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David Burr Mapmaker Cartographer Biography

Posted by Pine Brook Antique Maps on

Although David H. Burr, born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1803, would eventually become one of the most important cartographers in America, he didn't start out as a mapmaker. His aspiration was to become a lawyer, which he did after attending law school and passing the New York state bar exam.

Shortly thereafter, he joined the New York State Militia and, following this, he was appointed to work under Simeon De Witt, a geographer and at the time, the Surveyor General of the State of New York. DeWitt had published a map of New York State in 1802, but it would be surpassed by his protégé, Burr, who published the Atlas of the State of New York in 1929. Antique maps by David Burr are highly sought after to this day.

Funny enough, Burr had only been hired to help survey roads in the state, but after compiling a variety of other maps, the state of New York endorsed his efforts to create a New York atlas. Burr’s 1829 Atlas of the State of New York was the second atlas of a State produced and second only to Mill’s Atlas of South Carolina in 1825.

Following this success, Burr was tapped to take a position as the official topographer for the United States Post Office Department in 1832. During this time, he maintained maps of postal routes that included roads, railways, and canals and somehow he also found time to create the New Universal Atlas, published in 1835.

However, this was only the beginning of Burr's forays into the world of surveying and cartography. After collaborating on the American Atlas with John Arrowsmith in London in 1838, Burr returned to the U.S. and was appointed to the House of Representatives as a draftsman.

He reportedly spent the next several years working with famed map publisher J. H. Colton, who was renowned for the quality of his prints produced on engraved steel-plate. During this time, he also served as a draftsman for the Louisiana Survey. Burr was then appointed as the Deputy U.S. Surveyor for the Florida Survey in 1848.

Burr's story goes on, though, as the U.S. Senate tasked him with compiling maps of previous Federal Surveys. During this time, he published his Map of the United States, 1854, which stands as his last known published work.

From there he moved west and was appointed the Surveyor General of Utah in 1855. His sons, David Augustus, Eugene, and Frederick joined him, taking up positions to work alongside him, but by 1857 the family fled the state due to threats from inhabitants unfriendly to the federal government and its agents.

Burr would go on to open a freight business, followed by a dry goods store. He eventually returned to Washington, D.C. and passed away in 1875, having been one of the most influential mapmakers of his time.

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