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Treasure 23: Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States
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Treasure 23: Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States

Historic Documents
Léa Moreau
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Treasure 23: Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States
Historic Documents
Treasure 23: Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States
With roots dating back to the religious observances of the founding fathers, the national holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated each November in America. The development of the holiday largely mirrors the development of the American nation itself, with tales of warring peoples, inter-state rivalry and the inevitable spread of development.

One popular oral tradition traces Thanksgiving to an event in 1621 which took place between the Pilgrim fathers and the native Wampanoag people. Relations between the settlers and indigenous people were inevitably tense at this time, but the shared feasting and frolics of the "Plymouth Thanksgiving" heralded a friendly truce which lasted for fifty years.

Many years later, and during the tensions of the American Civil War, the editor of a popular magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, campaigned for a national holiday as a way of promoting unity between the states. Thanksgiving Day was announced by Abraham Lincoln and celebrated for the first time on 26 November 1863. Since then, Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

In 1880, a volume was produced which sought to capture the "state of the union", using data gleaned from census and other records to produce visual representations of the nation. Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States uses a mass of information on topics as diverse as population, literacy, agriculture and religion to literally map out the whole of the developing country.

Using just one example from Scribner's Atlas charting the distribution of corn production across the entire United States, it is clear that the general pattern of development is east to west. The eastern areas are much smaller and more populous than the wide expanse of the "unsettled parts" - referred on the Silver Screen as "the Wild West".

Another key aspect of the map are the areas denoted as "Indian Reservations" - specific territories designed to allow some limited freedom of movement to the indigenous populations finding themselves under increasing threat from multiple generations of European settlers. Within the numerous reservations some recognisable Native American names are visible - Sioux, Cherokee and Navajo; however, many are less familiar and many more are either under threat or have entirely disappeared - such as the Wampanoags of the original "Plymouth Thanksgiving" of 1621.

Scribner's Statistical Atlas of the United States was a vast undertaking of data management completed in a simpler age of pen and ink. The detail provided in the snapshot offers readers an intriguing glimpse at the development of one of the most powerful nations on the planet today.
Map from Scribner's statistical atlas of the United States. [ca. 1883]
Thanksgiving, USA, Map
Aberdeen Local Studies
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