Very scarce chart of the coasts of New England and the Canadian Maritimes from John Seller’s Atlas Maritimus, the best depiction of the region then available. Published in 1674, at a transitional moment in the history of the English colonies in North America.
The chart depicts the coast from eastern Long Island round to Newfoundland and the Grand Banks, with the St. Lawrence River upstream beyond Les Trois Rivieres and the Saguenay extending into the interior of New France. Compiler and publisher John Seller chose as his base map Johannes van Loon’s 1661 Pas-caerte van Terra Nova, Nova Francia, Nieuw Engeland en de groote Rivier van Canada, hitherto the best-available source for the region. However, his particular contribution was supplying his countrymen with English-language maps and charts, often adapted from foreign sources but updated with fresh information obtained from his contacts at court, the Admiralty, merchants in the City of London and mariners in the London dockyards. Hence, as Burden emphasizes, this was no slavish copy of the van Loon chart; contrasting the two, he writes that Seller
“adds St John Isle, or Prince Edward Island, so poorly missed and not replaced by any other cartographer to date. He also improves the depiction of the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland with the English knowledge learned through John Mason. The R. Sauguenay and Les Trois Riviere are both prominently inserted in detail.” (Mapping of North America, vol. II, #444)
Seller has also greatly improved the depiction of the New England coast from Penobscot (“Panochscot”) Bay southwards and extended the coverage to include the Connecticut coast and the eastern extent of Long Island, inserting much English toponymy. Seller includes a much more realistic depiction of Boston Harbour, Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and Nantucket Shoals. He has also revised the treatment of the waters off New England, introducing “St George’s Bank” and “Jefferyes Ledge”.
John Seller (1632-1697)
Seller holds a particularly important place in the history of British map and chart publishing. He was the first English publisher to seek to challenge the long- and well-established primacy of the Dutch in this field. His first steps were faltering, and his ambition exceeded his resources, but across his career he published an important range of maps, charts and atlases that advanced the English trade into a prominent position in the European map trade.
Earlier writers, including some of his contemporaries, have tended to focus on his faltering steps in their summation of his career, but more recent reappraisal has highlighted his remarkable abilities. He was a friend and adviser to Samuel Pepys, better known today as the diarist, but then Secretary to the Admiralty, and Pepys himself complimented Seller on the progress made by him: “till Seller fell into it we had very few draughts, even of our own coasts, printed in England, but all our English masters, even upon our own coasts, as well as elsewhere, sailed by the Waggener printed by the Dutch.” (Laurence Worms, “Seller, Pepys and the Seventeenth-Century London Map Trade” at ashrarebooks.com)
This chart was intended for inclusion in Seller’s great sea-atlas of the world, the Atlas Maritimus, published in 1675, however Samuel Pepys’ own copy bears docketing indicating he received it the previous year. Its publication, and that of its companion chart of the coast southwards from Cape Cod, was presumably inspired by the excitement surrounding the capture of New Amsterdam (New York) from the Dutch, which joined the English colonies in a continuous belt along the eastern seaboard.
The chart is recorded in two states; the first (as here) bears the sole imprint of John Seller. In 1677, to share the burden of his many projects, he brought in partners from the world of printing (William Fisher), mathematics and navigation (James Atkinson and John Colson), and chart making (John Thornton), at which point the imprints of the partners were added to this chart and the others in the Atlas Maritimus. With its short printing life, this first state is appreciably rarer than the second, but both are scarce on the market.
Remarkably, despite its geographical importance, this chart seems not to have received due recognition at the time. Burden notes that of the fourteen complete copies of the Atlas Maritimus he studied, only four contained this chart. While separate examples are to be found in most of the principal American map collections, the chart is scarce on the market.
Burden, Mapping of North America, #444. Kershaw, Printed Maps Of Canada, I, 224. McCorkle, New England In Early Printed Maps, #675.5 (ill: p.36). Phillips, Atlases, #487.41 et al.