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

A Mapmaker’s Life

This timeline pieces together the life of an “ingenious mechanic” who sought fame and fortune from his varied endeavours and inventions. He is best known today as the creator of the first map of the newly-independent United States.

Map of the Middle British Colonies
Lewis Evans. A General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America… Philadelphia, 1755. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress
Map of the Middle British Colonies
Lewis Evans. A General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America… Philadelphia, 1755. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

1755

Apprentices to Ebenezer Chittenden, a goldsmith

At thirteen years of age, Abel Buell was apprenticed to Ebenezer Chittenden in East Guilford (later known as Madison), Connecticut.

1762

Marriage to Mary Chittenden

Abel Buell married Mary Chittenden, daughter of master goldsmith Ebenezer, and set up shop in Killingworth, Connecticut, as a worker in precious metals.

five-shilling note
Connecticut five-shilling note, 17--

1763

Arrest for counterfeiting

In December Abel Buell was arrested for altering currency—some sources indicate that he changed five shilling notes to five pound notes. Sentenced in 1764, all of Buell’s property was confiscated, one ear was cropped, his forehead branded with the letter “C” (for counterfeiter), and he was imprisoned.

Sons of Liberty Meeting
John Lamb Speaking at Sons of Liberty Meeting… Concerning the Landing of British Tea in New York. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

1764

Petitions for a pardon

Two months after Buell was imprisoned, he petitioned the General Assembly for a pardon. He was released from prison and ordered to remain within the confines of Killingworth. He joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of American patriots assembled to protect colonists from oppressive British rule and taxation.

1765

Receives the first recorded patent in Connecticut

Throughout his lifetime, Buell was an inventor. His first invention was a lapidary machine that cut and polished gems, for which he received Connecticut’s first patent. Other inventions include a coin minting machine and machines for planting corn and onions.

1766

Petitions for full freedom

In October, Buell petitioned (for the second time) to be free to leave the confines of Killingworth, Connecticut, arguing he had worked diligently to invent a machine that cut and polished gems. As proof, he presented a beautiful ring that he had made to the prosecutor; Buell’s freedom was fully restored.

Boston Gazette
Boston Gazette, December 7, 1767. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1767

Advertises his skill as a “Jeweller and Lapidar”

Request to the Connecticut General Assembly
Request to the Connecticut General Assembly for funding to establish a type foundry, printed by Abel Buell in type that he fabricated, from Lawrence Wroth. Abel Buell of Connecticut. New Haven: Acorn Club, 1926. General Collections, Library of Congress

1769

Receives £100 loan to establish a foundry

Buell petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly for a loan of £100 to establish the first foundry for making type in the American colonies. He committed to set up the foundry within one year and repay the loan in seven years.

1770

Moves to New Haven, Connecticut. Wife, Mary, dies

The Buells moved from Killingworth to New Haven, Connecticut. Abel set up a silversmith shop and secured a building for his type-making foundry. He was also employed by Bernard Romans, American mapmaker. On September, 21, Mary Buell died.

1771

Marriage to Aletta Devoe

On March 8, Abel married Aletta Devoe, known as “Letty”.

Boston Tea Party
“Americans Throwing the Cargoes of the Tea Ships into the River, at Boston.” Engraving from W. D. Rev. Mr. Cooper. The History of North America. London: E. Newbery, 1789. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

1773

Participates in the Boston Tea Party

On December 16, 1773, Buell may have participated in the Boston Tea Party with his fellow Sons of Liberty.

Advertisement for the Sale of Firearms
Connecticut Journal, March 4, 1774. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1774

Places ad for firearms

On March 4, 1774, Buell placed an advertisement for the sale of firearms and accessories in the Connecticut Journal.

1775

Flees New Haven to avoid imprisonment for debt

Buell is sued for £500 by James Rivington, a New York publisher who commissioned Abel to make copper engravings for books. In addition, he is overdue in paying the £100 loan for a type foundry. He fled New Haven to avoid imprisonment. He appears to have traveled to Florida.

Aletta's letter in the Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal, March 1, 1775. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1775

Aletta announces her intention to remain in business

On March 1, 1775, Buell’s wife Aletta published a long letter in the Connecticut Journal that defended her husband. The letter also stated that she was looking to hire one or two goldsmiths and one jeweller to keep Abel’s shop open.

Destruction of the statue of King George III at Bowling Green in New 
            York
La Destruction de la statue royale a Nouvelle Yorck, Die zerstorung der konglichen bild saule zu Neu Yorck. Hand-colored etching. Paris: Chez Basset, ca. 1776. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

1776

Destruction of New York landmark

On July 9, Buell reportedly participated in the destruction of the statue of King George III at Bowling Green in New York. He is also reported to have been apprehended attempting to smuggle a large quantity of lead from the statue—for making type.

Yale College Diploma
Connecticut Journal, September 2, 1777. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress; A. Buell. Yale College diploma from Journal of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Spring 1999

1777

Aletta pays Abel’s debt

In August 1777, Aletta Buell declared that through hard work and saving she was prepared to pay her husband’s debt. On September 2, 1777, Aletta placed an ad for printing diplomas. This is the last known mention of Aletta.

Ads for Auctions
Connecticut Journal, August 19, 1778. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress; Connecticut Journal, September 2, 1778. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1778

Back in Connecticut, Buell places ads for auctions

On August 19 and September 2, 1778, Abel, now back in New Haven, conducted vendues (auctions) at an establishment named “Sign of the Coffeepot.”

1780

Marriage to Rebecca Townsend

On May 28, 1780, Abel married for a third time. Rebecca Townsend came from a well-to-do aristocratic family. She soon gave birth to the first of their four children.

Ads for Apprentices
Connecticut Journal, April 26, 1781. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1781

Places ad for apprentices

“Wanted immediately, Two or three likely young Lads, which the Subscriber will instruct in several ingenious mechanical Arts. ABEL BUELL, New-Haven, April 25.”

Buell's Map, Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal, March 31, 1784. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1784

Publishes landmark map

In March Buell published the first map of the newly independent United States produced by an American. He used his skills as an engraver to produce the map using information from numerous source maps. It is not known how many copies of the map were printed.

Connecticut coppers
“Connecticut copper,” 1785

1785

Invents a coin minting machine

In 1785, Buell joined with seven investors to create the Company for Coining Copper. He invented a minting machine that was able to fabricate 120 coins per minute. With this machine Connecticut’s first authorized coin currency, “Connecticut coppers,” were produced.

1789

Travels to England; learns textile trade

In 1789, Buell left New Haven and traveled to England. Uncovering the exact reason for his departure is difficult. One source states that he departed hastily after manufacturing unauthorized New York coins; another reports that he was sent by the Connecticut legislature as an industrial spy to learn about the techniques and machinery of the British textile trade.

1795

Returns to New Haven; opens a cotton mill

Buell returned to America around 1793 and resided briefly at a cotton manufactory outside of New York City. He then returned to New Haven and erected a cotton mill in Westville, which opened in early 1795.

 Ad for Variety of Goods and Services
Connecticut Courant, May 18, 1796. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1796

Places ad for services; no cotton products

Buell no longer seemed to be in the cotton manufacturing business, as is evidenced in a long ad he placed in the Connecticut Current. The ad mentions a wide variety of goods and services, but there is no mention of any merchandise or services that are associated with running a cotton mill.

Silver Communion cup
One of a set of four communion cups, 1797

1797

Plies his trade as a silversmith

A beautiful example of Buell’s silversmithing skills can be seen in a set of communion cups that he made for the North Haven Congregational Church in 1797. Evidence suggests that Buell plied his trade as a silversmith 1770–1774, 1777–1789, 1796–1799, and for many years starting again in 1810.

1798

Invents machines for planting onions and corn

“A useful machine has been invented by Mr. Abel Buel,” reported the Connecticut Journal, “for the purpose of planting onions… With this machine one can perform in the same time the labour of twenty. It opens trenches, drops the seed, and covers them in one operation.”

1799–1800

Moves to Hartford; third wife dies

In 1799 Buell moves to Hartford, fabricates military equipment and silverwork. In December 1800, third wife, Rebecca, dies.

Ad for Apprentices
Connecticut Courant, May 4, 1801. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1801

Marriage to Sally; advertises for apprentices

At around 59 year of age, Abel married Sally. This was his fourth and final marriage. He advertised his business of repairing, cleaning, and polishing military arms, along with many other services that demonstrated the diversity of his skills. Buell also stated that he was looking for two or three apprentices.

Sally Buell Obituary
Connecticut Courant, August 31, 1803. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1803

Death of Sally Buell

Abel’s marriage to Sally was a short one. She died at the age of thirty-four; the couple had no known children.

1810

Moves to Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Buell placed an announcement in the Farmer’s Herald that he had moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and set up a silversmith shop.

Announcement in the Farmer’s Herald
Electa F. Jones. Stockbridge, Past and Present, or, Records of an Old Mission Station. Springfield, Massachusetts:
S. Bowles & Co., 1854. Library of Congress

1813

Becomes member of the Congregational Church

In 1813 the Congregational Church of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, experienced its largest ever revival and added at least 94 new members. At age 71, Abel Buell was one of those new members.

Abel Buell Obituary
Columbian Register, March 23, 1822. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

1822

Returns to New Haven; dies penniless

Little is known about the final years of Buell’s long life. In 1822, he returned to New Haven, Connecticut. Not long after his return, at age 81, Abel Buell died in the alms house on March 10, 1822. His brief death notice described him as an “ingenious mechanic.”

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