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The accumulation and refinement of geographical knowledge: infamous cartographer Braddock Mead's encyclopedic map of the Western Hemisphere.

Place/Date: London / 1775
$4,200.
Title: A Chart of North and South America, Including the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with the nearest Coasts of Europe, Africa, and Asia
Dimensions
112 x 132 cm (44 x 54 in)
Identifier
NL-00631
Coloring
Original color
Condition Rating
VG+

Description

This is the fourth issue of Braddock Mead’s (a.k.a. John Green) large and important chart of the Americas. This particular map was issued by Sayer and Bennett of London for the 1776 edition of Thomas Jefferys’ American Atlas, and is thus the most comprehensive revision of this seminal map of The New World. The map was originally issued in six individual sheets, which here have been collated into a single large chart. The map covers both American continents, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and sections of the Asian, African and European littorals. Among the many innovations offered on this map is the accumulation and presentation of the latest geographical discoveries mapping terra incognita.

Most of the new information pertains to the Americas, especially the Northwest Pacific, ideas about which until then had been heavily influenced by a 1752 map of the region by Philippe Buache and Guillaume De L’Isle. This map was problematic because De L’Isle primarily compiled it based on a quasi-mythological description by Admiral Bartolmeu De Fonte, who in 1640 supposedly sailed north from Lima (Peru) until he somewhere around the 53rd parallel entered a Rio de los Reyes. From here he could navigate west through a series of waterways until he finally came upon a Bostonian merchant in what is presumed to have been the Hudson Bay. The historicity of the De Fonte’s expedition is apocryphal at best, yet both Buache and De L’Isle, and later and royal geographer Thomas Jefferys, depicted the geographical information that De L’Isle accumulated as a ‘great probability’.

The erroneous nature of this map annoyed Mead, who took it upon himself to produce a new and more reliable chart. Keenly aware of the competitive nature of the mapmaking business, and determined to set himself apart from his piers, Mead researched all the latest reports, charts, and accounts available to him in London. It was precisely because of this meticulousness and the systematic, almost scientific approach to compiling various forms of information that Mead’s map quickly superseded that of his predecessors. Mead’s chart of the Americas remained the most important map of the region for years. In fact, it was only with James Cook’s famous expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1778 that more accurate charts became available. Mead’s competitiveness and professional pride is also reflected in the comparative tables of variations in latitude and longitude between his chart and those of other great cartographers of his day (e.g. Bellin and D’Anville). Other tables provide Spanish coordinates dating as far back as the 16th century, which the English only acquired a few years prior to this map’s publication. We are, in other words, not only dealing with a mapmaker who was extremely meticulous, but also exceptionally well informed.

The six-panel version issued for Thomas Jefferys’ American Atlas took the compilation of variegated data and international discovery to new heights. It depicts the routes of famous “American” explorers such as Baffin and Hudson, but also includes detailed accounts of Russian explorers like Vitus Bering, Alexei Chirikov, and Ivan Synd. Not only is it the first time that the Bering Straits have been labeled as such, but the map includes detailed accounts of Bering’s observations and routes while navigating the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. Mead’s ingenuity and uncompromising approach to accuracy also meant that whenever possible, he would draw on Asian sources as well. There are references to both Japanese and Chinese geographers and mythologies, including Chinese references to the American coast (Fou-Sang) as well as Japanese references and coordinates for an archipelago of large islands inhabited by a kingdom of dwarves (Ye-Que). The legend of Fou-sang (also Fusang) derives from a Chinese account of a fifth century Buddhist monk who was said to have been blown off course and found himself in a marvelous and strange new land; eventually this land would become identified and located by mapmakers anywhere from Oregon to British Colombia.

Crucial new data was also included on the islands of the Pacific and the Southeast Asian seaboard. In the north, a large archipelago of islands separate the Asian and American continents, the largest of which is named Alaschka. Russian expeditions had identified the American coast already in the 1730s. The rendition of Alaska as an island is a geographical error similar to the persistent notion of California as an island. The decision to render and label it in this way was probably done by the publisher Robert Sayer who applied a similar tenacity to mapmaking that Mead did. The notion of Alaska as an island is most likely to have come from Jacob von Strählin, secretary to the Russian Academy of Sciences. He published his own map of the region in 1773 – within a year of the compilation of this issue of Mead’s map – which he based on the observations and notes of Lieutenant Ivan Synd, who had surveyed the region as part of a Russian naval expedition in the 1760s. Strählin’s map was full of errors, so much so that Nelson chastises its inaccuracy after he used an issue of this map in 1778 expedition.

In general, the map is covered in notes, tables, and references to provide the viewer with as comprehensive and up to date an overview of the regions as possible. In many cases it makes no claim as to the accuracy of such references, but simply notes the possibility so that readers can make their own assessment. The extensive annotations regarding Bering’s voyages have already been mentioned, but similar detailed datasets and observations are provided for the Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay, again reflecting the extensive research that went in to producing this map. In fact, dozens of explorers’ routes are plotted on to the map, including both notes on the journey and illustrations of some of the specific vessels involved in these explorations. A note in the Pacific explains the reasoning behind this: “These Tracks of Shipping are inserted to make known the Navigation of this Ocean, and encourage the discovery of a Passage on this side Northward”.

Another region that was subject to a significant updated was the southwestern Pacific. Following the discoveries of explorers like Bougainville and Cook new islands such as Tahiti were added, while others, such as New Zealand and the Falklands, were notably expanded upon. Other islands, such as the Solomon Islands and Pepys Island off the coast of Argentina, are now labeled as ‘Imaginary Isles’.

 

Background

The search for a northwest passage had been active for more than a century by the time Mead published his map. Mead figures prominently in history of how our geographical understanding of this region developed. We have already touched upon the controversial nature of Mead’s immediate forebears, and this map is indeed both reflective of an incredible age of exploration, where every month new reports were submitted from all over the world, which mapmakers and geographers had to keep up with. Moreover, being a veritable cornucopia of different information, Mead’s great American chart also demonstrates how competitive business cartography was and how the best practitioners applied an almost scientific approach to the art.

Mead’s new chart both meant as a decisive step forward in mapping the new world, but it was also an explicit commentary on Buache and De’Isle’s reliance on De Fonte as a credible source. On Mead’s map, the only virtually blank area (including the oceans) is the west Canadian wilderness. The one annotation that is present reveals how important Mead felt it was to counter the French maps. He notes: ‘These parts, as yet wholly unknown are filled up, by Messrs. Buache and Del’Isle, with the pretended Discoveries of Adm. De Fonte and his Captains in 1640’.

Mead started working for Thomas Jefferys, cartographer to George III, around 1750 and probably produced his hemispherical map within the first few years. Mead died only a few years later, whereas Thomas Jefferys went bankrupt in 1765. Publisher Robert Sayer of London, who was specialized in the publication and reissuing of maps, subsequently bought many of Jefferys’ plates. In 1770, Sayer teamed up with John Bennet (see bios below) and it was under their patronage that Mead’s map was reissued in the present state. Like Mead, Sayer and Bennet drew on the latest discoveries to produce a truly up-to-date chart of the Americas.

 

The Sheets

Sheet I: Chart containing part of the Icy Sea with the adjacent coast of Asia and America.

Sheet II: Chart comprizing Greenland with the Countries and Islands about Baffin’s and Hudson’s Bays.

Sheet III: Chart containing the coasts of California, New Albion and Russian Discoveries to the North, with the Peninsula of Kamchatka, in Asia, opposite thereto, and Islands, dispersed over the Pacific Ocean, to the north of the line.

Sheet IV: Chart of the Atlantic Ocean, with the British, French & Spanish Settlements in North America and the West Indies.

Sheet V: Chart containing the greater part of the South Sea to the South of the Line, with the Islands dispersed thro’ the same.

Sheet VI: Chart of South America, comprehending the West Indies, with the adjacent Islands, in the Southern Ocean, and South Sea.

Cartographer(s)

Braddock Mead (aka John Green)

Braddock Mead (c. 1688 – 1757), aka John Green, was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and important cartographers in the history of the London map trade. Born in Ireland, Mead made his way to London around 1717, leading a life of gambling and petty crime. In 1728 he was imprisoned for his role in a plot to defraud Bridget Reading, a 12-year-old Irish heiress; the main ringleader of the plot was hanged.

When Mead was released from prison, he took the alias of John Green, and began a noteworthy career in editing and mapmaking. Thomas Jefferys, the illustrious geographer to the Prince of Wales, recognized his talent for cartography and hired him as an assistant in 1750. His life came to a tragic end when he committed suicide by jumping out of a window in 1757.

James Gordon Bennett

James Gordon Bennett (1795–1872) was the founder, editor, and publisher of The New York Herald and a major figure in the history of American newspapers.

Robert Sayer

Robert Sayer (1725–1794) was a leading publisher and seller of prints, maps and maritime charts in Georgian Britain. He was based near the Golden Buck on Fleet Street in London.

Condition Description

Sheets expertly joined on archival paper. A few light marginal stains; fine or nearly so.

Watermark: each sheet with a fleur-de-lis within a shield with a crown above and below LVG and countermark IV or VI.

References

G. R. Crone

1949 John Green. Notes of a Neglected Eighteenth Century Geographer. Imago Mundi 6: 85-91

1951 Further Notes on Bradock Mead, alias John Green, an eighteenth century cartographer. Imago Mundi 8: 69-70
.

1951 John Green, Remarks, in support of the New chart of North and South America; in Six Sheets (London: Thomas Jeffreys, 1753).

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