Meacham’s ATLAS Part 2/4 – Planning and Reaction

What do you suppose made James Hubbard Meacham, fresh from his two county atlas publishing ventures in Ontario and Nova Scotia, come up with a proposal to publish a provincial atlas, consisting of three counties?

That is what Meacham did in Prince Edward Island. Compared to his previous projects this one was huge as far as territory was concerned, with sixty-seven 20,000 acre townships, each one a microcosm of the whole in itself. Up to this moment there had been a series of maps of the Island, beginning in the 1830s, that over the years had refined and corrected the outline of the Island, begun the process of sorting out land area errors that dated back to the original Holland survey of 1765. These maps recorded the progress of the network of roads that snaked through the province, the advent of telegraph lines and the appearance and distribution of churches, schools and mills of various kinds.

In 1863 there was an epiphanic moment when the Baker/Lake map – huge, at four by six feet – included, for the first time, the names of property owners along with all the other features that had gradually appeared on the maps that came before.

This vision of the Island, so vast as to be almost overwhelming, would be replaced by Meacham with a more “modern” map, folio size, that would include, along with the other human topographical elements the location of stone quarries, post offices and even cemeteries. This table of explanations will be discussed in the next part of this series on the Meacham Atlas which deals specifically with the maps themselves.

1880 Meacham map of PEI


What was lacking from this much smaller map, was the names of the landowners spread throughout the province. But in the manner of the county atlases that were appearing rapidly in the United States and Canada, not only did the names of landowners appear, but also the shape of their property holdings and the acreage they contained.  A random screen shot of any of the lot maps is bursting with the excitement of what Meacham promised Islanders. Its all there to see.

When Meacham and his agents appeared on the Island with their grand plan, this is the sort of thing they offered, not for a county, but for the whole Island! They would have had with them the Ontario and Nova Scotia county atlases so people could see the scale of the maps, and imagine themselves shining forth from the large folio pages. We don’t know what other promotional material with specific Island references they carried with them, but it is possible that Meacham had a lot map mock-up or two to help show what it would all be like.

So, however he seduced his prospective buyers, there was enough commitment on the part of Islanders that Meacham was able to go ahead with his plan of jumping from county to province in the scope of his work. There must have been many business cards, just like this one showed to me by Meacham’s grandson in 1984 that would have been handed out to the power brokers of the province.

From what we know, Meacham, at some point in 1878, then moved to Charlottetown with his pregnant wife, daughter and spaniel and became involved in the incredibly complex process of producing the first and only provincial atlas of the Nineteenth Century. Life must have been frantic, even at the domestic level, when their dog got lost. The Examiner newspaper was enlisted to help find him.

Curiously, the first recorded act by Meacham – it must have been seen as desired publicity – was to give the newspaper a specially printed page from the dedicatory material at the front of the atlas. It consisted of portraits of the Governor General and his wife, the Marquess of Lorne and Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria. The newspaper was gratified.


1878 October 16, The Daily Examiner, p. 3

Messrs. J. H. Meacham & Co. have presented us with portraits of the Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise, lithographed especially for the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island, which they are now preparing for the press. The likenesses are, we think, good; and the pictures are artistically finished.

Meacham may have told his Island clients that this had been done expressly for them, but in fact, the drawing had been used in the Pictou County, Nova Scotia atlas.


What was involved in this massive publishing task?

To appreciate the scope and scale of this publishing project, I prepared a tentative list of what came to mind when I began to reconstruct the events of 1878-80.

a) Visit Prince Edward Island and bring sample atlases and some preparatory drawings focussed on the Island, and sell your idea to as many people in authority and as many possible subscribers you possibly can.

b) When you have enough subscriptions to make this a paying project gather your team together and travel to the location, finding room and board and transportation.

c) Do extensive archival research to become intimately aware of what maps exist and the kind of information that can be gleaned and copied from them.

d) Produce a comprehensive schedule of production that will be as economical as possible, remembering that time is money.

e)The team will consist of as many surveyors and their assistants as is necessary to do all the mapping and preparation of each lot map. As well, city, town and village maps will have to be prepared in the manner first seen in the Baker/Lake map.

f) Teams of artists will have to be hired to go and make topographical drawings of all the various properties – mostly rural – that subscribers will pay to have in the atlas. As well these artists will do drawings of civic buildings in their spaces and portraits of all the subscribers whose ego demanded yet more exposure to public scrutiny. The portraits most likely will be copied from photographs.

g) Set up a schedule to cover the entire Island and arrange for multiple work crews to begin their specialised tasks.

h) Set up a system to monitor the progress of the various work crews.

i) Commission somebody to research and write the very useful historical overview of the Island and its component parts of lots and communities.

j) Draw all the maps to scale on a folio page matrix and decide how much space each lot will need. Note that a consistent scale (chains) was not used in this atlas so the maps cannot be joined together to make a huge unfragmented paste-up.

k) Arrange the designs of all the other pages so that everything fits in nicely. The pictures were available in various sizes from full page to a tiny vignette, depending on how much you were willing to pay. Keeping track of these variations in size and value was essential.

l) Send all these originals to the lithographic company in Philadelphia so that they can be reproduced on polished stone as the starting point of the lithographic process. Each page then becomes an original work of art. Something we don’t know in this project is whether the final page design was set up in Charlottetown or whether the whole atlas was designed by the publishers in Philadelphia.

m) In Philadelphia, the printers, who are on the same street as the lithographers, will receive the limestone blocks with the final design drawn on the stone. After all the separate pages have been printed on both sides then colour must be applied by hand and allowed to dry.

n) The sheets must then be perfectly folded, and a strip of paper glued along the fold so that the folio can be sewn in with all the other sheets. No information is lost in the valley of the open atlas as, to a great degree, the folio pages open up completely because of the way they were bound into the atlas.

o) In Prince Edward Island, have local printers print all the other text and have it folded as signatures to be bound in with the rest.

p) Assemble all the printed sheets which were produced in various locations and send them to the binder. This involves shipping all the lithographs, which make up most of the atlas, from Philadelphia to PEI.

q) The local binder will then assemble all the material in correct order and begin the binding process. This involves sewing together all the folio sheets using the thin folded strip pasted to the atlas pages, positioning in their various places in the atlas, all the locally printed material. Once this is done the atlas is squared off by having the ragged edges cut away by a massive trimming device.

r) The large heavy board covers will have to be made to size and covered with binding fabric and then stamped with the title using gold leaf. Using standard traditional binding methods, the book will be bound and assume its finished form.

s) Now the atlas can be delivered to the clients and payment collected.


Reconstructing events from the newspaper accounts.

The atlas was the most momentous publishing event ever to take place on the Island, even though most of the artwork, design and printing was done in the United States. It is interesting to follow the progress of the production of the atlas from various accounts in the Island media of the time. Details are not as clear as we would like them to be, but a picture emerges of strong pride in the writing and collating of those sections of the atlas that were to be produced locally. We meet this on a regular basis in the various newspaper accounts.



This is the earliest notice that I could find about the production of the atlas. There was no information about the colossal lithographic preparation and printing that was going on in Philadelphia, but the work of local printers, Bremner Brothers, is eagerly celebrated.

1879 February 5, The Daily Examiner, p. 3

We are in receipt of Meecham [sic] & Co’s Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island; and a close inspection confirms our good opinion of it. One rather important feature is the Directory, which gives the name, residence, business and Post Office address and place of nativity of every patron of the work – in a word, of all the principal inhabitants of the Island. The printing of this part was done by Messrs. Bremner Bros., and it is almost needless to say that it is well done.



The following newspaper article, written later in the year, is a statement of encouragement to Meacham and his employees as the scale of their work is recognised, along with the time it is taking to gather all the necessary information needed to draw the maps and other illustrations that were to be included. There is a strong awareness that this is going to take a long time.

1879, November 13, The Daily Examiner, p. 3

We take great pleasure in calling the attention of our patrons and the public generally to the Atlas of P. E. Island now being prepared by Messrs. J. H. Meacham & Co., assisted by a corps of experienced and skilled workmen, comprising surveyors, artists, engravers, etc. Having inspected specimens of their workmanship in each department of the business, we have no hesitation in saying that the mass of useful and entertaining matter being compiled, will reflect credit alike to the Province and the publishers. Great care, judgment end skill have been displayed, and samples of views with which we are familiar show a high degree of artistic merit, both in the sketching and engraving, being faithful representations of the subjects treated. The long sojourn of this Company in our midst, and the untiring zeal with which they have prosecuted their work, inspires a confidence and belief that the publication will show a corresponding amount of worth. The location of every piece of property on the Island in a condensed and attractive form has been a want long felt by every intelligent inhabitant. This the work of Messrs. Meacham and Co. will supply in a very satisfactory manner. We shall therefore anticipate with pleasure the announcement by the publishers of the completion of their enterprise, which no doubt will be at an early day, as we learn that the work is finished and in the hands of the printers in Philadelphia, New York, Charlottetown and Summerside, with five presses engaged in printing the names. These will soon place it in the hands of Bremner Bros., Binders.


Perhaps responding to a general sense of anxiety about how long production of the atlas is taking, nearly a full year before the projected delivery date Meacham places a notice in the Examiner promising delivery in January of the following year. He emphasizes that it was, from the start, to be a two-year project.

1879, December 5, The Daily Examiner, p. 3

Notice is hereby given to the patrons of the “Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island,” that on the expiration of the two years estimated as necessary to compile and arrange for the publishing the above named work, we take pleasure in announcing the early completion of the same, and hope to commence the delivery January 1st, 1880. Our agent will call on each subscriber as soon thereafter as possible, and as he can call but once, we expect everyone to be prepared to pay him at that time.


J. H. MEACHAM & CO., Publisher


This next newspaper article, published early in the new year when the atlas had been completed, praises extravagantly the local printers and binders for their superb work and, almost as an afterthought, mention the essence of the atlas – the gloriously lithographed and coloured pages – almost in passing.

1880 January 23, The Daily Examiner, p. 3

New ILLUSTRATED HISTORICAL ATLAS OF P. E. I. — It seldom falls to the lot of a journalist to be called upon to express an opinion upon such a work as the above. Through the courtesy of Mr. Meacham we have been favored with an examination of a copy of his new Atlas and unhesitatingly pronounce it one deserving of unqualified praise in every particular. The binding, which is both elegant and substantial, reflects great credit on the binders—Messrs. Bremner Bros., and the letter-press, executed in the office of the Summerside Journal, is another feather in the cap of its enterprising proprietors. Besides the usually understood contents of an Atlas, we are furnished with an accurate and interesting history of our Island, a number of biographical sketches of prominent individuals, views of public and private buildings, and numerous portraits, all produced in the best style. Of the Atlas proper, we cannot speak too highly. The separate maps of each lot, were the contents of the Atlas confined to these, would, in our opinion, be amply worth the price at which the whole is issued ($12.50.) In them one sees at a glance the situation of every farm in the lot, its size, name of proprietor, and boundary line — information which must ever be welcome to the professional or business man, farmer or student. We understand that the delivery of the work to subscribers will commence immediately.


As if to compensate for the lukewarm reception of the Atlas itself in the previous article from the Examiner, the Patriot, the very next day, repeats the news but in a tone much more favourable to Meacham’s accomplishment. I am most grateful to Harry Holman for providing me, just now, with this happy addition to the newspaper accounts.

1880, 24 January, The Patriot, p. 3

New ILLUSTRATED HISTORICAL ATLAS or P. E. I.—It has come of late years to be the general disposition of people, when they hear that a new Atlas is to published, to exclaim “another imposition.” But, happily, there are exceptions to this, and we were never more agreeably surprised than on examining an advance copy of the above volume just about being issued, for a view of which we are indebted to the courtesy of Messrs. Meacham d Co., the Publishers. It is beautiful as to outward appearance, being both handsomely and substantially bound; and within is compressed the patient labor of many men for nearly two years. How faithfully they have labored and delved in all accessible works for the information they have imparted is only to be learned on patient examination. An Atlas, containing a well written history of our Province, views of all places of public interest, and a large number of private residences, portraits of our local celebrities, and a beautifully finished and accurate map of every lot in the Island, showing the situation of every farm, its size, the name of the proprietor, and its boundary lines, is some thing of which every inhabitant who can afford the price ($12.50 and a most reasonable -one for such a work) should hasten to possess himself, and of which every possessor may well .be proud. The delivery we are informed will commence immediately.


In early February the Daily Examiner notices that nine persons connected with the atlas have crossed the frozen Northumberland Strait to arrive in Charlottetown. Who these people are, and what they will do when they arrive, is of no interest to the journalist.

1880 Feb 7, The Daily Examiner, p. 3

The Northern Light which left Pictou harbor at 7 o’clock Friday morning, arrived at Georgetown on Saturday morning at 8 o’clock, in time to meet the train for Charlottetown. The Gulf was full of heavy ice. She brings a large number of passengers, among them a company of nine persons, on the staff of Meacham’s Atlas, – also the Inspector of Fisheries, who has been absent from the Island for some weeks, on business of the Department to which he belongs. Her freight apartments were quite full.


And then, just a few days later on February 10, real praise for this astonishing achievement breaks forth in the pages of the Examiner. It is P. D. Cox, a surveyor, and therefore highly qualified to pass judgment, who sings the praises of the atlas.

1880 February 10, The Daily Examiner, p. 3, article a

Meacham Atlas

To the Editor of the Examiner.

SIR, – I consider it a duty to bring to the notice of the public an Atlas of this Province, lately published by J. H. Meacham & Co. It is by all odds far ahead of anything of the kind ever published in the Lower Provinces. As for correctness and neatness of style it can scarcely be surpassed.

For men of business it is an indispensible [sic] treasure, as well as for others who value beautiful maps of all the townships, with each person’s farm or holding most distinctly laid down; together with towns and villages on a large scale. The Atlas is a perfect gem in itself.

P. D. Cox,

Land Surveyor.

Ch’town, Feb.10, 1880.


On the same day as Mr. Cox’s focussed praise for the atlas is published, distress hits the Meacham family to such a degree that an ad, repeated several times, is published, seeking help in recovering their lost dog. This is something poignant about the first generous and unqualified praise of the atlas appearing on the same page as the plea for help finding the family pet.

1880 February 10, The Daily Examiner, p. 3, article b

LOST – A brown SPANIEL PUP, half-grown, white tip on end of tail, white breast; answers to the name of “Gip,” has a wide brass collar and fastened with brass lock, Meacham owner name, engraved on collar. Will give $3 for his return to old Union Bank building, over “Presbyterian” Office. — J. H. Meacham


It is always a joy to have intimate contact with an historical process, this time, the actual selling of one of Meacham’s atlases to a particular customer – Donald McLean – who paid $12.50 and received his copy on March 4, 1880. I am most grateful to Carolyn McKillop for sharing this treasure from her family archive.



More praise and complaints…

The Semi-Weekly Patriot published the best written, and least confusing account of the way in which orders for Meacham’s ATLAS were taken, and how some individuals somehow believed that they were to receive an expensive book for nothing. It also went on to collect, while standing up for the rights of the common, and perhaps not very bright, man, the most powerful testimonies imaginable from the Commissioner of Crown and Public Lands, his surveyors and civil engineers and from the office of the Registrar of Deeds. Harry Holman came across this article and passed it on to me, for which I am very grateful, because it adds backbone to the story that articles in the Examiner failed to provide in a clear fashion.

1880, February 19, Semi-Weekly Patriot, p. 2

Meacham’s Atlas.

A number of our friends, both in the own and in the country, — more especially in the country—have written to us and spoken to us relative to this work. So far as we can learn from the correspondence before us, too voluminous to publish in the present crowded state of our columns, the most general complaint is that the canvas was conducted in a most dishonest manner. It is asserted that persons were induced to subscribe their names to an agreement to take the book when it was published, on the express understanding that they should never be asked to pay for it. The agent would say that it was necessary that their signatures should be obtained in order that a start may be made in the district, and in some cases a card was given to this effect. [It is possible that the card given is the one reproduced below this article.]  In others the agreement was made in the presence of witnesses. Of course, no one can justify the attempt which the Company now make to force these persons to take the book. Still it can be said that it was hardly fair for such persons to give their names as a bait to catch persons more unwary and more obscure than themselves. In some cases it is asserted that two or three persons in one family were induced to give their names on the understanding that only one of the family should be required to take the work. To their dismay they now find that their signatures are held to bind them, and an attempt is made to force each one to take the work. We are assured that this complaint is without foundation, as they will never be required to take more than one Atlas. It is very unfortunate that many persons have subscribed their names to the agreement who are totally unable to fulfil its terms, whose poverty is so great that the payment of $12.50 involves the forfeiture of property which they can ill spare. There seems to us to be no doubt on the evidence of trust-worthy and reliable persons that the canvas was of a most deceptive nature. We may say that we deplore this. We deeply regret that such a tax should be put upon the people at a time when they are very poorly qualified to meet it. It is also asserted that the paper in the book is not equal in quality to that which was shown. This is partly true. The paper is not so heavy as that in the atlas of the County of Lennox, which was shown us, but we may say as one well acquainted with the different qualities of paper that that in the work is of very fine quality, and that objection may very easily be disposed of. The complaints about the binding are better founded. It is decidedly inferior, and one which should not enclose a work intended to be of enduring merit. Of the merits of the work itself we may say that we believe that it is a most useful book to those who require such a work. To the average farmer it may not seem useful, but we venture to say that no business man on the Island will long be without it. We subjoin the following recommendations of gentlemen who are particularly capable of judging of the merits of the work: —



Feb. 9th, 1880.

Messrs. Meacham & Co.:

GENTLEMEN, — I have examined with much Interest the copy of your atlas of Prince Edward Island. and have pleasure in congratulating you on the very creditable manner in which it is executed; and. so far as opportunity has been afforded to compare the general mapping, and divisions of the several Townships and Holdings delineated with the Official Plans and Maps in this office, to express the favorable opinions of the Chief Surveyor, and Draughtsman of this department, as well as my own, as to the general accuracy of the work. 1 am, gentlemen,

Your obedient servant,


Commissioner of Crown and Public Lands.



We, the undersigned. surveyors and civil engineers of P. E. I., have examined Messrs. Meacham & Co.’s atlas of this Province and compared it with the sample, and find it contains nearly double the matter and much finer work than the one used in the canvas, and have examined it particularly as to the correctness of the maps and find them substantially correct, — much better than could be xpected [sic] in a work of this kind, and we take pleasure in recommending it to the professional and business men as a work of great merit.

O. CURTIS, land surveyor.

PATRICK D. COX, land surveyor.

JOHN BALL, land surveyor.

T. J. BAILY. Gov’t Engineer.

JAMES CAMPBELL, land surveyor.





CH’TOWN, P. E. 1., Feb. 10, 1880.

Messrs. Meacham & Co.:

Sirs. – I have received a copy of the Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island. As a work of art it is highly creditable to the firm, and from the attention I have been able to give them. the plans of the Townships and boundaries of the farms seems to be very accurate.

I have no doubt that, even apart from the historical and other matter contained in the work, the atlas will be of much practical use, giving, as it does, such necessary information regarding every farm, village. and town in the Island. 

The surveys of the localities known to me have been excellently done, and the whole work appears to have been compiled with great care. I remain, Sirs,

Your obedient servant,

P. J. CONNOR, Registrar of Deeds.


What is to be most deeply regretted is that people who did not want the atlas and to whom it will be of as much practical use as an elephant, should have permitted themselves to be persuaded into signing an agreement to take it. Men who have been duped and deceived have a right to resist the claims of the publishers. For our own part while believing the work to be one of permanent value, and one in which the Company have invested a very large amount of money, we shall not in silence permit the people to be swindled and sold. And so long as our Subscribers confine themselves to a statement of facts which they are willing to stand by and submit to the consequences of, we shall not refuse to publish their correspondence. We cannot, however, undertake to publish columns of invective directed at a gentleman whose dealings with us have been uniformly kind and courteous, and who has invested a fortune in this work, a considerable proportion of which we know to have been honestly spent among us. Neither shall we refuse Mr. Meacham sufficient space in which to make his defense.

As sales began to build up Meacham gave out this card to prospective subscribers, perhaps as a form of assurance – a guarantee – that they would in time receive their copy. Perhaps this is the card referred to in the passage marked in the above article. Carolyn McKillop, who owns this unique promotional evidence, kindly allowed me to photograph it.



Reaction Sets in and Lawsuits Follow

It was inevitable that there would be errors, and certainly unintentional omissions, in the large numbers of Lot maps that filled the Atlas. One complaint was highly personal and concerned the topographical view of the property of Mr. John Robertson whose farm was at Long Creek on the West River. The matter was taken to court. The view was, along with 7 similar scenes, on page 57 of the Atlas. It is a very fine panoramic scene with a steamship visible on the West River behind the barns. In fact, this view does Mr. Robertson very proud indeed, and for us, is an important topographical document.


This little undocumented woodcut, dating from the time the atlas was produced, sets the scene for the first major attack on the atlas. Imagine that it is Mr. Robertson who is looking over the artist’s shoulder and brandishing his cane.

It was a tempest in a teacup, and, from this distance, wildly hilarious. When the view was being drawn by Meacham’s artist, Mrs. Robertson was out hanging clothes on the line, and this was witnessed by her husband. BUT, in the final proof, there was no sign of her, and the actual size of the printing cut was smaller than agreed upon! In fact, the page arrangement did not permit the picture to be wider and more inclusive. It is the full width of the page. A larger picture would have only provide more sky. Robertson said that cows grazing nearby had been left out, but as you can see, there are cows, horses and sheep in abundance.

In court, Robertson also pointed out that the artist had placed several barns in a row instead of the courtyard arrangement that existed to provide shelter for the cows. After two emotionally charged days before the judge, involving many witnesses, Meacham lost to the defendant. In the April 3, 1880 issue of The Daily Examiner, p 3, we readThe fatal objection in the case of Meacham vs. Robertson was that the defendant’s outbuildings were misplaced in the sketch. Instead of being represented as forming three sides of a square, to afford a shelter to hie cattle, they were represented as being in one straight line.” There were other small cases, half of which Meacham won, and a long and emotional lawsuit about unjust terms of employment by a Mr. Fyfe which Meacham also won.

This is how the Daily Examiner described the drama.

1880 April 1, The Daily Examiner, p. 2

The County Court.

The March session of the Queen’s County Court has been going on in Charlottetown for some days past, and a large number of suits, of perhaps very little importance to, any one except the litigants, have been disposed of. The most attractive cases, however, were those brought by Meacham & Co., to recover the price of Atlases sold. In all of these judgments was rendered in favor of the plaintiff. A man named Robertson was sued for the cost of a picture (in the Atlas) of his farm, house and buildings at West River. Robertson refused to pay for the cut because he contended that it was not the size agreed on, and also that it was incorrect and did not show some cows and his wife hanging clothes on the clothesline, which were there when the artist made the sketch. A large number of witnesses were examined on both sides, and the case occupied the best part of two days. Mr. Sutherland appeared on behalf of Meacham. Robertson, the first day, pleaded his own case but, perhaps remembering “that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client,” turned up on the sec­ond day with Mr. Arthur Peters. Judgment has not yet been given.

In addition to having a number of men sued, Mr. Meacham was sued himself by one Mr. H. W. Fyfe. It is said that when rogues fall out honest men get their own, and perhaps this was borne out by this case. Fyfe’s story was this:—That early in January last he was promised employment by Meacham as one of the Atlas delivery staff and for which he was to receive $36 per month and expenses. Before the Atlases were ready for delivery, and of course before thy engagement began, he was called on by Meacham to do office work, such as writing biographical sketches to be published in the Atlas, and also editorials praising the Atlas for all the newspapers in the Island, and all of which he claimed he had performed in a satisfactory manner. As an illustration of his qualifications as a biographer, he referred Judge Alley to his sketch ou His Honor Judge Young. He informed the Court that, in addition to writing those articles, he was sent as a diplomatist, by Meacham, to interview the Editor of the Presbyterian, and arrange an armistice with him, and which he had done. He also stated that he, with other agents, was instructed by Meacham, that, when delivering an Atlas, if the party wished a reduction in the price, and offered eight or ten dollars cash, the agents were to take the amount offered, taking care, in doing so, to give a receipt on account only, leaving it open for Meacham to sue for the balance. The Atlas being ready for delivery, he was engaged on the delivery staff, as above, but, by mutual agreement, was afterwards transferred to the Charlottetown office; and, after having entered on his duties there, he was summarily dismissed without warning or cause, and for this wrong, he brought his action of damages for a wrongful dismissal. In support of Fyfe’s case, Mr. Archibald Coles, a printer, in the employ of Bremner Bros., was called to prove that Meacham had told him that Fyfe was engaged by him, and that he intended sending him to deliver Atlases at Rustico, as he was a good French scholar and could talk the Frenchmen. Miss Street, of the St. Lawrence Hotel, and Mr. W. H. Bremner were also examined on behalf of the plaintiff.

Meacham, on his part, positively denied having hired Fyfe, as alleged, and said he was only hired by the day, and for which he had paid him. Judgment has not yet been delivered. Mr. Donald C. Martin, at the firm of McLean & Martin, ably presented the plaintiff’s side, and Mr. James M. Sutherland, that of the defendant.


A Severe and Specific Letter of Complaint from Lot 50 about the Quality of the Atlas and Inaccuracies in the Map.

The following letter from Thomas Crane from China Point in Lot 50 (p. 103 in the Atlas) is deeply interesting as it expresses the complete dissatisfaction of at least one individual who is very specific in his complaints. Thomas Crane points out that the Atlas is not at all like the sample material carried around by the salespersons in quality of paper and binding. Maybe there was a difference in the quality of the samples shown, that would all have been from previous Meacham projects. However, the quality of the paper and binding in the best examples of the PEI Atlas that have survived for well over a hundred years leaves nothing to be desired. The binding was massive, with extremely thick boards embossed with period decoration.


Here is Crane’s seething letter. He stops short of accusing Meacham of fraud.

1880 April 2, The Daily Examiner p 1

To the Editor of the Examiner.

Sir, — In a recent issue of the New Era, I notice a copy of the agreement, printed on the order books of J. H. Meacham & Co. In it Mr. Meacham states that he is not responsible for any statements or agreements made by his agents, during their canvass for subscriptions for his Atlas. Now, I would like to know who is responsible for their statements in regard to the work if he is not; for, as far as I can learn, be never gave notice to that effect through the press, and not one out of a hundred of the subscribers, either read it themselves or had it read for them. Many, if not all the people through the country who subscribed, were induced to sign through the misrepresentations of the agents, and for the reasons before given they are not responsible for their signatures which were obtained through fraud. That the canvass was dishonest and was intended to be so from the first, this clearly proves, and if this is not the case, why should the agents who canvassed the names, keep out of the way while the Atlases are being delivered?

Again, the Atlas is not at all like the one shown by the agent during his canvas; it being far below it as regards both paper and binding: and the maps, instead in being inserted in Atlas style — printed on one page only — are printed on both sides and extend right across the book, and in consequence of this the middle of the book contains a portion that cannot be examined very easily, if it can be seen at all. And also the survey is inaccurate as regards springs and streams – large streams being in many cases entirely left out, and yet in the circular given to subscribers, it states are to be located. I might mention, for instance, a large stream that flows through the farms in Gallows Point, crossing the road before Mr. Judson’s residence, and thence through four other farms into Pownal Bay. This stream is at least one and a half miles long, and the marsh through which it runs, in my plan, is about thirty yards wide, yet it is not indicated on the maps in any way. Another stream that runs through the Irving farms in Cherry Valley and also crosses the road, is left out, and a spring on Musick’s farm, which is the starting point of all the lines in China Point, is entirely unmarked.

I might mention other instances, but 1 consider it unnecessary, as the people are wide awake in this matter and are not to be imposed upon any longer.

I remain, yours &c.,

Thomas Crane.

China Point, March 29th, 1880.


Here is the area in Lot 50 that Mr. Crane is distressed about. All the properties mentioned can be easily located.


The criticism about the way in which the maps themselves were produced, printed on both sides, and running across the full double folio page, was the practice of the time. Most of the maps are double page and that is part of their success – the detail is double what it would be on a single page.

Here is a detail of Lot 50 with the Atlas laid flat. There is loss of detail in the valley, but the information is there, tucked into a not very shallow or tight crease which expands then the pages are slightly pulled to the edges. A close look reveals what’s there. Perfectly flat maps would only have been possible if the Atlas had been published as an unbound portfolio – a most impractical, and impossible solution for the long term.

As can be seen below, Meacham’s binders took the folded folio pages and manually pasted them on strips of paper which would be sewn into the binding, allowing the folded maps to float above the valley.


The next day the judge handed down his decisions on the various court cases that involved Meacham. He didn’t do badly. These were all small lawsuits, ludicrous, some of them, and not at all what one would expect in a venture of this magnitude.

1880 April 3, The Daily Examiner p 3

County Court.

His Honor Judge Alley yesterday delivered judgment in the following cases: –

Meacham vs. Wadman—Judgment for plaintiff.

Meacham vs. Robertson — Judgment for defendant.

Meacham vs. Braddock — Judgment for defendant.

Frye vs. Meacham — Judgment for defendant..

The fatal objection in the case of Meacham vs. Robertson was that the defendant’s outbuildings were misplaced in the sketch. Instead of being represented as forming three sides of a square, to afford a shelter to hie cattle, they were represented as being in one straight line.

In the case of Meacham vs. Braddock, the defense was that the defendant’s farm was misrepresented – cutting him short of twenty-five acres. Another objection was that the Atlas is incorrect, inasmuch as it represents Haliday’s wharf to be three quarters of a mile above McNally’s wharf, whereas they are directly opposite each other. Braddock was sued for the price of the Atlas and won mainly on the ground of the first objection.

In the ease of Mr. Fyfe, the evidence of the Hon. Neil McLeod, which was not before noticed, showed that his recommendations were excellent.


Here is a detail from the map of Lot 36 showing Braddock’s home ground under the Scotch Fort P.O. label. In the Patrons List, two Braddocks – Horatio H and Charles – are noted as having ordered copies of the Atlas. Both live in Scotchfort with a mailing address in Mount Stewart, which is in the next Lot, 37. I could only find a property for Horatio H. The Hillsborough River at that time was full of wharves and I don’t know if the question about the placement of Haliday’s and McNally’s wharves are part of the Braddock case or more rambling discussion by the litigants. In any case, I was not able to find them on the lot maps of the Hillsborough River, although there were many others along the shore.


One wonders if, and how many, similar letters were sent privately to Meacham. The rarity of such published letters, critical in nature, in a Charlottetown Press eager for dramatic controversy, perhaps speaks on Meacham’s behalf. This seems to be the only public controversy about the Atlas that appeared in the newspapers of the day. Perhaps in time other complaints will surface in newspaper articles that I have missed, and I will add them to this material. On the whole the complaints and criticisms, and the evidence for errors that were published are surprisingly small in number.


A Mixed Reaction in New London

In the April 3, 1880 illue of the Semi-Weekly Patriot the journalist reporting in the “New London Items” column of the paper has this to say about the local reception of Meacham’s atlas.

Mecham’s [sic] Atlas is the terror of the day here. A stranger cannot be seen driving the roads but it is inquired if he is not an Atlas-man. While a few are somewhat satisfied with the article, there are a great many who denounce it in the bitterest terms, and finally come to the conclusion that they would sooner have their money.


The Atlas continued to be available for a few years after its publication. Just a year later this ad appeared in the December 30, 1881, issue of the Daily Examiner on page 4, reduced to a surprising $3 per copy! This is curious, as does it represent a general disenchantment with the atlas, or were so many extra copies printed for the open market that money spent had to be recovered as quickly as possible?


The lasting authority of Meacham

And so, the greatest publishing adventure of the Nineteenth Century on Prince Edward Island came to a close. Meacham’s ATLAS would never lose its popularity and would continue to be a vital tool in the Provincial Land Office well into the 1960s. Two dismembered copies of the atlas were pasted onto a large wall forming a huge map that was consulted on a daily basis. This similar collage done by the Heritage Foundation in 1990 in an exhibition about the Irish on PEI at Confederation Centre, of which we see half in this poor photo, shows you the enormous scale of the map in continuous sequence.

When a friend of mine bought the Bishop McIntyre/Alexander MacFadyen property in Tignish in the early 1960s and went to the government office to register the property and discover its true extent, the traditional verbal description was provided in typescript, and she was taken to the great pasted over wall and shown the “official boundary” as it appeared on the Lot 1 map of Meacham’s ATLAS.


Special Thanks

My thanks go out to the following individuals who all provided me with vital information about the production of Meacham’s ATLAS and about various individuals associated with him in one way or another. Their contributions, linked together, gave substance and credibility to what I have written in these posts.

Harry Holman, that tireless and very skilled researcher, found leads in newspapers and the Kingston Directory that place Meacham geographically and in time, and an American obituary notice that helps flesh out the surveyor C. R. Allen.

Mary Hyll (norway 1911 on Ancestry) directed me to the details of the story of how Meacham met his end, and many newspaper references to the man who hilled him, Nate Flaisig.

Carolyn McKillop of Summerside shared with me some family papers that concerned the Meacham family, thus providing me with a copy of his business card, promotional material, an Atlas receipt and photographs of Meacham and his wife.



[Beck, Boyde], “Meacham’s 1880 Atlas – A Brief History,” The Island Magazine, Number 74, Fall/Winter 2013, PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation, 2013.

Holman, H. T. “Panorama for Sale: The Bird’s Eye Views of Prince Edward Island”, The Island Magazine, No. 21 Fall/Winter 1988

Meacham, J. H., Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island, J. H. Meacham & Co., Philadelphia, 1880

Murray, Jeffrey S., “The County Map Hustlers”, Canadian Geographic, December 1990/January 1991

Reps, John W., Views and Viewmakers of Urban America. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1984

Ruell, David, “The Bird’s Eye Views of New Hampshire 1875-1899”. New Hampshire Historical Society, 1983

University of Prince Edward Island –