Subject - Details

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In the North Carolina Maps project, the "details" field is used to identify specific elements that appear on a map. The terms assigned to each map are taken from a limited, controlled-vocabulary list described in detail below. By adding this additional level of information to the cataloging record, users are conduct specific and detailed searches, requesting maps by the level of detail they show, and how they depict it.


This term is used to describe two different, but related elements depicted on maps. North Carolina Maps will include several maps produced specifically to illustrate battles. These often depict troop movements and locations, and topography relevant to the battle. While these will certainly receive this term in the subject_details field (and most likely the term "Military" in map_type), the term should also be used when larger maps simply show the site of a battle. Many state maps denote battle sites from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, sometimes giving the name and dates of the battle, other times just showing a symbol such as a small pair of crossed swords.

Detail showing boats and forts during a Civil War battle. From "A sketch of Roanoke Island, N.C.," 1862. NCC call number Cm912.28 1866
Detail showing a battle site, from "The Century Atlas," 1897. NC Archives call number MC.150.1897c
Detail showing a battle site (and school), from "Map of Alamance County, North Carolina ," 1893. NC Archives call number MC.001.1893s


The Businesses term covers all private businesses shown on the map, including (but certainly not limited to) mills, stores, and fisheries. This term should be used in conjunction with more specific terms available in this field, including Mills, Stores, and Mines. While this term should be used for all of the different types of businesses shown on the map, the cataloger should be more specific in the free-text description in the abstract field, noting the types of businesses that are included.

Detail showing store and mills. From "Alamance County, [North Carolina] (Stafford-Harris reduction)," 1879. NC Archives call number MC.001.1879s
Detail showing index of businesses featured on map. From "Insurance Maps of Asheville, Buncombe Co. North Carolina," 1901. NCC call number FFC912.11 A82.5 1901


Canals were an important form of transportation in early North Carolina, especially before the expansion of railroads. The canal most likely to appear on maps is the Dismal Swamp Canal, located in Camden and Gates Counties along the Virginia border. There were also canals in Craven and Carteret Counties, connecting the Neuse River with Beaufort; in Hyde County, connecting Lake Mattamuskeet with the Pamlico Sound; and on the border between Washington and Tyrrell Counties. Canals are most often depicted by a heavy, dark, straight line.

Detail showing a canal from "North Carolina & South Carolina," 1865. NCC call number Cm912 1865L
Detail showing two canals from "Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal," circa 1858. NCC call number Cm912.02 1858L


This term is used broadly for any map that includes more than one color. The colors do not have to signify anything, in fact, the majority of the colors used on the historic maps in this collection are purely decorative.

Detail showing decorative colors and images from "Americae pars, Nunc Virginia," 1590. NCC call number FVCC970.1 H28w
Detail showing railroad lines marked by color from "Map showing the line of the Atlanta & Richmond Airline Railway and its connections," circa 1870. NCC call number Cm912 1870a
Detail showing colors indicating soil types from "Soil map, North Carolina, Person County sheet," 1928. NC Archives MC.078.1928j

County Boundaries

This term is used only when the boundaries of counties are shown -- primarily in maps that show the entire state. Many 18th-century maps list the names of the counties in the general areas in which they were located, but do not include specific borders (for some very early maps, the borders may not have been formally established at the time). The county boundary subject should not be used with these maps. The County Boundaries term should also not be used for maps that show only a single county or a part of a county.

Detail showing proposed county lines from "Proposed county of Hoke formed from portions of Cumberland and Robeson counties N.C.," 1910. NC Archives call number MC.052.1920a
Detail showing counties on the statewide map and inset map from "A New Map of Nth. Carolina with its Canals, Roads & Distances from place to place, along the Stage & Steam Boat Routes," 1839. NC Archives call number MC.150.1839t

Creeks and Streams

There are, of course, creeks and streams throughout North Carolina, however, this term is used in order to give researchers a sense of the amount of detail that is shown on a map. Use this term whenever creeks and streams are clearly drawn, and especially when they are named.

Decorative Illustrations

This term should be used whenever purely decorative elements on a map appear, such as elaborate borders, animals or sea-monsters, ships in the ocean, or illustrations in the cartouche. When a map contains only graphic elements are used to signify elements on the map (such as little drawings of churches or schools), it should not receive this term.

Detail showing an illustration of a colonial port from "A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland...," 1775. NCC call number CCm912 1776f
Detailing showing an illustration of fishermen from "Gli Stati uniti dell' America delineati Sulle ultime osservazioni...," 1797. NCC call number Cm912 1797c


This term is used whenever a map depicts distances (in numeric terms) from one place to the other. This often comes in one of two forms. Many maps print numbers directly on the map, often over a road between two cities or towns. These numbers are not always described in the map legend, but in most instances refer to the distance from one place to the other. Maps from the early twentieth century through the present often include distance tables, showing the distance between locations on the map and elsewhere. Maps that include only distance tables should also receive this term in the Subject - Details field.

Detail showing a distance chart with mileage from Williamsburg from "A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland...," 1775. NCC call number CCm912 1776f
Detail showing point-to-point distances from "Post route map of the states of North Carolina and South Carolina," 1896. NCC call number CCm912 1896u
Detail indicating mileage from Wilmington to Charleston from "Cape Fear River with the counties adjacent, and the towns of Brunswick and Wilmington...," 1781. NCC call number Cm912.01 1781b


Elevation will usually be noted on the map in the form of either spot heights or contour lines (either of which, if present, should be noted in the abstract). Spot heights are numbers, usually given in feet, next to a prominent mountain. Contour lines denote changes in elevation and usually include numbers (though they aren't always easy to find) denoting the height at different places. If either of these appear on the map, this term should be added to the subject_details field. If the map simply shows a drawing of a mountain or mountain range, elevation would not be used in the Details field.

Detail showing spot heights from "Main highways, mountain peaks and streams of Henderson County," 1918. NC Archives call number MC.050 1918k
Detail showing the profile of the Dismal Swamp Canal from "A new map of Nth. Carolina," circa 1856. NCC call number Cm912 1856t1
Detail showing profiles of coastal approaches from "[Entrance to the Albemarle Sound, showing proposed inlet]," circa 1853. NCC call number Cm912m U58a6


Forts are often shown on early North Carolina maps. These are not always mentioned in the legend, and there doesn't seem to be a standard symbol. In most cases the name of the fort is fully written.

Detail showing forts on Roanoke Island from "Map of the battlefield of Roanoke Id.," circa 1862. NCC call number Cm912.28 1862a
Detail showing Fort Johnston from "A plan of Cape Fear River from the bar to Brunswick," 1794. NCC call number Cm912m C23 1794L


Houses are depicted on many maps, though they are rarely listed in the map legend. In the majority of cases, the houses appear simply as small black squares. These are easy to miss, but very important. This term should be used whenever a map depicts the specific location of houses or farmsteads, even if it does not list the name of the owner or give the boundaries of the land (there are separate fields for that).

Detail showing houses (and a church) from Bertie County soil survey, 1918. NC Archives call number MC.010.1918a
Detail showing houses (and landowners) from "Map of Alamance County, 1893. NC Archives call number MC.001.1893s


This term, like Creeks and Streams, is used to give an idea of the level of detail shown on the map. It should be not be used too generously. If, for example, a statewide map shows only one or two large lakes (Lake Mattamuskeet, for example, would be difficult to omit), it's not worth mentioning. However, if the map shows smaller lakes and ponds, then it is a good idea to use this term in the subject_details field. This will help researchers who are looking specifically for inland bodies of water, as well as those who are trying to find maps give a detailed depiction of the terrain.

Detail showing Lake Waccamaw and surrounding soil types from "Soil map, North Carolina, Columbus County sheet," 1915. NC Archives call number MC.027.1915h
Detail showing Lake Santeetlah from "Graham County, North Carolina (State Highway and Public Works Commission)," 1938. NC Archives call number MC.043.1938n
Detail showing soil types of Lake Mattamuskeet from "Soil Map, North Carolina, Lake Mattamuskeet sheet," 1909. NC Archives call number MC.053.1909a

Land Cover

Land Cover is used to describe the depiction of different types of vegetation shown on a map. Some land cover maps are extremely detailed, using different symbols to illustrate the spread of many specific types of vegetation. For historic North Carolina maps, land cover is seen most often on Coast and Geodetic Survey maps. These designate, using symbols, forested areas, farmland, and marsh lands. Some historic maps will simply print the type of land cover on a specific section of the state.

Detail showing land cover from "Albemarle Sound, N. Carolina western part, from the Pasquotank River to the Roanoke and Chowan rivers," NCC call number Cm912m U58a3 1877.
Detail showing land cover (cypress and oak forests) from "Pearce's new map of the state of North Carolina: compiled from actual public and private surveys," NCC call number Cm912 1872p.

Land Use

Land Use is used primarily to describe maps that show agriculture and different types of development.

Detail showing land use (cotton) from "Pearce's new map of the state of North Carolina: compiled from actual public and private surveys," NCC call number Cm912 1872p.


Landowners show up on more maps than you might think. It's not always easy, at first, to distinguish between names of prominent landowners and names of cities and towns, and might require a little research. Prominent landowners are listed on many early regional maps, and both prominent and not-so-prominent ones are named on many later county maps, especially the detailed, privately-printed maps published in the early 20th century. This field should be used whenever landowners are listed by name.

Detail showing a landowner "Mr. Strudwick's Land" from "A Compleat map of North-Carolina from an actual survey," 1770. NCC call number CK 272.
Detail showing landowners ("Mr. Rutherfords" and "Genl. Howes," from "A New and Accurate Map of North Carolina," 1780. NC Archives call number MC.150.1780b
Detail showing landowners from "Map of Davidson County, N.C.," 1890. NCC call number Cm912.29 1890j


If a legend is used on the map, that fact should be recorded by entering this term this field


This term is broader than it might appear at first, having been applied to a number of different structures and businesses over North Carolina's history. Early mills, powered by water, were simple operations used to grind corn and grains. By the late 19th-century the term was used primarily for textile factories, though it was also applied to other types of businesses. For this project, we use this term very loosely. The rule is, simply, if the word mill is used on the map, then this term should be used in this field. In many cases it's impossible to tell what kind of operation it is, the map might show a name ("Ricks Mill") or else just a the word mill or a symbol. If there is more information about the kind of mill, that should be included in the abstract.

Mines and Mineral Resources

There are (or were) quite a few mines in North Carolina. Gold, iron, and copper have all been mined in the state at one time or another. Mines and mineral deposits are often noted on maps, even statewide maps showing a broad area. Use this term even when the map appears to show only a mineral deposit and it is not clear whether or not there is actually a mine in place.

Detail showing coal fields in Chatham County from "Pearce's new map of the state of North Carolina: compiled from actual public and private surveys," 1872. NCC call number Cm912 1872p
Detail showing Halsey Copper Mine from "Halsey Copper Mine, Guilford Co. N.C.," circa 1860s. NCC call number Cm912g H19h1


Most early maps include pictorial representations of mountains but they are imprecise and generally indicate mountain ranges rather than specific peaks. Later maps vary in their depiction of mountains. If only mountain ranges are present without careful placement of particular mountains/peaks, those maps do not receive the "mountains" term. Where particular mountains or peaks are named and height is indicated by hachures or contour lines, those maps receive the "mountains" term. The more sophisticated geological maps will receive "mountains" as well when contour is shown, elevation is given and/or peaks are named.

Where elevation is given, these maps will also receive the term "elevation."

Detail showing knobs and elevations near the Pisgah National Forest from "Main highways, mountain peaks and streams of Henderson County," 1918. NC Archives call number MC.050.1918k
Detail showing Pilot Mountain from "Atlantic Coast of the Southern States North Carolina and South Carolina...," 1863. NC Archives call number MC.150.1863w
Detail showing hachures from "Map of Orange County N.C.," circa 1940. NCC call number Cm912.68 1891t1

Native American settlements

Most early maps note the location of Native American tribes in the state, especially the Cherokee in (increasingly) western North Carolina. Whenever a tribe name is present in the state, this term should be used. The names of specific tribes, if they are given on the map, should be noted in the abstract.

Detail showing areas inhabited by the Tuscarora, Catawba and Cherokee tribes from "Aboriginal America east of the Mississippi," circa 1840-1849. NCC call number Cm912 [ca.1585]
Detail showing Weapemeok settlements from "Virginia, Marylandia et Carolina: in America septentrionali Brittannorum industria excultae," circa 1700s. NCC call number Cm912 1759h
Detail showing "Cherokee Indian Reservation" from "Jackson County, North Carolina (State Highway and Public Works Commission)," 1938. NC Archives call number MC.055.1938n


This term is used primarily when state or national parks are shown on a map.

Detail showing Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest from "Graham County, North Carolina (State Highway and Public Works Commission)," 1938. NC Archives call number MC.043.1938n
Detail showing Pisgah National Park lands from "Main highways, mountain peaks and streams of Henderson County," 1918. NC Archives call number MC.050.1918k


Some maps, especially the group of privately-printed county maps that were published in the early twentieth-century, have photographs (often of prominent citizens or homes) in the margins. If that's the case, note that fact here. If there are engravings in the margins or elsewhere in the map, then use only the Decorative Illustrations term.

Detail showing a photograph of Governor Thomas Holt from "Map of Alamance County, North Carolina (William Luther Spoon)," 1893. NC Archives call number MC.001.1893s
Detail showing portraits and a photograph of the Orange County Courthouse from "Map of Orange County N.C.," circa 1940. NCC call number Cm912.68 1891t1

Places of Worship

This term is used to denote the presence on the map of churches and other places of worship. These are signified in a number of different ways on early maps. Churches are often shown with a small drawing of a church building, or else a cross (often, but not always, described in the map legend). Quaker Meeting Houses are commonly shown on many early maps, especially around the western Piedmont region. On some the whole phrase "Quaker Meeting House" is printed, others simply have a "Q.M."

Detail showing church from "Map of Nash County North Carolina," 1919. NC Archives call number MC.069.1919w
Detail showing Quaker Meeting House from "The State of North Carolina from the best Authorities," 1800. NC Archives call number MC.150.1800l

Political Districts

While all governmental divisions (such as states and counties) can probably be called political, we're not being quite so broad here. Use this term when non-standard (at least as far as maps are concerned) political divisions are depicted, such as congressional districts or school districts.

Detail showing a focus on historical precincts from "N. Carolina precincts, 1663-1729," circa 1858. NCC call number Cm912 1858s
Detail showing school districts from "Caswell County, NC...," 1868. NC Archives call number MC.020.1868v


There are a few very different instances in which this term would be used. When population is listed in a table in the margins, use this term in subject_details. It should also be used if the population of a city or town is noted on the map itself. And finally, it should be used when relative population is noted (often by symbols of varying sizes used to denote cities and towns).

Post Offices

Post offices are sometimes shown on county and local maps, and occasional appear on larger regional and state maps. The location is usually depicted with the abbreviation "P.O."

Property Lines

Many maps, both manuscript and printed, show property lines. This project will include a handful of manuscript maps produced specifically for the purpose of recording the location of private and/or public property. Others simply include property lines in an effort to show a great amount of detail. Coast survey maps, especially when they show a good portion of land, often include property lines.


If a railroad is shown on the map, even if it is not named, this term should be used. Railroads are almost universally depicted by single lines with shorter lines across them. If the railroad is named, the name should be noted in the abstract.


While this term is used to signify the presence of modern highways and roads, it is also used when maps show older plank roads or trading paths. These are often present even on very early maps.


Most city and county maps show schools. And in most of these cases, the schools are clearly labeled.


Soundings (measurements of depth in water) are shown on many early maps, maps of the coastal areas, and nearly all coast and geodetic survey maps. These often appear as numbers scattered around the areas just off of the North Carolina coast.


Stores (probably all-purpose or "general" stores) are often depicted on North Carolina town and county maps, and occasionally on regional and state maps. Stores are usually pretty clearly labeled, denoted simply by the name (for example, "Garret Store," or "Biddle's Store"). There does not appear to be a common symbol used for stores. Whenever stores is used in this field, the broader term Businesses should also be included.


As with Mountains and Lakes, the cataloger should use a little discretion in assigning this term. Nearly every map of North Carolina will note, at least, the Great Dismal Swamp in the northeast corner of the state. Unless the Great Dismal is prominently featured or particularly carefully mapped, this term may not be necessary. However, many regional and county maps do depict smaller swamps, which are quite prevalent throughout the eastern section of the state. Sometimes swamps are simply noted on the map with a name, no different from a city or town. However, mapmakers often depicted by swamp areas with a series of horizontal lines, to give the section a darker appearance, and small drawings of what look like bushes. While these areas are clearly defined, they are not always named as swamps.

Detail showing a swamp from "Colton's new topographical map of the eastern portion of the State of North Carolina," 1961. NCC call number Cm912 1861c.
Detail showing two swamps from "An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina With Their Indian Frontiers," 1775. NC Archives call number MC.150.1775m.


Maps showing tidal charts, or in any other fashion indicating tides, should receive the term "Tides." Generally, tidal charts may be found on those coastal maps designed for navigational purposes, as well as the occasional map produced by the Coast and Geodetic Survey.


Beginning in 1868, North Carolina counties were divided into smaller administrative districts called townships. Maps showing the township boundaries were prepared and submitted to the state government in Raleigh. Subsequent maps often showed townships, and many of these are easy to spot, as the townships are coded by color. Use this term whenever a county map shows the names and boundaries of the townships.

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