Key Revolutionary-era chart of the South Carolina coast

Survey'd by Captain John Gascoigne / Engrav'd by Jefferys & Faden, Geographers to the King, A PLAN OF PORT ROYAL IN SOUTH CAROLINA. London, [1776?].
Engraving on laid paper, 28 1/8"h x 22 ¾"w plus margins, uncolored. Just a bit of toning, else excellent.

One of the finest charts of the southern coastline available to British mariners during the Revolution.

The 25 miles of coast from Georgia’s Savannah River to Port Royal Sound, North Carolina was of great strategic import, encompassing as it did the superb harbor at Port Royal and the approaches to the city of Savannah. At the opening of the American Revolution, however, there were no adequate charts available to the British Navy, which had at its disposal only James Cook’s Draught of Port Royal Harbour (1766) and a sketchy chart of the Carolina coast from The English Pilot. Neither was remotely adequate for navigating the region’s complex coastline.

The London firm of Jefferys & Faden helped fill the gap by issuing this impressive chart. The chart provides extremely detailed hydrographic data, with hundreds (thousands?) of soundings as well as shoals, tides and other information of use to pilots. On land symbols are used to differentiate extensive marsh lands from somewhat more elevated areas, and the locations of several plantations are marked. At lower left is Trench’s Island, now known as the resort island of Hilton Head.

Though the imprint attributes the chart to the firm of Jefferys & Faden, Cumming suggests it was probably issued in or around 1776, by which time Thomas Jefferys had been dead for several years (Stevens and Tree assign it a date of 1773, though to my mind it seems more plausible that it was issued in 1776 to meet demand during the Revolution.) Stevens and Tree also note three later states of the chart, differing only in the publishers’ imprint: “Sayer & Bennett 15th May 1776;” “Robert Sayer, 15 Jany. 1791;” and “Laurie & Whittle 1794.”

In 1777, Des Barres published Plan of Port Royal in South Carolina, likewise based on Gascoigne and nearly identical to this chart in coverage and content. A companion chart, Plan of the River and Sound of D’Awfoskee in South Carolina, was also issued by Faden in or around 1776 and reissued that year by Sayer & Bennett. All of these charts must have been eagerly sought after by British naval commanders assigned to the region, which saw heavy fighting in the years 1778-1780: the British captured Savannah in 1778, Beaufort in 1779, and Charleston in 1780, and the occupation only ended in 1782.

Captain John Gascoigne (ca. 1697-1753)
Gascoigne was a British naval officer and hydrographer. While in Jamaica in 1728 he received orders to assume command of the HMS Alborough, sail for the colonies and survey Port Royal Harbor and the coast as far north as Charleston. He arrived in South Carolina in the Summer of that year and remained until 1734, during which time he fulfilled his mission while becoming a significant landowner in the region (Among other acquisitions was the 1729 purchase of John’s Island, visible on this chart at the northwestern extremity of Trench’s Island.) He returned to England in the Alborough in 1734, bearing as passengers Georgia founder James Oglethorpe and a delegation of Creek Indians. In later years he commanded a succession of ships of the line, seeing service during the War of Jenkin’s Ear including Vernon’s failed attempts to take Cartaghena. He retired in 1746 with the rank of Rear Admiral.

The National Archives of Britain, formerly the Public Record Office, holds two manuscript surveys connected with Gascoigne. Both are illustrated (one only partially) in Cumming’s British Maps of Colonial America. The first, A True Copy of a Draught of the Harbour of Port Royal, was executed by Gascoigne himself but bears little resemblance to the printed chart offered here. The latter is A Plan of Port-Royal, South Carolina. Copy’d from a plan of Capt. John Gascoigne by Francis Swaine, likely the noted English marine painter (1725-1782). Swaine’s chart appears closely related to both the Plan of Port Royal and its companion River and Sound of D’awfoskee. Cumming writes that “the style of drawing, with its great care and detail, suggests that it may have been prepared in the 1770s as an engraver’s copy of the original 1729 plan by Gascoigne.” (Southeast in Early Maps, #204) The location of Gascoigne’s “original 1729 plan” is not known.

Gascoigne’s surveys had appeared in print at least once before as he is credited by Willem Gerard de Brahm as a source for his seminal 1757 Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia.

Phillips, Maps of America, p. 721 (listing only Laurie & Whittle eds. of 1794). Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North American and the West Indies, #1529 (tentatively dating the chart to 1773). Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography,” in Tooley, The Mapping of America, 71 (a). Also mentioned in Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps, #204 (which describes the Gascoigne-Swaine manuscript but discusses the Faden first impression, dating it to 1776).

Background from Cumming, British Maps of Colonial America, pp. 47-49. Some general background from a Wikipedia history of Beaufort, and biographical information on Gascoigne from the “Gwatkin One-Name Study.”