A Colonial Maine rarity: 1755 plan of the Kennebec region, after Thomas Johnston

[John Green] / after Thomas Johnston / Thomas Kitchin (engraver), A PLAN of Kennebek & Sagadahok Rivers, with the adjacent Coasts : taken from Actual Surveys and dedicated to his Excely. William Shirley Esq. Governor of Massachusetts Bay Prov: in New England by Thomas Johnston, 1754 to which is added a draught of the River LaChaudiere by a French Deserter the same Year. London: Andrew Millar, May 14th 1755.
Engraving on laid paper, 16 1/8”h x 12 5/8”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored.

An exceedingly rare, separately-issued map of the Kennebec River region of Maine from the early months of the French and Indian War, illustrating the multi-tiered contest for control between the British and French, between the British and the indigenous tribes, and between competing land interests. Offered in partnership with High Ridge Books.

The map shows a massive area of Maine, bounded along the coast by Cape Elizabeth and Mount Desert Island. It tracks the Kennebec and “Sagadahok or Amoreskoggin” (Androscoggin) Rivers north well into the interior, roughly to the current location of the town of Moscow. Three inset plans depict British forts along the Kennebec, including Halifax (near modern Waterville), Western (Augusta) and Frankfort (Dresden), and a fourth depicts Fort Frederick built by the French at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. Yet another inset reproduces “an Eye-draught by a French Deserter in 1754,” which is a rough plan of the route from Quebec City to the Kennebec via the Chaudiere River and modern-day Moosehead Lake. An “Explanation” at top lists several sources for the map, dating between 1719 and 1754.

This was the third and last in the series of what have become known as the “Johnston Maps” of Maine in the mid-1750s. The first was A True Coppy from an Ancient Plan (Wheat & Brun #161), engraved by Thomas Johnston in Boston. It was published in 1753 by the Brunswick Proprietors to defend their title to a vast area extending inland from Casco Bay along both banks of the Kennebec. Their claim was being challenged by the Plymouth Company, which declared that its own grant along the Kennebec extended all the way to the Bay and thereby superseded the Proprietors’ claim. The complex dispute hinged on obscure questions of place names—in particular, a disagreement about what exactly body of water was properly known as the “Sagadahok.’

The second Johnston map appeared in 1755 with the title To His Excellency William Shirley … This Plan of Kennebeck & Sagadahock Rivers and Country Adjacent (Wheat & Brun 163). It illustrates the same land dispute but also, by introducing an inset map of New England and inset plans of fort along the Kennebec, places it in the wider context of the struggle between the British and French for control and influence in Maine.

Offered here is the third map in the series, engraved not by Johnston but by Thomas Kitchin in London and published by Andrew Millar in May 1755, early in the French and Indian War. It does not highlight the Plymouth/Brunswick dispute, and indeed mentions the Plymouth Company only in passing and the Brunswick Proprietors not at all. Rather, Johnston’s second map has been fully repurposed to demonstrate yet another theatre in which the French threatened their interests in North America. Two added features in particular suggest the new polemical intent: the inset plan at center right of Fort Frederick, built on Lake Champlain by the French in 1731; and the inset “Eye-draught, by a French deserter,” at upper right, depicting a potential invasion route from Quebec along the Chaudiere River. As argued by Matthew Edney:

“Millar apparently pursued the work as a further manifestation of [the] particular geopolitical moment. Green repeated the insets of the three Kennebec forts, perhaps deriving them from a source other than Johnston’s manuscripts, to emphasize the Kennebec’s status as a frontier threatened by the French. … Green’s map was not completely focused on the Kennebec, however, and it did address the broader geographical scope of the Anglo-French imperial rivalry.” (Matthew Edney, “Competition Over Land, Competition Over Empire,” in Early American Cartographies, p. 300)

“Green” was John Green, aka Braddock Mead, a brilliant but troubled cartographer, now best known for a number of maps compiled in the service of London publisher Thomas Jefferys. Green’s name appears nowhere on this map, but his style—in particular the “Explanation” of sources at the top—is unmistakable, and the inset appeared on his Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England (Thomas Jefferys, 1755).

As mentioned above the map was published by Millar in London in May 1755. He no doubt intended to take advantage of interest in the developing hostilities in North America, where the British were undertaking three major offensives against the French: William Shirley’s against Fort Niagara, which never really got off the ground; William Johnson’s at Lake Champlain, which ended in a draw; and Braddock’s in western Pennsylvania, which ended in disaster (Though none of this was known in London until the Fall.) Millar first advertised the map on May 20 (priced at 2 shillings 6 pence), in conjunction with a pamphlet, The State of the British and French Colonies in North America. Based on auction records and bibliographic descriptions of the pamphlet, a very few copies had the map bound in. The folds on our example of the map indicate that it was separately issued.

This map is extremely rare: OCLC locates three institutional holdings (Harvard, British Library, Bibliotheque Nationale de France), and others are known at the Osher Map Library and the Maine Historical Society (Plymouth Company Papers). We find no examples having appeared in the trade since the 1999 Siebert sale, where it appeared bound into the pamphlet.

In all, an extremely rare piece of cartographic Americana, with significance for Maine in particular and more generally for the struggle between Britain and France for supremacy in North America.

The map’s rarity has insured that it is ignored by all the standard references, including McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps; Phillips, Maps of America; Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies; or Thompson, Important Maine Maps, Books, Prints and Ephemera. It is mentioned in Wright Howes’ description of the pamphlet (U.S.-Iana, #S903, “map in some copies”).

The three “Johnston maps” are described and interpreted in depth by Matthew Edney in his excellent essay “Competition over Land, Competition over Empire. Public Discourse and Printed Maps of the Kennebec River, 1753-1755.” (Martin Bruckner, ed., Early American Cartographies, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2011, pp. 276-305).


Folds flattened with some discreet reinforcements on verso, some restoration to margins.