Writing books about history means trying to find out secrets that once were not secrets. In my current project about Aaron Burr and his dream of creating an American empire, I am feverishly trying to track down three maps that Burr was using when he was arrested for treason in Mississippi, which supposedly provide insight into what Burr was really up to.
Burr left the maps with Dr. John Cummins of Bayou Pierre, and in 1903 they were held by Cummins’ granddaughter, Mrs. Thomas C. Wordin of Bridgeport, CT. In that year, the maps were lovingly described by Walter Flavius McCaleb in his book, The Aaron Burr Conspiracy.
According to McCaleb, the maps are “of preeminent significance, illustrating, as they undoubtedly do, the outlines of Burr’s project.” One “shows the lower region of the Mississippi River with Natchez, New Orleans, and the [Ouachita] lands, also New Mexico down to Yucutan.”
The second is really a nautical chart, showing with “astonishing minuteness a survey of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Campeche. Island, bars, and inlets are recorded, and soundings are given. The chart is beautifully executed on paper bearing the watermark of 1801.”
The third one covers “that section of Mexico lying between Vera Cruz on the east and Mexico City on the west.”
But where are they? Subsequent books do not refer to these maps, even though McCaleb claims that he reproduced one of them in the 1903 edition of his book (the version scanned and posted at Google Books does not have a map in it).
So, where are the maps? I am consulting with the Map Room at the Library of Congress, and the History Museum in Bridgeport, CT. Any other ideas? I’d love to track these down.