1796 plan of Boston by Osgood Carleton

Osgood Carleton, A PLAN OF BOSTON, from actual Survey; by Osgood Carleton. 1796. Boston: John West, 1796.
Engraving on laid paper, 14 ¼”h x 8 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Minor soiling, minor mends on verso (with signs of old tape recently removed), and right margin expertly reinstated.

A rare and detailed plan of Boston by Osgood Carleton, taken from the 1796 second edition of John West’s Boston Directory.

This plan’s relatively large scale enables it to depict Boston in greater detail than any map of the town since before the American Revolution. The street layout is shown and all streets named, as are the town’s many wharves and other important features such as Fort Hill, the Mill Pond and Boston Common are indicated. Another eight landmarks are numbered and identified by a legend at lower right. The narrowness of Boston Neck, visible at lower left, may come as a surprise to those more familiar with the city in its modern configuration. Commenting on the plan, Cobb observes that

“Carleton’s map is the first detailed map of the town since the Revolutionary era and shows some of the changes that had occurred in the interim: ropewalks had been relocated from Fort Hill to newly made land at the foot of the Common, South Battery had been replaced by Rowes Wharf, and the part of the Town Dock north of Fanueil Hall had been filled in. The first two bridges constructed to provide new connections between the Boston peninsula and the mainland, indicated on [Carleton’s] 1795 plan, are more clearly shown here as the extensions of Cambridge Street and Pine Street.” (Cobb, Mapping Boston, p. 189)

Carleton’s plan was first issued with the second edition of the Boston Directory, published by John West in 1796. The plan appeared in subsequent editions of the Directory through 1805, each time with changes to the plate. By the 1805 edition the changes had gotten out of hand, and in 1806 or 1807 an entirely new plan was engraved and employed at least into the early 1820s. This was similar in format and scale, but updated to include new streets and other features as well as development in South Boston. Side-by-side comparison of the various states and editions provides the viewer with a detailed picture of the geographical evolution of Boston over several decades.

Osgood Carleton, Samuel Hill and the Boston Directory
Though best known today for his fine maps of Boston, Massachusetts and the District of Maine in the mid-1790s, Osgood Carleton (1724-1816) engaged in a wide variety of professional activities involving applied mathematics:

“Income and a certain celebrity resulted from his various published endeavors, but teaching and surveying formed the pillars of Carleton’s livelihood. The ledger of his career, like those of many other practitioners, resembles a catalogue of occupations that reflects an enterprise and opportunism born of economic necessity.” (Bosse, “Osgood Carleton,” p. 143.

The plan clearly bears imprint of Boston engraver Samuel Hill, but both Nathaniel Shurtleff and Justin Winsor assert that the engraving was performed by Joseph Callender. One authority has tried to split the difference by suggesting that Callendar was indeed the engraver but did so while employed in Hill’s workshop (see Wheat & Brun #246). All I can offer on this issue is to point out that Osgood Carleton’s 1802 Map of Massachusetts Proper bears engraver’s imprint of both Callendar and Hill.

In all, a rare and significant post-Revolutionary plan of Boston reflecting some of the earliest man-made changes to what would become the most transformed landscape of any American city.

Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston, p. 83. Evans, American Bibliography, #30164. Krieger and Cobb, Mapping Boston, p. 189, plate 31. Shurtleff, Topographical and Historical Description of Boston, p. 96. Spear, American Directories, p. 46. Wheat & Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #246. Winsor, Memorial History of Boston, vol. III p. ix. For more on Carleton, see David Bosse, “Osgood Carleton, Mathematical Practitioner of Boston.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, vol. 107 (1995), pp. 141-164.