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The road to hell is mapped with good intentions

Antebellum Americans were enamored of maps. In addition to mapping the United States’ land hunger, they also plotted weather patterns, epidemics, the spread of slavery, and events from the nation’s past.

And the afterlife.

Imaginative maps to heaven and hell form a peculiar subset of antebellum cartography, as Americans surveyed not only the things they could see but also the things unseen. Inspired by the biblical injunction to “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction… and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV), the maps provided striking graphics connecting beliefs and behavior in this life to the next.

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