The Mapmaker’s Daughter

 

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Map of Connecticut circa 1625: Indian Trails, Villages, Sachemdoms. Compiled by Mathias Spiess, Drawn by Hayden L. Griswold, Copyrighted by Mary Pierson Cheney, 1930. The Connecticut Historical Society.

It’s a Cinderella story. Mary Pierson (1874-1949) was the daughter of Stephen C. Pierson, a civil engineer based in Meriden, Connecticut. The CHS has a large map of Meriden surveyed by Pierson in 1891. In 1898, his daughter Mary married Horace Bushnell Cheney, a member of the Cheney silk manufacturing dynasty. The couple traveled widely, had a huge mansion on Forest Street in Manchester, Connecticut overlooking the Great Lawn and a vacation home in Marlborough, Connecticut. Besides helping to run the silk business, Horace was a talented amateur photographer who took many pictures of Mary and their children. In 1930, Mary, who was president of the Colonial Dames, asked Mathias Spiess, a tobacco broker who was the unofficial town historian of Manchester, to compile a map based on his extensive research on Native Americans in Connecticut. The map, which incorporates details from early Dutch maps of New England, was drawn by Hayden L. Griswold, a prominent Manchester civil engineer. The Colonial Dames distributed free copies of the map to libraries and historical societies throughout the state. I’d like to think that this map was inspired at least in part by Mary’s memories of her father, who died suddenly in 1918, while he was out surveying.

With generous support from Connecticut Humanities, the Connecticut Historical Society recently added more than 800 historic maps of Connecticut to its online database.  Also included in the database are hundreds of Horace Bushnell Cheney’s photographs of his family.

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