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Antique Maps of Jefferson

Jefferson Territory


In 1858, gold was discovered near the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, by the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the Kansas Territory. As thousands flooded into the area, in what was called the Pike's Peak gold rush, settlements (such as Denver City) were established and the population boomed. This area was located well away from the Kansas territorial government, and the locals realized that their interests were not necessarily the same as the interests of those located in the eastern part of the territory. Besides there was no machinery available for the enforcement of law & order, a real concern to those who hoped to make their fortune. Thus these miners and other settlers wanted a new territory to be carved out of Kansas, to provide local government.

A delegation was sent to Washington for the creation of such a territory and in January, 1859, a bill was introduced to Congress to create a territory of Colona, mostly carved out of the western part of Kansas. This bill got nowhere and a new bill was introduced to create a territory called Jefferson. Neither of these bills were ever passed by Congress, mostly because of the issue of slavery. At that time there was great concern amongst those from the slave states that no new "free" states be added to the country and so Jefferson never received enough support in Congress.

This territory, however, did have considerable support back in the gold fields along the Rockies. A group of prominent citizens met on April 15, 1859 in Uncle Dick Wootton's Tavern, with the intent to organize for themselves a local government. A proposition to create the territory of Jefferson was finally approved by a general referendum on October 24, 1859. A constitution was adopted, government bodies established, including a territorial legislature that met and elected Robert W. Steele as provisional governor. Meanwhile, Beverly D. Williams was sent to Washington as a representative of the new territory, but Congress refused his petition. Still, a Jefferson territorial government did operate for about sixteen months, though it has been said to have "remained extralegal, factious, and semieffective."

The territory as proposed would have been considerably larger than today's Colorado, encompassing what is today the eastern part of Utah and much of southern Wyoming. It was described as bounded by the 102nd and 110th meridians and the 37th and 43rd parallels. Once the southern states seceded from the Union, and their representatives left Congress, the log-jam on proposed new territories was finally broken and three new territories were established in the first months of 1861. The first was Colorado, created in February. The new name was selected because northern Congressmen did not want to honor a Southerner (Thomas Jefferson) and the boundaries were reduced somewhat. When the newly appointed governor of Colorado, William Gilpin, arrived in Denver in June 1861, Jefferson's "Governor" Steele signed a proclamation dissolving the Territory of Jefferson.

While Jefferson never was officially sanctioned, it does appear on a few maps made in 1859 and 1860.

Available maps

Maps from Smith's New Geography, by Roswell C. Smith. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott and Co., 1860. 12 x 10. Lithographs. Original hand color. Some stain spots. Otherwise, very good condition. Denver.

A series of interesting maps from 1860 naming Jefferson Territory. Issued in 1860, the mapmaker did his best to make this map current and protect it from being out of date as soon as it was issued. Thus he included a number of proposed territories and borders, including Jefferson, which did not come to pass. The mapmaker was wrong in predicting the establishment of Jefferson Territory, but he got it right for another mining-related territory. Besides the Pikes Peak Rush, in 1859 there also the Comstock Lode rush in the western part of Utah Territory Those in western Utah were rewarded, in 1861, by the new territory of Nevada-shown here as a proposed territory.

Among the errors was the depiction in the Pacific northwest. The original Oregon Territory (1848) was broken into two in 1853, with Washington Territory carved out of the northern half. Six years later, just a year before this map was produced, the western part of Oregon Territory was admitted as a state and the eastern part added to the now enlarged Washington Territory. This map, though it shows the new state of Oregon, is wrong in showing the eastern part of the old territory as a separate, though unnamed territory, not part of Washington.

The final proposed territory shown on these maps is Arizona. Settlers in the southern part of New Mexico were also agitating for a new territory, but when refused by Congress, they decided to secede and join the Confederacy as the territory of Arizona, consisting of that part of New Mexico south of the 34th parallel. Congress did not take kindly to this, so when they finally created Arizona in 1863, the border was run north-south, rather than east-west. This map shows the proposed-and failed-southern territory.

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