Title: The Gerry-mander / A new species of Monster, which
appeared in Essex South District in January last
Date: March 27, 1812
Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Source: The Repertory & General Advertiser [newspaper]
Description: Wood engraving, 7¼"[H] x 6¼"[W] plus title.
In early 1812 Massachusetts Republicans engineered a radical redistricting
of their state, designed to disadvantage the Federalist majority in the
upcoming state senatorial elections. The General Court duly passed the
enabling act, which was then signed by Republican Governor Elbridge Gerry.
The legislation was enormously controversial and sufficiently unpopular
that Gerry was soon voted out of office, though he landed on his
feet, being elected as James Madison’s Vice President.
On viewing a map of the redistricted Essex County, one wag – the painter
Gilbert Stuart, some say – combined the governor’s
name with that of the mythical beast, and so the “Gerry-mander” was
born. Soon after the first image of the beast was published, probably
in the Boston Gazette of March 26. It consists of a map of one
of the two new districts in Essex County, with the constituent towns
outline, ornamented by fearsome jaws, claws and a demonic-looking
set of wings.
The image was immediately picked up by other Federalist papers, including
The Repertory & General Advertiser, whose March 27 rendition
is shown here. The text which accompanied this image explained in a mock-serious
tone the salamander imagery and conveyed well the vicious
the time and
the inflammatory role played by the partisan press. It reads in part:
“The district may well be exhibited as a Monster. It is the
offspring of moral and political depravity. It was created to drown
the real voice of the majority of the citizens of the county of Essex,
where it is well known there is a large federal [i.e., Federalist]
majority. It is an anti-republican monster; engendered in conclave,
during the last session of the Genera[l] Court, with a design to secure
power to a few ambitious men…”
The image is unsigned and for many years was attributed to Gilbert Stuart.
John Ward Dean’s History of the Gerrymander demonstrated,
however, that it was designed by Elkanah Tisdale. Tisdale was a designer
and engraver active in New York and Hartford in the late 18th and early
“Born in Lebanon, Conn., about 1771, and was living in 1834.
In 1794-98 Tisdale was located in New York as an “Engraver and
miniature painter”; but about the latter year he moved to Hartford
and became a member of the Graphic Co., an association of engravers,
though he was the designer of vignettes rather than their engraver.
Dunlap says that he remained in Hartford until 1825; and that he was
designing and engraving plates for Samuel F. Goodrich, of that city,
“Tisdale worked in both line and stipple; but his plates possess
little merit. The earliest dated plates by Tisdale known to the writer
are his full-page illustrations in Trumbull’s ‘McFingal,’ published
in New York in 1795.
“Tisdale was a better designer than engraver, and he claimed
to be a painter in his early life, though his best work was in the
line of miniature portrait painting.” (David McNeely Stauffer, American
Engravers on Copper and Steel, I:272-273.)
The Repertory & General Advertiser presentation of the image differs
somewhat from the original in The Boston Gazette: Though the monster
itself appears to be line-for-line identical, it has been rotated 90
degrees counter-clockwise, and “north” and “south” indicators
have been added for the benefit of those Bostonians unfamiliar with the
geography of Essex County.
Several years back the Geography and Map Division of the Library of
Congress purchased the original Tisdale wood block.
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