A monument in the mapping of Rhode Island

Caleb Harris (surveyor) / Harding Harris (draughtsman) / Samuel Hill (engraver) / Carter & Wilkinson (publisher), A MAP of the STATE of Rhode Island, taken mostly from Surveys By Caleb Harris., Providence, 1795.
Engraving, 21"h x 15.75"w plus good margins, uncolored. Beautifully framed.

A great rarity, being the first separately-published map of Rhode Island and for its time the finest map of the state.

This large, appealing and most important map depicts Rhode Island in considerable detail, much of it not shown on earlier maps. Town and county boundaries are delineated as is the transportation network of roads, bridges and ferries. Major topographic features are identified, including rivers and streams, ponds, swamps and hills (or what passes for such in Rhode Island). Several notes indicate landmarks such as mills, iron works and a shipyard along the Pawcatuck River. The whole is ornamented by an elegant cartouche and the state arms.

Though Caleb Harris’ modus operandi is not known, a standard method at the time for producing a state map was to solicit geographic information from leading individuals in each town. The information received would then be supplemented as necessary by the mapmaker’s own surveys then assembled quilt-like to produce a (more-or-less) coherent map. A close examination of Harris’ work suggests that he employed this approach, as the various towns are depicted with very different degrees of thoroughness: Westerly, for example, is replete with information, while nearby Exeter is almost void of detail.

A Map of the State of Rhode Island is a most important contribution to the mapping of the state. It was the first truly original map of the state as a whole since its depiction on Thomas Jeffery’s 1755 Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England; served as the prototype for a number of important subsequent maps, including those in Matthew Carey’s and John Reid’s American Atlases, as well as that by D.F. Sotzmann; and was not superseded until Stevens’ Topographical Map of the State of Rhode Island appeared in 1831. For its significance, visual appeal and rarity it should be classed with the other great state maps of the period, such as William Blodget’s Connecticut and Vermont, James Whitelaw’s Vermont, and Osgood Carleton’s Maine and Massachusetts.

The original copper plate for this map resides in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Chapin’s Check List of Maps of Rhode Island (1918) notes that two sets of restrikes had been made, one in 1895, both of which can be distinguished by the paper. The watermark on the example offered here matches a known period example in the John Carter Brown Library.

The map is very rare, and there is no record of it having appeared on the antiquarian map market in the past 25 years. This writer has located nine examples held in institutional collections (see below), but one must entertain the possibility that the list includes one or more of the aforementioned restrikes.

Chapin, Check List of Maps of Rhode Island, #51 (citing example at Rhode Island Historical Society); McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #795.1 (examples at American Antiquarian Society and John Carter Brown Library); Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #251 (citing American Antiquarian Society, Boston Public Library, British Museum, Harvard, John Carter Brown, New York Historical Society and Rhode Island Historical Society.) Realms of Gold locates another example at the American Philosophical Society.


Horizontal creases and separations flattened and mended, with a couple of tiny areas of paper loss reinstated. Lined.