Blogwars – Howard Mitchelson (1779-1817)

Mitchelson Map

A NEW & CORRECT Map OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, taken from the latest actual surveys; exhibiting a correct view of the location of the different States of the Union. Of the Post Roads, situations, connexions and Distances of the POST OFFICES, COUNTIES, RIVERS, LAKES, PRINCIPAL TOWNS &c. With a general view of UPPER & LOWER CANADA, NEW BRUNSWICK, NEWFOUNDLAND, & LABRADOR. Published by HOWARD MITCHELSON late Resident in the United States. LONDON, July 14, 1809. Maps K.Top 120.5.2.TAB END. © The British Library Board.

Well now – the faint echo of a challenge whispers across the blogosphere this week.  The gentle laying down of a gauntlet.  Over on the British Library’s excellent Maps and Views blog, in her post Celebrating George III: the Map King (29th January 2014), Kate Marshall reports a seemingly unrecorded cartographer: Howard Mitchelson, the publisher of this rare and handsome four-sheet map of the United States, published in London in 1809 – “Neither the British Library nor the Library of Congress catalogues list other maps by Mitchelson and his name does not appear in Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers nor in British Map Engravers by Laurence Worms and Ashley Baynton-Williams”.  She asks if anyone can shed light.

While I can’t answer for the late R. V. Tooley or his current editors, I will say that broad as the remit of our British Map Engravers is, including many entries for people who were patently neither British nor engravers (you can see exactly how broad on my More than just a Dictionary … piece viewable via the Essays link above), I think we can be forgiven for drawing the line at an American pharmacist known only for a single map.  But that’s not to say that we don’t know Mr Mitchelson.

Mitchelson Map Detail

© The British Library Board.

He was a Yale man and frankly I don’t think I can better this succinct, not to say terse, account of his life given in Franklin Bowditch Dexter’s Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College (1885-1912).  I’ll just repeat it here.

Howard Mitchelson was born in Simsbury, Connecticut, in 1779.  He studied medicine in Cheshire, and was duly licensed to practice by the Connecticut Medical Society.

He opened a drug store in New Haven, where he remained until 1807, when he went to England, for the purpose of purchasing medical supplies in London; but in consequence of the embargo he was detained there and resumed his occupation as a druggist.

In 1813 he returned to this country, and settled in Charleston, South Carolina.  In 1814 he went to Gothenborg, Sweden, where he charted a vessel, loaded her with silks, and embarked for Amelia Island, Florida.  The ship encountered violent  storms, and after a long and perilous experience was brought into Georgetown, on the South Carolina coast.  Here both vessel and cargo were seized under the embargo laws.  The former was released; but the latter, valued at about $70,000, Dr. Mitchelson gave bonds for, and then sold for about $100,000.

The case was taken to the United States Supreme Court, and when a decision was reached it was in favor of the government; but in the mean time Dr. Mitchelson had died, in Charleston, on August 4, 1817, at the age of thirty-eight.  He was unmarried.    

There is not much I can add to that, except to say the he was the youngest of the many children  of Eliphalet Mitchelson (1730-1806), probably a farmer, and Susannah Eno (1736-1812), who had married at Simsbury in 1758, and that he was named for his grandmother’s Howard family.  He graduated from Yale in 1802.

He was a man caught up in the politics and trade-wars of his time, marooned in London for a period, trying to seek advantage or salvation from the complex web of American legislation introduced during the Napoleonic wars: Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 (glossed in anagrams by contemporaries as the Go-Bar-’Em,  O-Grab-Me, or Mob-Rage Act), the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, the Enemy Trade Act of 1812, the further Embargo Act of 1813 and the second Enemy Trade Act of 1815.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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