Cary served his apprenticeship as an engraver in London, before setting up his own business in the Strand in 1783. He soon gained a reputation for his maps and globes, his atlas, The New and Correct English Atlas published in 1787, becoming a standard reference work in England.
In 1794 Cary was commissioned by the Postmaster General to survey England's roads. This resulted in Cary's New Itinerary (1798), a map of all the major roads in England and Wales. He also produced Ordnance Survey maps prior to 1805.
Cary's major works include:
- Actual Survey of the country fifteen miles around London (1786)
- New and Correct English Atlas (1787)
- Camden's Britannia (1789) - maps for 1789 and 1806 editions
- Cary's Survey of the High Roads from London (1790)
- Cary's Traveller's Companion (1790)
- New Maps of England and Wales with part of Scotland (1794)
- Inland Navigation; or Select Plans of the Several Navigable Canals throughout Britain (1795)
- Cary's New Itinerary (1798)
- A New Map of Scotland (1801)
- New British Atlas (1805), with John Stockdale
- A New map of chinese & independent Tartary (1806)
- Cary's New Universal Atlas (1808)
- Cary's English Atlas (1809)
- New Elementary Atlas (1813)
- Cary's New Itinerary (1817)
- David Smith, ‘Cary, John (1755–1835)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Allen, P. (1992). The Atlas of Atlases. London: Ebury Press.
- Moreland, C. & Bannister, D. (1989) Antique Maps. London: Phaidon Christies
- Tooley, R. V. (1987) Maps and Map-Makers. London: Batsford
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