A rare 18th-century world map by American naval hero Thomas Truxtun, featuring the course of the Gulf Stream and bearing an interesting connection to Ben Franklin.
The map was drawn by Thomas Truxtun (1755-1822), who had an illustrious naval career as a privateer during the Revolution, well-traveled merchant captain during the post-war years, and commander of the U.S. frigate Constellation during the “Quasi War” with France from 1798-90. In the Constellation he became an American hero by capturing the French frigate Insurgente in 1799 and in 1800 defeating the better-armed La Vengeance. Just prior to being commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1794, Truxton published Remarks, instructions, and examples relating to the latitude & longitude; also, the variation of the compass, &c. &c. &c. This was one of the earliest indigenous navigational texts published in the United States, and it receives high praise from Wroth:
“Few American books of the eighteenth century excelled in interest and usefulness the work of Commodore Thomas Truxtun…. All in all, the book is a contribution to the art of navigation, seamanship, shipbuilding, and naval customs reflecting credit upon the merchant and naval establishments of a young country struggling against odds for a place among the nations. It could not have failed to increase respect for that country among the mariners of the world.” (Lawrence Wroth, Some American Contributions to the Art of Navigation, p. 38)
The Remarks included as a frontispiece this very large two-sheet world map on the Mercator projection, with eight lettered tracks delineating voyages made by Truxton between the United States, Europe, Africa and south Asia. It is also one of the earliest printed maps to depict the Gulf Stream, which had had not been well documented until the work of Benjamin Franklin and Gerard De Brahm in the mid-18th century. Truxton in fact had a personal connection with Franklin, as he was captain of the London Packet when it carried Franklin on his final trans-Atlantic voyage in 1785. During this voyage Franklin repeated thermometric observations of the Gulf Stream that he had made during earlier voyages in 1775 and 1776. It seems to have been this acquaintance with Franklin that inspired Truxtun to make similar observations of the current on his later voyages, the results of which are incorporated on this map.
The map’s engraver is nowhere identified, but the Remarks also included a folding plate of a 44-gun frigate bearing the imprint of Philadelphia engraver James Thackara (1767-1848).
This example of the map has never been bound. Indeed, the sheets were unjoined at the time of purchase, and they have since been cleaned, mended and joined to render the map suitable for display. Our source, a Pennsylvania book dealer, asserts that the sheets—along with an orphaned left sheet also in our possession–are the last of a small group of remainders purchased by him in the 1980s.
The map is rare on the market. Antique Map Price Record lists only two examples having appeared for sale, both offered in the 1990s, and I sold another in 2009. According to Rare Book Hub, the Remarks last appeared for sale in 1919 (though a few years ago Ten Pound Island sold a copy lacking both the map and the plate).
Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #22. Louis de Vorsey, “Pioneer Charting of the Gulf Stream,” Imago Mundi no. 28 (1976), p. 111. The Remarks are referenced in Evans, Early American Imprints, 27823; OCLC 62838056 and Sabin 97281.
Faint residual soiling, tiny hole filled just southwest of the Cape of Good Hope, expert mends and restorations in margins.