A landmark in Maine mapping, being the first large-scale navigation chart of Portland Harbor and environs.
The chart centers on the environs of Falmouth, Maine, including present-day Portland, the Cape Elizabeth peninsula, and the inner reaches of Casco Bay. Falmouth was at the time the largest town in Maine and an important center of the trade in extremely long, straight white pine timbers used as masts in sailing vessels, including those of the Royal Navy.
The complex geography and hydrography of the area are depicted with great care, as is the landscape extending one to two miles inland. The hydrographic data includes soundings, shoals, rocks and other hazards, particularly along the channel into the Fore River, while the terrestrial data includes topography, roads, residences and land-ownership boundaries up and down the coast. The tiny street plan of Falmouth (now Portland’s Old Port District) is an anachronism: though published in 1781, the chart is based on surveys conducted nearly ten years earlier, and in the intervening time the town had been bombarded and burned to the ground by the British in the early months of the Revolution. The topography of the area in and around Portland has changed substantially over the past 250 years, as can be seen on a “Composite Map of 1777 and 2001” at the web site of the Osher Map Library.
The chart was issued both separately and in The Atlantic Neptune, an atlas of charts and views of North American waters used by British navigators through much of the Revolution. The charts were of an extraordinarily high quality, remained the standard for decades, and were often copied and reissued by American and European engravers and publishers.
Samuel Holland, J.F.W. Des Barres, and The Atlantic Neptune
Though the Neptune is indelibly associated with the name of publisher J.F.W. Des Barres, its many New England charts were based on the work of Samuel Holland, a Dutch-born surveyor and engineer who entered British service during the French and Indian War. After the War Holland had proposed “an accurate and just Survey upon a general scale and uniform plan” of North America east of the Mississippi. (Harley, p. 27) This was to be a “geodetic” survey following the most advanced methods then in use in Europe, but applied for the first time in North America: the locations of control points would be established by rigorous astronomical observation, intermediate areas pinpointed by triangulation, and details sketched in from direct observation.
Holland’s proposal was approved, and in 1764 he was named Surveyor General of both the Province of Quebec and the Northern District of North America, from the Potomac to the border with Canada. After several years’ work in the Canadian Maritimes, from 1770-1774 he focused on the New England coast, making his headquarters in Portsmouth. From there he sent out semi-autonomous survey teams, headed by his deputies Charles Blaskowitz, James Grant, George Sproule (who headed the Casco Bay survey), Thomas Wheeler and Thomas Wright. All told, he probably had more than 50 men working under his direct supervision, in addition to the services of the sloop HMS Canceaux under Commander Mowatt. Ironically, the Canceaux, still under Mowatt, was the flagship of the squadron that laid waste to Falmouth just a few years later.
Holland’s finished surveys were sent to England, where Des Barres assumed responsibility for their publication. The demand for charts was high in those unsettled times, and Des Barres’ operation soon occupied two townhouses and employ 20 assistants in compiling, drafting and correcting the charts. While The Atlantic Neptune was usually made up to order and had no standard collation, it ultimately extended to five sections: Nova Scotia, New England, the River and Gulf of St. Lawrence (based on the work of James Cook), the coast south of New York, and American coastal views.
This chart has become scarce on the market. The most recent impression listed by Antique Map Price Record was offered in 2002 (Martayan Lan, Catalog 30, #63). The example offered here is owned in partnership with James Arsenault & Company.
National Maritime Museum (UK) on-line catalogue of charts from The Atlantic Neptune, Henry Newton Stevens #104E (final state). Streeter, vol. 2 item 706 (vol. IV map 28 in the Streeter copy of the Neptune.) Sellers and van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #865 (incorrectly describing our chart as a third state).
For background on Des Barres, Holland and the Atlantic Neptune, see above all Stephen Hornsby’s superb Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J.F.W. Des Barres, and the Making of the Atlantic Neptune. Also of value are Cumming, British Maps of Colonial America, pp.51-56; Harley et al., Mapping the American Revolutionary War, pp. 25-8; and Machemer, “Headquartered at Piscataqua: Samuel Holland’s Coastal and Inland Surveys, 1770-1774,” Historical New Hampshire vol. 57 nos. 1 &2, pp. 4-25.
Color a bit faded, some chipping at edges, lower right corner and 1" of neat line reinstated in facsimile