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The United States, Map, 1816


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


Completed in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was a land deal between the United States and France, in which the U.S. acquired approximately 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for about $15 million. The United States had expanded westward towards the Mississippi River and navigation of the river and access to the port of New Orleans had become vital to American commerce.

The Louisiana Territory stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north. Part or all of 15 states were eventually created from the land included in the deal. It is considered one of the most important achievements of Thomas Jefferson's presidency.

This map, printed in 1816, shows the new boundaries of the United States following the rapid territorial expansion from the Louisiana Purchase. It is one of the earliest large-scale detailed maps made in the United States that showed the entire country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The light green color-coding implies that American territory then extended to the Pacific and to embrace all of the west coast from what is now California into what is now British Columbia, Canada. Much of the Great Plains, including areas outside of the Louisiana Purchase, were also shown to be part of the United States.

Citation: Melish, John. Map of the United States: with the contiguous British & Spanish. Philadelphia: John Melish, 1816. G3700 1816 .M4, Map Collection, Library of Virginia.


Social Studies: VS.1, VS.2, VS.6, USI.1, USI.8
Art: 4.1, 5.1
English: 4.7, 5.7
Science: Earth Science ES.6, ES. 8
Environmental Science: ENV.7, ENV.9

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at It: Look at the map. What do you notice about it? Consider the date of the map. What important event took place around that time? 

Post activities

STEM STAT: The land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase allowed for settlement in a new part of the country. How might the land have been different from land typically found on the east coast. Consider how land in the midwest is used today and the natural resources that were abundant in the early 1800s. 

Artistic Exploration: Often early maps had images representing the subject of the map. Create two or three images that would be appropriate for a map drawn after the Louisiana Purchase. Consider that the Port of New Orleans and land to the Rocky Mountains were included as part of the United States for the first time on the map.  

Social Media Spin: Create a post for a social media platform in which you encourage people to settle land west of the Mississippi River. Include information that one might need before choosing to take such a risk.