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John Melish (1771-1822) was a mapmaker and publisher who produced some of the best maps in early America. Born in Scotland, he moved to the West Indies in 1798 and then to the United States in 1806. Melish spent the next several years living and traveling primarily in the American South. In 1811, he settled in Philadelphia and focused on the publication of maps.
Melish began to work on a map of the United States in 1815. The next year, he sent Thomas Jefferson the product of his labors, soliciting the former president's opinions. Jefferson responded with strong encouragement and suggested several corrections. Jefferson placed a copy of Melish's map (1816 Geographical Description of the United States) in Monticello's Entrance Hall.
Primary Source References
1811 February 16. (Melish to Jefferson). "Two of the most important objects in life are—The cultivation of the human mind; and The Organization and proper direction of Civil Society. ... The Glorious Revolution, in which You had so active, and so honourable a share, fixed the basis of republican principles and equal rights; but many of the twigs of Royalty and Aristocracy remained in the land.—These could only be rooted out by time, and by the persevering efforts of genuine republicans.—In performing this office you have also had an honourable share."1
1816 November 23. (Melish to Jefferson). "I have the pleasure of presenting You with a Copy of my new map and Description of the United States and Contiguous Countries, which I respectfully Submit to Your attention. ... It will give me pleasure to have your opinion of the present work ...."2
1816 December 31. (Jefferson to Melish). "[I]t is handsomely executed and on a well chosen scale; giving a luminous view of the comparative possessions of different powers in our America. it is on account of the value I set on it that I will make some suggestions."3
- Jefferson-Melish Correspondence. Transcriptions available at Founders Online.
- Melish, John. Geographical Description of the United States. Nashville: The Gazetteer Press, 1972.
- Ristow, Walter. American Maps and Mapmakers. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985. See pages 179-90.
- Stein, Worlds. See pages 382-83.