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Treasure

Boundary Issues

A library loan—with latitude

March-April 2014

<i>Bowles's new pocket map of the United States of America: the British possessions of Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, with the French and Spanish territories of Louisiana and Florida, as settled by the preliminary articles of peace signed at Versailles the 20th. Jany. 1783,</i> published by Carington Bowles (London, 1784)

Bowles's new pocket map of the United States of America: the British possessions of Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, with the French and Spanish territories of Louisiana and Florida, as settled by the preliminary articles of peace signed at Versailles the 20th. Jany. 1783, published by Carington Bowles (London, 1784)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

Detail from <i>A map of the British dominions in North America, according to the Treaty in 1763</i>, published by Peter Bell (London, 1772)

Detail from A map of the British dominions in North America, according to the Treaty in 1763, published by Peter Bell (London, 1772)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

Map of the boundary lines between the United States and the adjacent British provinces, drawn by Thomas Jefferson Lee, published for the United States House of Representatives (Washington D.C., 1843)

Map of the boundary lines between the United States and the adjacent British provinces, drawn by Thomas Jefferson Lee, published for the United States House of Representatives (Washington D.C., 1843)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

Carte des Etats-Unis de l'Amerique suivant le Traité de Paix de 1783/dédiée et présentée a s. Excellence Mr. Benjamin Franklin...par son trés humble et très obeissant serviteur, Lattré, published by Jean Lattré (Paris, 1784)

Carte des Etats-Unis de l'Amerique suivant le Traité de Paix de 1783/dédiée et présentée a s. Excellence Mr. Benjamin Franklin...par son trés humble et très obeissant serviteur, Lattré, published by Jean Lattré (Paris, 1784)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

<i>The United States of America laid down from the best authorities: agreeable to the Peace of 1783,</i> published by John Wallis (London, 1783)

The United States of America laid down from the best authorities: agreeable to the Peace of 1783, published by John Wallis (London, 1783)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

<i>The British colonies in North America,</i> published by William Faden (London, 1777)

The British colonies in North America, published by William Faden (London, 1777)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

<i>A map of the district of Maine: drawn from the latest surveys and other best authorities,</i> drawn by Osgood Carleton and published by Thomas & Andrews (Boston, 1795)

A map of the district of Maine: drawn from the latest surveys and other best authorities, drawn by Osgood Carleton and published by Thomas & Andrews (Boston, 1795)

Courtesy of the Harvard Map Collection

The Canada-United States border, the longest shared by two countries (5,525 miles, including Alaska), is uniquely calm. But establishing it was a protracted, unpeaceful pursuit, ultimately aided by one of the longest Harvard library loans on record.

The Treaty of Paris (1783), recognizing U.S. independence, defined the boundary ambiguously: “From the North West Angle of Nova Scotia, viz., That Angle which is formed by a Line drawn due North from the Source of the St. Croix River to the Highlands,” and so on, as the Map Collection’s Joseph Garver, librarian for research services and collection development, helpfully points out. But what was that angle? Where were the highlands? Did the Atlantic Ocean include the Bay of Fundy? Surveying availed little; the issues were political.

In 1828, the two countries submitted their claims to an arbiter, King William of the Netherlands. As evidence, the U.S. negotiators borrowed 22 maps and books from Harvard, more from the Boston Athenaeum and Massachusetts Historical Society, and shipped them off to The Hague.

Each Harvard document bore an exhibit number and was inscribed with the terms of the loan (see the inset from the Peter Bell map of 1772). The British, seeking access to the interior via a military road from the Maritimes to Montréal, favored a southerly division, explains Garver, who has curated a 2012 exhibition of and lectured about the maps. The Americans imagined a line far north and east, close to the St. Lawrence (see Carington Bowles’s “new pocket map” of 1784, left, with its many other boundary eccentricities, to the modern eye). The king’s 1831 compromise dissatisfied the young (1820) state of Maine and its parent, Massachusetts (which still had vast landholdings there). The United States withheld assent.

After repeated threats of renewed belligerence, Secretary of State Daniel Webster, LL.D. 1824, and Lord Ashburton, facing the District of Columbia’s wilting summer heat, negotiated a resolution in 1842. (The rhetoric had also become hot: a British surveyor denounced an American’s work as “the most inflated humbug that ever flourished in the region of bombast.”)

In 1843, President Josiah Quincy wrote Webster for the loaned maps; nine were returned. President Edward Everett inquired again in 1848, and nine more reappeared, including Bell’s. President Jared Sparks secured the rest, after U.S. president Millard Fillmore ordered a search of the State Department files (Everett was then secretary)—in 1853, a quarter-century after they were checked out.

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(Click to see full image) “Stop Police Killings, Selma, 1965,” by Steve Schapiro
Photograph courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Aquisition of Photographs. 2018.115

James Baldwin’s America, in Photos

Image gift of Laurence K. Marshall and Lorna J. Marshall ©President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. PM# 2001.29.641

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A 1944 map of the beaches of Iwo Jima, donated by a Harvard staff member who served in the U.S. assault on the island 

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