John Melish

John Melish, The World on Mercator’s Projection. 1817. © MacLean Collection Chicago.
John Melish, The World on Mercator’s Projection. 1817. © MacLean Collection Chicago.

MELISH, John (1771-1822) — Philadelphia

Surveyor, cartographer, publisher, traveller and author. The most important American cartographical publisher of his day, with a considerable output of maps, many used to illustrate his different publications. Wrote “Travels in the United States … in the Years 1806 & 1807, and 1809, 1810 & 1811” 1812, for which he prepared eight maps, including Map of the United States engraved by Henry Schenck Tanner with others by John Vallance (see BME 2011), a London edition published in 1818; Map of the seat of war in North America 1813; re-published Dennis Griffith, Map of the state of Maryland 1813; wrote “Description of the British possessions in America” with three maps; “A description of East and West Florida and the Bahama Islands” 1813 with A map of the southern section of the United States; “Military and topographical atlas of the United States; including the British possessions & Florida” 1813, with eight maps; “A statistical account of the United States” 1813, with his map of the U.S.; “New juvenile atlas” 1814, co-published by Vallance and H. S. Tanner, who engraved the maps; East end of Lake Ontario and River St. Lawrence from Kingston to French Mills 1814, Map of the River St. Lawrence and adjacent country from Williamsburg to Montreal 1814 and Map of the seat of war among the Creek Indians 1814, all engraved by Tanner; wrote “The sine qua non: a map of the United States, shewing the boundary line proposed by the British Commissioners at Ghent, with the documents relative to the negotiation, and remarks on the extent of the British pretensions, and the effect they would produce if acceded to” 1814, containing his Map of the United States with paste-over to show the proposed boundaries; “Traveller’s directory through the United States” 1815, with maps of the environs of New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis and a plan of New Orleans; co-publisher of Benjamin Hough & Alexander Bourne, A map of the state of Ohio 1815, engraved by H. S. Tanner; published William Darby; A map of the state of Louisiana with part of the Mississippi Territory 1816, engraved by Samuel Harrison (see BME 2011), and accompanying “A geographical description of Louisiana”; Map of the United States with the contiguous British & Spanish possessions 1816, engraved by Vallance and H. S. Tanner, much reprinted, re-issued as Richard J. Wilson, Wilson’s reference & distance map of the entire United States with the British Possessions Mexico & West-Indies 1837, the vignette scene incorporating the American arms and eagle, a train and a harbour, engraved by John T. Hammond;

John Melish Catalogue. 1819. © MacLean Collection Chicago.

to accompany the map, Melish issued “A geographical description of the United States, with the contiguous British and Spanish possessions, intended as an accompaniment to Melish’s map of these countries” 1816, which contained a catalogue and proposals for a survey of Pennsylvania, on a county-by-county basis, illustrated with a Specimen of the county maps to be constructed by virtue of an act of the legislature directing the formation of a map of Pennsylvania; the Pennsylvania State Archives has contemporary clerical copies by Jno. E. Whiteside of the resultant manuscripts, with only eight published; Map of Indiana 1817; The World on Mercator’s projection 1817, the title cartouche engraved by George Jennings Murray, the map by Samuel Harrison, with an accompanying “Geographical description of the world”; co-published John Groves Hales, Map of Boston and its vicinity 1819, engraved by Edwin Gillingham; Map of Mississippi 1819, also engraved by Gillingham; Map of Philadelphia County 1819; published John Morrison, Map of Huntingdon County [Pennsylvania] ca.1820; Henry M. Richards, Map of Berks County [Pennsylvania] ca.1820 and James Hindman, Map of Chester County [Pennsylvania] 1822, engraved by Benjamin Tanner; Map of Pennsylvania 1822, the map engraved by Benjamin Tanner, the title vignette drawn by Francis Kearny; in 1848 the plates were updated by William Ellis Morris, the re-engraving by Edward Yeager; posthumous “A general collection of maps, charts, views, &c.” 1824, consisted of some maps by Melish or from his stock, as well as a cross-section of the Philadelphia book-publishers. Frequently issued catalogues and stocklists in his publications; issued a broadsheet catalogue “Catalogue of maps, charts, and geographical works, published and for sale” ca.1819.

Specimen of the county maps to be constructed by virtue of an act of the legislature directing the formation of a map of Pennsylvania
Specimen of the County Maps to be Constructed by Virtue of an Act of the Legislature Directing the Formation of a Map of Pennsylvania. 1816. © MacLean Collection Chicago.

Born at Methven, Perthshire, Scotland, on 13 Jun 1771 and baptised there on 21 Jun 1771 – the son of Patrick Melish (Malish) and his wife Janet Buchan, who had married at Methven in 1768. He married (1) Isabella Moncrieff (1774-1817) at Perth 15 May 1797; (2) Margaret Smith, and (3) Jane Pattinson, daughter of the late William Pattinson of Whitehaven, at Philadelphia 2 May 1818. He travelled to the United States in 1806, returned briefly to Scotland, before coming back in 1809 and settling permanently in Philadelphia in 1811, where he remained until his death. His ambitious publication plans bore a heavy personal cost. On 29 Feb 1820 the Pennsylvania General Assembly formed a committee to discuss “An act for the relief of John Melish”. He petitioned to divorce his third wife Jane in Feb 1819, listing his grievances, she filing documents to dispute his allegations; the act to annul their marriage is dated 6 Mar 1820. Died at Philadelphia on 30 Dec 1822. He is buried at the Free Quaker Burial Ground in Philadelphia. He died intestate; his second wife, Margaret, declined to administer the estate, her declaration witnessed by James Finlayson, who reprinted the 1816 United States wall-map in 1823; Thomas Hulme took on the task, the intestacy documents, dated 11 Jan 1823, survive, Hulme stating that he believed the estate not to exceed $300. His stock-in-trade, including the printing plates with copyrights, was auctioned on 30 Jan 1823, with his household goods also auctioned. His son John Graeme Melish, separately noticed, also worked as a mapmaker.

209 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia — 1813
49 South Third Street, Philadelphia — 1815-1816
371 Market Street, second door from Tenth, Philadelphia — 1816
121 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia — 1821

BNA. Tooley.

John Melish, Map of the United States, with the Contiguous British & Spanish Possessions. 1818.
John Melish, Map of the United States with the Contiguous British & Spanish Possessions — the 1818 edition. © MacLean Collection Chicago.

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