and “3 Bands of the Naudewesses.”


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