Nahum Ward 1816

Nahum Ward and Mammoth Cave

In 1816 Nahum Ward published the first widely distributed description of Mammoth Cave and accompanied that description with a hand drawn map.  This account was republished in various forms by magazines and newspapers for the next twenty years.  There is an excellent account of the man and his other writing that was published by Paul Riggs in 2007 in the Journal of Spelean History:

Riggs, Paul T.  2007.  Nahum Ward’s 1816 Account of Mammoth Cave.  Journal of Spelean History, Vol. 41, No. 1, Issue 131. Pp. 6-13.   Accessed September 1, 2013.

Riggs, Paul T.  2007.  Annotated Bibliography of Nahum Ward’s Publications about Mammoth Cave.  Journal of Spelean History, Vol. 41, No. 1, Issue 131, 14-15.   Accessed September 1, 2013.

 There is little point in me trying to redo the biographical material that Riggs presented so well.  I do however have a bit of the curious to add the story of Nahum Ward.  When did the account first appear?  Riggs discusses this at some length and concludes

“Consequently, it seems clear that the first publication was in Ward’s hometown newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, where it appeared in three installments on May 8, May 15, and May 29, 1816. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that Ward had returned to Massachusetts with the mummy from Mammoth Cave around the time of publication.”

Below is a copy of Mr. Wards (uncredited) account from the National Register, August 17, 1816.

Ward, Nahum (uncredited). 1816. The National Register, Volume 1, Issue 1 – Volume 2, Issue 43, Saturday August 17, 1816,  edited by Joel K. Mead, pp. 392 – 395.





 The account of the cave is really a pretty good one and an important look at the early history of the cave.  The mummy he referred to later became known as “Fawn Hoof.”   It was a mummy originally found in nearby Short Cave in 1811 and moved to Mammoth by the proprietor, Charles Wilkins, to display to visitors.  [Angelo George, Mummies, Catacombs, and Mammoth Cave (Louisville, KY: George Publishing Co., 1994), 84.]

The map of the cave drawn by Ward was however, terrible.  Comparing it to actual surveys it is hard to see even a slight resemblance between the map drawn by Ward and the actual cave layout.  Riggs (2007) reproduces a copy of a broadside of Ward’s map and description from the collection at the Kentucky Library at Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  This is the same broadside that was reproduced in Sears (1856)

Ward, Nahum.  1816, pp. 324-329. In 1856. Sears, Robert.  The Wonders of the World: Comprising Man, Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Trees, Plants, Mountains, Caves, Volcanoes, Rivers, Cities, Remarkable Edifices, Ruins, Antiquities, &c., &c. : with Several Hundred Illustrative Embellishments Published 1856, Second Series. 543 pp. including a verbatim reproduction of Nahum Ward’s original description, made in 1816.,+Quadrupeds,+Birds,+Fishes,+Trees,+Plants,+Mountains,+Caves,+Volcanoes,+Rivers,+Cities,+Remarkable+Edifices,+Ruins,+Antiquities,&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EJ8jUo7fLJPOsASe9IHIBQ&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false


Map from Sears 1856


Map key from WKU broadside

It contains a map of the cave and an insert drawing of the mummy from Short Cave.  The problems with the map are many.  Mammoth Cave generally extends to the southeast from the entrance area.  The Green River passes the cave to the north then bends south with the closest point of the Green River being almost due west of the cave in the vicinity of the River Styx Spring. 

The map shows the Green River south of the cave and passages extending under the river itself, neither of which are true.  To be fair it would have been difficult to keep your orientation straight if you were a first time visitor seeing the large passages only by lantern light.  The map likely was drawn after leaving the cave from memory and without the aid of any compass bearings within the cave.

Now for the curious part.  A different printing of the map was sold by Boston Rare Maps recently.

Ward, Nahum.  1817.  Plan and Description of the Great and Wonderful Cave, In Warren County, Kentucky. Printed [by John Low] and sold, at No. 139 Cherry-street, [New York City], [ca. 1817-21?] Description: Broadside with type and woodcut elements, 21.25”h x 16.5”w, uncolored. Boston Rare Maps website.  


 The full image can be seen at the link above.  On this map however the map itself is a left-right 180 degree mirror image of the version that appears in Sears (1856) and the broadside from the Kentucky Library.  Instead of being keyed by a letter on the map to a map key, the names of the passages and rooms are written within the map itself.  Since these are not mirrored as well, the map must have been redrafted from a mirrored copy of the original, lettered, and made into a new woodcut before printing.  I emailed the seller of the map (the map itself had been sold some time ago) and received this reply:

Mr. Frank, Many thanks for pointing out the discrepancies in the various depictions of Mammoth Cave.  The most likely assumption is that the image on my broadside was copied from the others, or vice versa.  It happens on occasion that images become transposed due to the mechanics of the copying process and/or the carelessness (or indifference) on the part of the copyist.  In this case, of course, the result is that, while north and south are consistent, east and west have been transposed, making one of the maps deadly for anyone navigating by compass!

The Boston Rare Maps website comments on the origin of the broadside:

The broadside does not name a publisher or provide a date, but reads at the base “Printed and sold, at No. 139 Cherry-Street.” This corresponds to the premises of printer-publisher John Low in New York City during the years 1817-1821, though it is possible he was at this location either earlier and/or later. A search of newspapers in the on-line resource America’s Historical Newspapers did not yield results, but further research into the history of Scudder’s Museum and its display of the native American remains should enable one to date the broadside more precisely.

This is not earth shattering news that a broadside was misprinted, but it is a curious small tidbit of information.

Edward Forrest Frank

About Edward Forrest Frank

My name is Edward Frank. By training I am a geologist with published research on caves found in the United States, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I am the webmaster, BBS administrator, and run the Facebook Page for the Native Tree Society and am involved with tree research with the group. I am the author, or coauthor, of a number of tree related articles and publications available for download from the NTS website and NTS BBS. I edit the monthly magazine for the group - eNTS Magazine. I write science fiction and fantasy stories reflecting a lifelong love of the genres. Most recently I published a fantasy role playing game Knarf 4, available through Amazon Kindle. I have an extensive science fiction and fantasy library and have long enjoyed table top role-playing games. Not satisfied with commercially available games, I started creating my own game variations in the mid 1980's. Knarf 4 is latest version best version of those games. I also write non-fiction. I currently am working on a book on "The Old-Growth Forests of Cook Forest State Park, PA" targeting older children and teens. I am suave, sophisticated, funny, kind, considerate, thoughtful, brilliant, devilishly handsome, and above all modest.
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