“A classic of the Mississippi Valley” (Reese)

Captain Philip Pittman, THE PRESENT STATE OF THE EUROPEAN SETTLEMENTS ON THE MISSISSIPPI; WITH A GEOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION of that RIVER., London: J. Nourse, Bookseller to His Majesty, 1770.
Quarto, pp. viii, 99. 8 folding maps and plans. Contemporary ¼ calf over marbled boards.
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A lovely copy of this essential first-hand account of the Mississippi Valley from immediately after the end of the French and Indian War.

Pittman first came to the Mississippi Valley as a lieutenant in the British Army, soon after the Treaty of Paris was concluded in 1763. By his own account he spent “five years residence as an engineer in those countries, during which time I was chiefly employed in surveying and exploring their interior parts.” His activities included serving as “acting engineer” on a 1765 expedition by the 34th Regiment of Foot to ascend and explore the Mississippi and garrison the Illinois country. This was a vital military reconnaissance of an area largely populated and populated by settlers and native Americans loyal to the French and Spanish. Pittman’s travels left him with “an acquaintance with the principal inhabitants,” which “enable[d] me to speak with at least as much authority as any author who has hitherto written on the subject.” (Preface)

After a general description of the Mississippi’s geography, Pittman works his way upriver, providing detailed accounts of European forts and settlements along the way. He provides a great deal of geographic, historical natural historical, and economic information, with much of interest relating to military installations and activities. This includes a brief discussion of John Law’s fictitious German settlement in Arkansas, as well as a description of St. Louis, the first in English, based on Pittman`s visit to the settlement a mere two years after it was founded in 1764. The work is well-illustrated by a suite of maps and plans engraved by Thomas Kitchin. These include a valuable strip map of the Mississippi River on three sheets (preceding by several years the better-known Ross map), as well as a map of the Iberville River and plans of New Orleans, Fort Rosalie, Caskaskia, and a large plan of Mobile that is the first printed plan of that town.

Pittman tell us that he submitted the work in manuscript for the “perusal of the secretary of state for the colonies” (That position changed hands repeatedly during the period, so it is unclear to whom he refers.) At the time the British had little first-hand information about French and Spanish settlements along the Mississippi, so his account was a most valuable addition to the record, useful to both policy makers back home and members of the military and civil administration in the American Colonies.

Pittman`s account has been described as a “A classic of the Mississippi Valley,” “the most authoritative work in English on the Mississippi Valley on the eve of the Revolution” and “a work of primary importance, one of the significant works on the West of the pre-Revolutionary era.” (Reese)

References
Buck 6. Clark, Travels in the Old South, vol. II #73. Eberstadt, Catalog 133, #858. Graff #3302. Hoover, Mapping St. Louis History, pp. 30-31. Howes, U.S.-Iana, #P396. Reese, Catalogue 128, #280. Reps, Making of Urban America, p. 73. Sabin #63103. Streeter vol. III #1519.

Condition

A very fine, crisp, tight copy, with professional mends to binding tears of first three maps, and a small adhesion to lower edge of half-title. Re-spined, with original spine laid down.