This extremely rare first edition, first state issue of one of the most important and iconic American maps ever produced is nothing short of spectacular. Admired by collectors, curators, and experts alike for its cartographic precision and geo-political significance, as well as its incomparable aesthetic qualities, this is one of the most extraordinary pre-Revolutionary War maps on the market.
Issued in 1755, at the height of British colonial rule and the initial stages of the French and Indian War (1754-63), this superb masterwork encapsulates the prowess of British might in North America prior to the Revolution. More importantly perhaps, it makes a powerful claim to further British territorial interests on the continent. We are, in other words, at the height of Britain’s American empire, but also on the cusp of its collapse.
The large format (40 x 42.3 in) was a cartographic innovation for regional maps at the time, allowing the mapmakers to pack it with tremendous detail. The amount of information afforded, and the precision with which it could be represented, was a key element in the map’s commercial success and a core reason why it still stands as a crowning achievement of New England cartography. It stands alongside two other fundamental maps published in 1755: John Mitchell’s A Map of British and French Dominions in North America…, and A General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America…, by Lewis Evans.
Events of the 1750s in North America occurred at such a rapid pace that a revised version soon was necessary, and a second state was published only four years after the first. While the differences in the two states may seem obscure, experts understand that they are an important reflection of different points in the course of the French and Indian War. The map was then extensively altered and re-engraved for a new edition, which was published by Thomas Jefferys in his 1768 atlas General Topography of North America. It immediately became the standard reference for mapmakers, soldiers, and statesmen alike, and was reissued repeatedly well into the 1790s. By the time new maps were drawn up after Independence, the political landscape had changed so dramatically that regional mapping was largely abandoned in favor of mapping the new States individually.
The map depicts a stretch of coastline spanning from the Damariscotta River in the north to Long Island and the Hudson River delta in the south. It reflects the best state of knowledge at the time of its making, and shows a plethora of important landmarks and features, including cities, towns, and villages; province and county borders; roads, tracks, forts, and an array of natural features. Waterways — rivers, bays, and streams — were shown with greater accuracy than any map of New England had done before. This reflects their crucial importance for inland transport and trade. The riverine infrastructure is vividly captured in the network of British forts centering on the upper Hudson River Valley, along with the delineation of several portages, which are called carrying places in reference to the carrying of water craft or cargo between two bodies of water.
Landscapes of Conflict — documenting the Crown Point Campaign
We mentioned above that this 1755 first state and the 1759 second state should be understood as depictions of two different stages of the French and Indian War. No where is this case more evident than the documentation of the Crown Point Campaign, which is dramatically mapped on our map but lacking on the second state. The campaign featured the first major hero of the war, General William Johnson, who led a force of four thousand men recruited from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New York. He was charged with attacking the French stronghold at Crown Point, Fort Frederik, from which the French controlled Lake Champlain and launched incursions into what the British considered their territory.
Johnson’s second in command led the first division up the Hudson River starting in mid-July, 1755. They built or refurbished a series of forts and storehouses along the river, including Fort Hardy at Saratoga (depicted but not named on the map), ‘Lidius or Nicholson’s Fort’ (today known as Fort Miller), and Fort Lyman, a log fort that was shortly thereafter renamed Fort Edward. The latter two forts were both located at strategic portages connected to the Hudson: carrying places indicated on the map link Fort Miller to Fort Ann on the banks of Wood Creek, and Fort Lyman to Lac Saint Sacrement (Schwartz 1994: 59-60).
In mid-August, Johnson set out across the route from Fort Lyman and camped on the southern shore of Lac Saint Sacrement with about two thousand men. He renamed it Lake George in honor of his king and his plan was to sail down it to Ticonderoga, and then proceed on to attack Fort Frederik. He also began construction of a new fort, Fort Henry, on the southern shore of the lake. In response, the French commander, Marshal Ludwig August Dieskau, reinforced both Fort Frederik and ordered construction of a new fort on the promontory at Ticonderoga, Fort Carillon. Our map depicts these locations as camps; the second state shows them as completed forts.
On September 5th, Dieskau led a small force up Wood Creek with the intention of marching on Fort Lyman. When he learned from a prisoner that the British were already camped at the lake, he devised an ambush and attacked. This attack was the first phase of the Battle of Lake George, and is marked on our map with a battleground symbol that carries the date September 7th 1755, just two months before the publication of our map. The English suffered heavy losses and retreated to their encampment, which had been turned into a makeshift defensive position using trees and overturned wagons (Schwartz 1994: 59-60). Johnson was then able to lead a successful counterattack, forcing a French retreat.
The Battle of Lake George turned out to be one of the instigating factors accelerating the French and Indian War, which broke out in full flurry the following year. General Johnson’s victory over the French sparked a huge public interest in the American colonies and their frontiers. For the savvy publisher with the right platform and product, this interest could be translated directly into sales. Only a month had passed from the formal announcement of the British victory at Lake George to the publication of Mead’s map. The inclusion of a detailed plan of Fort Frederik and the mapping of key places related to the battle thus spoke directly to the growing public interest in the American theatre of war. It also underscored just how accurate and up-to-date this map was.
The second state omits General Johnson’s camp and the French camps, as well as the battlefield marker and date. By the time of its publication in 1759, events of the intervening four years had clearly shifted the situation at Lake George. The siege of Fort Henry in 1757 and the Battle of Carillon at Ticonderoga in 1758 were both major French victories. The mapmakers thus no longer sought to highlight the area, intent as they were on promoting British interests.
The best-known element to look for when identifying the first state of this iconic map is the spelling of Connecticut with a K (i.e. Konnektikut). However, the landscape around the Hudson River and Lake George also changed significantly from the first to the second state. In the second state, a postal road runs along the western bank of the Hudson, until it crosses the river at the new Fort Edward, from where it deviates north to Lake George. To guard this road, a string of new forts flank the river as well. Further encampments, on the other hand, appear to have been abandoned or omitted, for example Fort Ann. Even the outline of Lake George itself varies dramatically in the first and second state. One of the reasons that the first state is so desirable among collectors and institutions is precisely because it includes so many historical subtleties and details that were omitted from later states and editions.
As one moves inland from the coast, the density of settlement and infrastructure drops dramatically. This is on one hand a reflection of 18th century realities, but it is also indicative of the state of geographical knowledge at the time of its creation. Mead was one of the greatest cartographers working on the Americas in the tumultuous 18th century, and he was renowned for the amount and accuracy of his details. Mead was a bit of a polymath and drew on an array of sources when compiling his charts. Nowhere is this insistence on accuracy as evident as on this map, which charts out all the inhabited areas of New England in minute detail. Along the more densely inhabited Atlantic coast, in areas such as Connecticut, Rhode Island, and eastern Massachusetts, each county is marked out and every known settlement has been included – an innovation not seen before in maps of New England. As one moves inland, say to New Hampshire, modern Vermont, or upstate New York, the detail diminishes until finally we see an open landscape, marked only by rivers, mountains, and the occasional fort or frontier settlement.
This is truly the early formative period of America: before the Revolutionary War, but well after generations of settlement had established firm regional identities. Within the densely settled regions along the coast, the variegated status of what would soon become the individual States stands out clearly. While Massachusetts and New Hampshire are denoted as provinces, Konnektikut and Rhode Island are identified as colonies, whereas southern Rhode Island is recorded as Providence plantation. Yet despite these differences in status, the regional borders are drawn up clearly in these areas, denoting a well-established consensus on the subdivision of land. Further inland, however, the consensus lessens, so much so that some borders are deliberately omitted (e.g. between New Hampshire and New York). These are issues that simply have not yet been worked out at this stage.
The fluidity of colonial borders in the first half of the 18th century is attested by the boundary between Connecticut and New York. A line of text reads: “The Land inclosed between the double Boundary Lines is the Oblong of 69,000 Acres granted by Konekticut to New York.” This refers to an agreement between the two colonies in which New York was granted a strip of land, know as the ‘Oblong,’ in exchange for the previously granted Connecticut panhandle. After a final survey, the Oblong was formally signed over by Connecticut in May of 1731, ending a long-standing territorial dispute.
The French Menace
Conflict with the indigenous peoples is evident from the map’s annotations, which set out frontier lines between settlers and the Native American tribes. For example, south of Sunape Pond, two rows of land plots are labeled: “A double Line of Towns for a Frontier against Indians.” Beyond these lines is the wilderness, though this too belongs to the Crown, as an inscription between Lake George and Sunape Pond will have us understand: “Wilderness Lands of the Crown not yet appropriated.” However, the real enemies in this dramatic depiction are nevertheless the French encroachers, who despite being appreciably outnumbered in population size were expanding their territories and catchment areas through alliances with native tribes.
Moving northwest, this territorial and fiercely political dimension of the map becomes even more apparent. A number of French settlements are accompanied by the descriptor “a French Incroachment”. Most prominent among these is Fort Frederik at the southern tip of Lake Iroquois (just north of Ticonderoga). Even though the fort is clearly marked on the main map, it was deemed worthy of a detailed insert following the British-French battle at Lake George discussed above. Located in the upper left corner of the chart, this is one of only two inserts on the map, the other being a detailed plan of Boston harbor. The obvious discrepancy in importance between the most important Atlantic port in New England and a relatively obscure French fortress in the interior wilderness, speaks volumes as to the commercial aims of this map as a politicized, if not political document.
The inlay of Fort Frederik is quite elaborate. In addition to a plan of the fort and its individual buildings, the map includes an extra muros corn mill and what appears to be local vegetation. A road leads along the coast to a ‘cover’d way’ into the fort itself. The road seemingly continues behind the fort to the mill and then extends south out of the image. Inside the fort, barracks and other buildings are indicated, whereas a four-storied hexagonal tower or donjon is depicted in more detail. A central inscription in the fort courtyard reads: ‘Fort Frederik a French Incroachment built 1731 at Crown Point or rather Scalp Point from a French Draught’. The last note, that it is drawn from a French Draught, does not just once again underscore the map’s reliability, but flaunts Mead’s proficiency in compiling sources.
Interestingly, the Hudson River track is not the only way to reach Fort Frederik. A second route is tentatively indicated in the form of a cross-country route drawn as a straight line running southeast from Crown Point to Stephens Fort on the New Hampshire frontier. The route seems to cross several waterways and minor ranges and is described on the map as being ‘about 60 Miles. N. 25˚ W. nearly’. An interesting detail is a small mound drawn roughly midway on this route and labeled ‘Halfway Hill’ — clearly a local reference.
Creating a Masterpiece
The second inset, located at the bottom of the map next to the stunning cartouche, depicts Boston Harbor at a scale of approximately 1:150,000, including all the islands and shoals, as well as the many smaller ports frequented in the bay. The need for this map is obvious: Despite being the largest port in New England, access was not straightforward and navigating the bay required both skill and knowledge of local conditions. Consequently, Mead used the fourth book of the famous navigational atlas The English Pilot (1706) as his starting point for depicting Boston Harbor. His inset included a substantial number of soundings and is headed by a caption that stresses reliability: A Plan of Boston Harbor from an Accurate Survey.
Mead’s meticulousness in collecting and rendering data lies at the heart of his genius. Few charts can pull off the elegant combination of navigational reliability and cartographic monumentality that has been accomplished here. The coastline and Atlantic promontories and islands are all depicted in great detail, including areas suited for fishing and crabbing. Among New England’s well-known coastal landmarks one might note Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island, the latter of which includes a demarcation of the dangerous shoals fronting the island to the southeast. The inset of Boston Harbor is of course the more important depiction, but the rendition of Boston on the map proper is also worth noting.
While this description so far has stressed the functionality and reliability of Mead’s work, there is no doubt that this map was a showpiece: a visually impressive opus meant to captivate imaginations and inspire awe. The map has a consistent and rather crisp aesthetic, but nowhere are the artistic ambitions more apparent than in the allegorical cartouche that dominates the bottom of the map. One scholar remarks that the artistry of the cartouche marks maps such as this as “…furniture, not residents of library shelves” (Edney 2003: 162). Framed by swirling arabesques and crowned by the map’s lengthy title, the central image is of William Bradford and the pilgrims arriving in America. With the Mayflower proudly anchored in the bay, we see the European pilgrims engage with the local population, who present the newcomers with animal pelts. As if to ensure that there was no doubt what this image depicted, the group is flanked by a large rock marked ‘Plymouth MDCXX’.
The cartouche was most likely an addendum by Thomas Jefferys, a highly-skilled engraver. It is an important compositional element in the map, in that it visualizes two central British claims. First of all there is the recognition that comes with being first. As the Mayflower settlers were English, the Crown felt it could legitimately lay claim to the entire territory of New England. French “encroachments” were, in other words, both immoral and unlawful. The inclusion of the pelts in the image makes the Crown’s interest in her colonies quite explicit: colonies were primarily a locus for lucrative trade. The second aim lies in the juxtaposition of the Mayflower’s arrival with the incredible detail of the map. This composition tastefully captures the impressive development that New England had undergone since the landing at Plymouth Rock. As if to say, not only did we come first, but we have been diligent and dutiful in building up this land, and so it must be ours. This elegant yet plain symbolism is emblematic of the artistic genius that pervades the Jefferys maps compiled by Mead.
Before delving deeper into the important historical context in which this map was produced, a note should be made on the legend placed on the right side of the map. The legend includes three distinct sections, the first and last of which require little explanation. At the top we find astronomical measurements from the London and Ferro (Canary Isl.) meridians as a means for fixing the map precisely to a larger grid. At the bottom is a relatively standardized legend in which the abbreviations and symbols used in the map are explained. Bounded by the two is a list of source material used for compiling the map. We have already noted Mead’s skill in finding and using sources, as well as his affinity for making references to these in his maps. Nevertheless, this map owes a substantial debt to one particular source that has been suspiciously omitted from this list.
The Missing Reference
Mead drew directly on Dr. William Douglass’ Plan of the British dominions of New England in North America, which was also published in London in 1755. When Douglass had died in 1752, the publication of his map was left to his nephew. He saw in his uncle’s map the potential for commercial success and immediately sought to have it published. It would take three years to bring to fruition and never made much of a splash, but Douglass had compiled a chart that was unlike any map of New England previously executed. Mead knew this and even though both maps came out the same year, he had been aware of Douglass’ work for some time.
The exact degree and nature of Mead’s access to Douglass’ data remains obscure, but both men were extremely active in cartographic circles, where findings were compared and manuscript maps shared (for an inkling of the murky market of 18th century map-making, see The Osher Map Library’s article on Thomas Jefferys). Douglass spent many years accumulating and compiling his data, often doing so in a very public manner, and Mead followed his progress carefully. Douglass had a keen interest in promulgating New England’s distinctiveness from the other American colonies, and tried to incorporate this distinctiveness into his map. The notion was at best seen as an elaboration when Douglass compiled his map, but in the context of rising tensions over the American colonies, this had suddenly become an ideal template for Mead to work from.
The omission of Douglass from the list of sources is indeed suspect. Even though Mead’s map hardly is copy of Douglass, it does rather disingenuously misrepresent its sources by citing a non-extant source for Connecticut instead of Douglass’ map, which clearly was used (Edney 2003: 159). That said, Mead did significantly improve the map, for example by including county lines and updating toponyms, but also by adding basic cartographic elements such as a graticule of latitude and longitude. He also expanded the map’s scope to include frontier territories in the northwest, as well as upstate New York. In doing so, he crafted a dramatic image of the theatre of the French-Indian War: a visualization that resonated deeply with British audiences and made the map a huge commercial success.
In the 1750s, New England was the most densely inhabited and most significantly developed region in North America. The area consisted of a number of British colonies that all were under rapid development. The scope of the Crown’s possible dominion was constantly being expanded and cartography was a crucial craft for visualizing such ambitions. It was also a time of sporadic conflict with the French, who despite having a much smaller demographic focused on Canada, saw their mercantile interests extend deeper and deeper into what the British perceived as their territories.
New England had been the subject of more than a century of cartographic endeavors, beginning in earnest with John Smith’s original surveys in the early 17th century. Much of the early mapping of New England was in manuscript form, which was later transferred onto charts or included in books. Maps were built on surveys: systematic approaches to specific swathes of land, usually with the underlying ambition of staking a claim. Mead and Jefferys’ map stands as the pre-eminent achievement in this tradition of mapping New England. This is in part because it was the largest and most detailed rendition of the region to date, but also because it was an unabashed and forceful legitimization of British holdings. Executed with an impeccable aesthetic and incredible detail, and issued at a crucial moment in time, Mead’s map quickly became the principal image of New England, a status that lasted until well after the American Revolution.
Ultimately, Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England was not just the largest, most comprehensively researched, and most detailed map of contemporary New England: It also bolstered the Crown’s territorial claims while delegitimizing those of the French, and highlighted the threat emanating from Canada. Despite the contingent nature of geographical representation and its obvious links to contemporaneous political ambitions, virtually everyone who used or came in contact with Mead’s map must have recognized its genius. Not only had he embedded generations of hardship and struggle in a single chart, it captured the highest aspirations and deepest fears of the mightiest nation on earth.
Most colonial maps of New England were printed in London for the London market. They were usually not cheap and would only have been bought and read by the upper echelons of society. The below-cited advertisement for Jefferys’ publication of Mead’s map sets the cost of the map at half a Guinea; the most widely circulated gold denomination in Britain and no small amount.
“This Day is published, In Four Sheets. Price 10s. 6d. A MAP of the most inhabited Parts of NEW-ENGLAND; containing the Provinces of Massachusets Bay and New Hampshire, with the Colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island. In which will be included the Course of Hudson’s River from New-York to the Carrying-place, with the Lakes and Country adjoining to Crown-Point, the present Seat of War between Major General Johnson and the French. The Whole composed from actual Surveys, and the Situation adjusted by Astronomical Observations. By J. GREEN, Esq; Sold by Mess. Bowles, King, Tinney; J. Payne in Pater-noster-row; T. Kitchen near St. Andrews Church, Holborn; and T. Jefferys the Corner of St. Martin’s Lane in the Strand.”
– Notice in the London newspaper Public Advertiser on November 29th 1755