How much does it cost to explore the lands west of the Mississippi?

Well, sometime in the mid 1700s, Thomas Hutchins estimated that such an adventure cost £6163.  (In today’s money, that equals about £902,515 or 1,806,835 USD.  Seems reasonable, right?)

An Estimate for Exploring the Country Westward of the Sources of the River Mississippi, towards the Pacific Ocean, or South Sea (undated)

I came across this intriguing document while processing our collection of Hutchins’s papers (one of our Adopt-A-Collections).  Hutchins (1730-1789) was a military engineer for the British Army from the 1750s to the 1770s and worked on survey projects in the Midwest and Florida.  He was eventually named the Geographer of the United States and tackled projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic States.  Notably, he helped complete the Mason-Dixon Line survey in the 1780s.   (He worked on the boundary between Pennsylvania and what was then Virginia.) The papers in the collection span the bulk of Hutchins’s career from the 1750s to the 1780s.  It is small but remarkable collection containing maps and descriptions of the west at a time when almost all the land west of the Mississippi River remained unexplored by the Europeans.  Relations with Native Americans and other colonizers, such as the Spanish, are mentioned frequently, and the descriptions give very useful accounts of wildlife, vegetation, and inhabitability of the land.

Names of Indian Nations living in and near the River Missouri (undated)

Some of Hutchins’s works in the collection include his “Description of the sea coast, harbors, lakes, rivers, etc. of the Province of Florida;” “Some remarks on Georgia;” and “Short description of the United States and Canada, with maps.”  He also drew numerous maps and plans, such as the ones below.

Cahokia - map of settlement by Hutchins (1766)

Additionally, the collection contains some of Hutchins’s own correspondence that offers glimpses into his survey work, and later his work as Geographer of the United States.  As well, there’s an interesting assortment of miscellaneous papers, such as the observations of “Jupiter’s satellite” by Hutchins and others.

Astronomical observations (undated)

The finding aid for this collection (#308) will soon be up on our website, but many of the items from it can be found in our card catalog, and the collection as a whole is readily available to researchers.


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