Abstract: 'Virtue of their Credit, not their Power': Copyright, Claims, and Civility in Colonial America

Nora Slonimsky

Abstract

This paper explores credit as facet of intellectual and territorial ownership from 1755 to 1783. Looking specifically at the publishing history of Lewis Evans' “Map of British North America,” this paper argues that Evans' efforts resulted in the first known copyright in North America, and that his copyright efforts reverberated in calls for national sovereignty. Maps were a collaborative, hybrid form of intellectual property, relying on surveyors, cartographers, illustrators, engravers, historians, and printers in order to produce them. The subjects maps depicted were similarly complex, reflecting contested positions on sovereignty, development, and geographic composition. In both instances, assigning credit was key: who exactly owned maps, and in turn could claim a copyright, was intertwined with the importance of credit, or reputational cache, in determining ownership of colonial terrain. Claiming credit for authoring a text was as challenging as claiming the essential political and commercial credit to acquire land.