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Maps at the Library & Archives: Historical Maps

About Maps at the Library & Archives

An effort has been made to represent here the myriad sources of maps in the Library & Archives collections, as well as to present certain series of maps that are particularly useful for genealogical and historical research. As to sources, the Maps at the Tennessee State Library and Archives displays maps that are drawn from manuscript collections, state record groups, the Congressional Serial Set, published volumes in the State Library collections, as well as the physical Map Collection itself. Obviously, with thousands of maps in our holdings, the items presented in this online digital map collection are but the 'tip of the iceberg,' and researchers are strongly encouraged to consult archival staff, the Library & Archives Map Database and individual collection finding aids to find the right map. One of the strengths of our collection--Civil War maps--is treated separately

We have included a number of significant early maps of the Tennessee country, beginning with colonial era maps of British possessions that show the Native American towns and villages of the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw nations. Several maps are presented from about the time of statehood--1796--which show Tennessee as it was originally constituted: two non-contiguous areas of settlement consisting of the middle and eastern Tennessee counties, separated by Indian territory. A series of the so-called District Surveyor's maps are here from 1806 onward, showing the division of newly acquired (by treaty) public lands into ranges and sections so that the State of Tennessee could make (sell) land grants. Thereafter, there are state maps from 1818 and the 1820s showing the rapid development of western Tennessee.

Aside from the Civil War maps in this collection, there is a sampling of other military maps spanning from the American Revolution to the Plains Indian wars of the 1870s. A very fine Paris-published map from the eighteenth century depicts the land and naval campaign that resulted in the French-American victory over Lord Cornwallis' British army at Yorktown and effectively won America's independence. Another hand-drawn map on linen shows the disposition and movement of US Cavalry and Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, apparently done by someone who was there or had close knowledge of the battle.

The bulk of the maps in this presentation are ones of individual Tennessee counties that contain a wealth of detail and are especially useful for genealogical and local historical research. There are three main series of early twentieth century maps represented here: county postal delivery maps, county maps produced by the state Division of Geology, and county soil survey maps. The latter two types are based on US Geological Survey topographical map data and, consequently, are extremely detailed down to the level of individual house structures and name most topographical features (streams, ridges, hollows, etc.) as well as human features such as churches, schools, stores, mills, cemeteries and even very small communities. The postal maps, done presumably for carriers in the early days of Rural Free Delivery (RFD), are similarly very detailed down to the level of individual houses and buildings and provide a great many names of land and homeowners. These county maps, which are done at different times from 1900 to 1940, show many bygone features and are indispensable guides to the rural landscape of Tennessee before modernization changes everything.

Other series of historical maps from the Library & Archives Map Collection, as well as special maps from lesser known manuscript sources in our collections, will be added to this digital collection on a regular basis.