Deep in the stacks of the Cartographic Branch at Archives II, nestled in RG 76, is a series entitled “Maps and Records Pertaining to the Northeastern Boundary of the United States”. This series contains manuscript maps and drawings of various locations along the border, including a set of spectacular color drawings and manuscript maps offering a glimpse into past of what the borderland between the United States and Canada once looked like. To offer a bit of context for this series of drawings, let us have a brief look at the history of the U.S. Section of the International Boundary Commission, United States, Alaska, and Canada.
The U.S. Section of the International Boundary Commission, United States, Alaska, and Canada, was established under the Department of State in 1908. The Commission was founded under the Treaty of 1908 for one specific purpose: the complete reestablishment and mapping of the boundary from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The boundary had already been defined by treaty and most of it surveyed by 1874; however, by 1908 the boundary had become overgrown and monuments and rock cairns were virtually gone. At that point it was necessary to reestablish the border demarcation to avoid any uncertainties that could lead to dispute. Further complicating matters, the water boundary was only noted as curved lines on the charts prepared by the former commissioners and had not been shown at all on the chart of the St. Croix River.
In 1925, when it was realized that such maintenance would have to be done on a continuous basis, another treaty was signed establishing the International Boundary Commission as the permanent caretaker of the boundary area and its markers. The job of keeping the boundary vista in proper order fell to the International Boundary Commission.
Now, let us turn back to the items of real interest…the sketches and map! Dating to the mid-1800s, these sketches illustrate vast stretches of untouched wilderness along the United States/Canadian Border. Included in this particular set of drawings are renderings of mountain vistas, rivers, and meadowlands, some featuring people and animals, and some with just the landscape alone.
Of particular interest in this collection is a map the territory surrounding the St. John’s River and the British Settlement of New Brunswick. Dating to 1812, this map contains a great deal of information not only about navigating the St. John’s River, but also about the settlements along the river’s banks. In some places, individual landowners are even identified by name. For an extra bit of fun, see if you can locate the local tavern on this map. (Hint: It’s located around the middle section of the map.)
Today, the International Boundary Commission maintains the border between the United States and Canada, which reaches from the St. Croix River, separating Maine and New Brunswick, all the way north to the Arctic Ocean, separating the Yukon Territory from the state of Alaska, by repairing damaged monuments and adding new ones (as needed) that officially demarcate the boundary between the United States and Canada.