1747 map of the British Colonies, engraved in Boston by James Turner and published by Ben Franklin

James Alexander (mapmaker) / James Turner (engraver), MAP No. I. [removed from, but accompanied by:] A BILL IN THE Chancery of New-Jersey…] New York: Benjamin Franklin and James Parker, 1747.
The map: Engraving, 16”h x 12 7/8”w at plate mark plus generous margins, uncolored. Folds flattened, light foxing and soiling, largely confined to the margins, but about excellent. The volume: Folio. 124,11,[blank],[4]13-24,[blank],25-39pp. Never bound, recently re-sewn. Some toning, foxing, soiling and staining, corners bumped and dog-eared. Title page with ink inscription “Wal. Rutherfurd Aug. 1756,” and “James Parker” inscribed in ink at top of one leaf.

A scarce and lovely map of the American colonies, engraved by James Turner of Boston and published and sold by Ben Franklin. This impression was exhibited in the 2013-14 “Made in Boston” exhibition at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

This is one of three maps issued with A Bill in the Chancery of New-Jersey (1747), filed in 1745 by the Proprietors of East New Jersey to represent their point of view in a land dispute with settlers around Elizabeth:

“The controversey began in March 1664 when Charles II conveyed all of the land between the Connecticut colony and the Delaware River to the Duke of York…. The Duke of York sent Colonel Richard Nicolls to capture the Middle Atlantic colonies, and by May this region was under English rule and Nicolls was appointed governor.


“The Duke of York subsequently granted the New Jersey proprietary to John, Lord Berkely, and Sir George Carteret. Before Nicolls learned [of the grant], he gave the settlers living in the area of Elizabethtown permission of purchase titles to their lands from the Delaware Indians. Nicolls’s actions led to years of litigation over who actually possessed title because the settlers claimed possession based on their Indian deeds and the colony maintained that the lands belong to the proprietorship.” (Pritchard and Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude, p. 150)

In the 1740s James Alexander (1691-1756), a prominent New Yorker with a personal interest in the case, undertook on behalf of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey to assemble the evidence for a Bill in Chancery to settle the matter. One source describes him as

“a lawyer, merchant, member of the New York and New Jersey Councils, a collector of the Port of New York, Receiver General of Quit Rents, Surveyor General of both East and West New Jersey, and holder of many other offices and titles. He was the director behind the scenes of that famous forerunner of the American Revolution which established the freedom of the Press—the John Peter Zenger controversy…. He was involved in every piece of important litigation of his day. He was the guiding light of the Board of Proprietors.” (Miller, p. 4)

Judging by the content of the Bill in the Chancery of New Jersey, he must also have been a man of considerable intellect, organizational skill, passion for detail, and sheer stamina.   According to Streeter he argued the proprietors’ case with “great subtlety and complexity.” Alexander consulted Benjamin Franklin concerning publication, and the letterpress printing was executed by Franklin’s partner James Parker of New York, a partner of Franklin.

The map
The Bill also included three maps to support Alexander’s argument, with the text making numerous references to each. These are some of the earliest maps drawn and engraved in the colonies in general and Boston in particular, and as such are of considerable importance. The maps were drafted by Alexander, and Lewis Evans originally received a commission to produce 40 copies of each in manuscript—this would have been less expensive than engraving a plate and running off such a small number of copies. However, when the print run of the Bill itself increased to 250, at Ben Franklin’s advice Alexander farmed out the engraving to James Turner of Boston. Turner (?-1759) was an engraver in Boston and then Philadelphia, who was sufficiently prominent to be given this commission as well as that for Scull’s map of Pennsylvania and Lewis Evans’ general Map of the Middle British Colonies. Though Evans is often cited as the author the maps, his only contribution to the project was to produce a reduced-scale draft, with corrections, of the third map in the set, which was forwarded to Turner.

Offered here is Map No. I, which depicts the American colonies from Boston to Cape Hatteras and provides broad geographic context for Alexander’s argument (Maps No. II and No. III are at a larger scale and highlight the particulars.) Though there is little apparent resemblance, Alexander asserts that Map No. I was “copied from part of Popple’s large Map of the English Colonies in America, except the red, blue, greeen and yellow Colours, and the Notes, which are added.” (Bill, p. 4)

Designed not for cartographic precision but rather to make a point, there is little detail other than the coastal outline, major bays and rivers, and a few cities and towns. The most important features are several engraved lines superimposed on the map, each intended to illustrate an important boundary described in the Bill. For example, a line running from the Delaware to the Hudson indicates the northern boundary of the original grant from the Duke of York to Berkely and Carteret. A line from the Delaware to Little Egg indicates the boundaries of East and West New Jersey.

The elaborate cartouche includes a table showing differences between Dutch and British toponymy and a key to color coding the aforementioned boundary lines, though this impression has remained uncolored. Two putti are seated atop the cartouche wielding surveying instruments—a playful reminder of the seriousness of the map’s purpose.

The map is accompanied by the copy of Bill in the Chancery from which it was removed. The other two maps are, alas, not present.

The map and the volume have remarkable provenance. The title page bears the 1756-dated inscription of one Walter Rutherfurd, almost certainly the Rutherfurd who was born in Scotland in 1723 and emigrated to America, where he served an officer in the French and Indian War. In 1758 he married Catherine Alexander Parker (Collections, vol. 9, pp. 186-7), daughter of the James Alexander who authored the Bill in the Chancery, the widow of one Elisha Parker, and sister of the William Alexander (aka Lord Stirling) who was later a Major General during the American Revolution. (Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, vol. IX) In 1769 Rutherfurd served on the commission charged with establishing the northern boundary of New Jersey, so he would have had a deep professional interest in this volume.

One of the leaves bears the inscription of a “James Parker.” It is hard to be certain, but it is tempting to conclude that this is the son of Elisha Parker and the aforementioned Catherine Alexander Parker, who was born in New Jersey in 1725. A merchant and large landholder, he was one of the most influential men in the province and served with Rutherfurd on the 1769 boundary commission.

Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps, #266. Felcone, New Jersey Books, #21. McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #747.3. Phillips, List of Maps of America, p. 481. Pritchard and Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude, #28 (illus. p. 151). Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #294.

Background from George Miller, “The Printing of the Elizabethtown Bill in Chancery.” In Board of General Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey, Pamphlet Series No. 1. Perth Amboy, NJ, 1942. For more on the career of James Turner, see Stauffer, American Engravers on Copper and Steel, vol. I pp. 278-9.