An essential New Hampshire map

Samuel Holland, Thomas Wright, et al (mapmakers) / William Faden (publisher), A Topographical Map of the PROVINCE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, Surveyed agreeably to the ORDERS and INSTRUCTIONS OF THE Right Honourable Lord Commissioners FOR Trade AND Plantations…, London; March 1, 1784.
Engraving with etched detail on two unjoined sheets, each 23.25"h x 31.25"w plus margins, uncolored

A superb and very rare map of New Hampshire, made by one of the leading British mapmakers. From the collection of Douglas Philbrook, who built arguably the largest and best-known private collection of White Mountain maps.

This large map depicts New Hampshire in far great detail than on any earlier map, particularly the better-known southern part of the state. The region’s extensive network of rivers, streams and lakes is delineated, and areas of elevation are indicated by hachuring. Among other things, this is probably the earliest map to depict the White Mountains region with any verisimilitude: One can make out the Presidential Range and the Saco River running through Crawford Notch, while the “Moat Mountains” west of Conway are named. The human geography is even more detailed, including the boundaries of townships and numerous private landholdings; roads; mills and meeting houses; and hundreds of individual dwellings.

Two great arcs cut through the center of the state, representing different takes on the location of “Mason’s Curve.” This was the boundary of a huge parcel, defined by an arc with a radius of 60 miles from Piscataqua Harbor and owned by John Mason (1586-1635), the founder of New Hampshire. The parcel had originally been part of a vast tract of land between the Merrimack and Kennebec Rivers, granted in 1622 to Mason and Ferdinando Gorges by the Council for New England. In 1748 the land was sold by one of Mason’s descendants to 12 investors from Portsmouth, and it was they presumably who commissioned surveys in 1768 and -69 to locate the boundary more exactly.

Samuel Holland (1728-1801) was a Dutch-born surveyor and engineer who entered British service during the French and Indian War. Following their victory, the British were faced with the mammoth task of administering and developing thousands of square miles of newly-acquired territory, most of which had never been adequately mapped.

…we find ourselves under the greatest difficulties arising from the want of exact surveys of those countries, many parts of which have never been surveyed at all, and others so imperfectly that the charts and maps thereof are not to be depended on. (Accounts, Exchequer and Audit Department Records, 140:3-140, Public Records Office, cited in Machemer, “Headquartered in Piscataqua,” p.7)

For example, the best existing depictions of New Hampshire were Mead and Jefferys’ Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England (1755) and Blanchard and Langdon’s Accurate Map of His Majesty’s Province of New Hampshire (1761). Both were on the relatively small scale of 7 miles to the inch, provided limited detail, and failed to include many townships established in the intervening years.

In response to this problem, Holland proposed “an accurate and just Survey… upon… a general scale and uniform plan” of North America east of the Mississippi. (Harley, Mapping the Revolutionary War, p. 27) The survey would be based on geodetic controls-that is, with the locations of control points established by rigorous astronomical observation, and the intermediate areas pinpointed by means of triangulation. This followed the most advanced European practice, but would represent its first application in North America, and on a much grander scale than hitherto.

The Lord Commissioners approved Holland’s proposal, and in 1764 he was named Surveyor General of both the Province of Quebec and the Northern District of North America (which stretched from the Potomac to the Canadian border). In the early 1770s, while overseeing the survey of the New England coast according to the above plan, Holland was commissioned by New Hampshire’s Governor Wentworth to survey that province.

The survey methodology was something of a compromise: due presumably to limited resources, it was impossible to employ the same ultra-rigorous methods used by Holland in the coastal survey. Holland himself was able to perform astronomical observations to establish geodetic control points at Portsmouth and elsewhere, which were used to correct his assistants’ field surveys establishing the provincial boundaries. On the other hand, there was no possibility that he and his team could perform the massive field surveys necessary to locate township and land grant boundaries, roads, topographical features, &c. This data was instead obtained primarily from public records and private sources, supplemented by surveys conducted by Holland’s assistants. The limitations of this approach are addressed by Holland in his note on the map:

“[By the Surveys of my assistants] the Form of the province is exactly determined except as to its Eastern Boundary Line, which is laid down with the several parts dependent thereon, from such materials as were given in: Whatever relates therefore to that Line must depend on their authenticity and goodness….

“It is possible some Tracts which were granted or patented at the execution of this Plan are omitted, should there be any such it must be attributed to the necessary materials for describing them not having been sent in: Which is also the reason some Townships appear more completely laid down than others that are perhaps as well settled.”

Cobb’s New Hampshire Maps locates copies at the American Antiquarian Society, Boston Public Library, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Michigan-Clements, and elsewhere. It is extremely rare on the market, however, with the Antique Map Price Record listing only one copy offered in 1986. Another was sold by this firm in 2006.

References and provenance
Apt, Maps of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, #1; Cobb, New Hampshire Maps, #61; McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #N784.2; Machemer, “Headquartered at Piscataqua: Samuel Holland’s Coastal and Inland Surveys, 1770-1774,” Historical New Hampshire vol. 57 nos. 1 &2, pp.15-17; Streeter, #II:717; Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, p. 57-59.

For background on Holland and his work see Cumming, British Maps of Colonial America, pp.51-56; Harley et al., Mapping the American Revolutionary War, pp.25-8; and Machemer’s “Headquartered at Piscataqua.”


Excellent, with just a hint of toning along one fold