Topic of the Day: Time-Machine to 1848 North America

Discovering an ancient map can be fascinating, not just for the lure of perhaps uncovering long-hidden treasure, but also for the snapshots it reveals of our world when it looked very different from the present day.

This map is a time-machine window to North America in 1848, 166 years ago.   If we peek through that window and look around, President James Polk is leading the young U.S. nation.   Gold is just being discovered in California but it will be another year before news travels and the California Gold Rush begins, causing mass immigration of “forty-niners” seeking their fortunes in the Gold fields of the West.


The entire southwest of what is now the U.S. belongs to Mexico and is called “Upper California.” Most of the inner regions are relatively unexplored and referred to as the great “Sandy Plain.” The Mexican-American war has just ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo being signed in February this year of 1848. The treaty ended two years of war and would soon be transferring Upper California to the U.S..   The red ink line shows where an early owner of the map tried to draw in the new U.S.-Mexico border.

Most of the western states don’t exist yet, but will be eventually carved out of the areas known as “Oregon Territory,” Missouri Territory,” and “Indian Territory.”

Los Angeles was not yet significant enough a town to label on this map. San Franciso was a small, recently erected town, but would soon explode in population as the Gold Rush proceeds.

To the north, Canada doesn’t exist yet, but is called “British Territory.”

Farther northward, the region that would later be called Alaska is currently known as “Russian America.” When a current-era candidate for vice-president in national elections commented that they “could see Russia “ from their window in the Anchorage region, on our 1848 map they would have been living in Russia!