A rare chart of the Maine coast from the American Pilot, published in Boston by John Norman and one of the earliest atlases published in the United States.
Chart of the Coast of America from Wood Island to Good Harbour was engraved and first published in Boston in 1791 by John Norman, the most notable of that town’s post-war map engravers and publishers. At the time the market for navigational charts of American waters was dominated by Mount & Page’s The English Pilot. The Fourth Book and J.F.W. Des Barres’ The Atlantic Neptune. However, the former was by this time hopelessly out of date and dangerously inaccurate, while the latter was both scarce and, when available, expensive. Norman smelled opportunity and issued The American Pilot, which included this chart along with 11 others.
This chart depicts the stretch of Maine coast beginning just below Casco Bay and extending to the northeast as far as Machias Bay. The coastal topography is depicted in considerable detail, including hundreds of islands and islets, rocks and shoals, and dozens of depth soundings. There is relatively little inland detail, though hachuring indicates areas of elevation along the coast; the courses of the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot are shown; and the sites of Forts Halifax and Western are indicated along the Kennebecc. This is the second state of the chart, with the title added, and it appeared in all editions of The American Pilot from 1803 on.
The subtitle reads “From Hollands Surveys,” a reference to Samuel Holland, former Surveyor General of the Northern District of North America. From 1765-75 Holland had overseen an ambitious survey of the New England coast under the auspices of the Board of Trade, the results of which were later published by J.F.W. Des Barres in The Atlantic Neptune. Indeed, a close comparison indicates that Norman based his chart on the Maine coast as depicted on “The Coast of New England,” first issued by Des Barres in April of 1776. However, Norman has added numerous place names throughout—among them Forts Halifax and Western—as well as dozens of soundings, which are entirely absent from the prototype.
John Norman and The American Pilot
John Norman (1748-1817) first appears in the historical record in an announcement in the May 11, 1774 Pennsylvania Journal offering his services as an “Architect and Landscape Engraver.” In 1781 he moved to Boston, where one of his first endeavors was engraving maps and portraits for the American edition of the Reverend Murray’s Impartial History of the War in America. Later he was involved in important cartographic projects such as An Accurate Map of the Four New England States (1785), a 1789 book of charts published by Matthew Clark, and Osgood Carleton’s Accurate Map of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1797).
After completing the engraving for Clark’s landmark 1789 chart book, Norman began to issue his own charts and in 1791 advertised The American Pilot. This work, reissued a number of times over the next two decades, contained between nine and twelve charts depicting the coast from Maine to Georgia, including the Chart of the Coast of America from Wood Island to Good Harbour offered here. Though Norman lived until 1817, editions of the American Pilot issued from 1794-1803 bore the imprint of William Norman, thought to be his son. In 1810 the “John Norman” imprint reappears, followed by that of Andrew Allen in the final, 1816 edition of the Pilot.
In all, a rare and desirable chart of the Maine coast and a substantial rarity of early American mapmaking.
Robert M. Ericson, “A Bibliography of The American Pilot,” state II. Phillips, Atlases, vol. 4 no. 4474a.8 and 4475.8 (both 1st states). Wheat & Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #166.
Minor-moderate foxing and soiling and minor areas of reinforcement on verso. Sides trimmed into neatline, with slight loss of cartographic date on right.