An excellent example of Charles Blaskowitz’ plan of Newport, Rhode Island, published during the American Revolution and historically the most significant plan of the town.
This scarce plan is the definitive depiction of Newport, Rhode Island during the early years of the Revolution. Until the war the town was one of the busiest harbors in the British American colonies, boasting a population in excess of 9000 and occupying a vertex of the “Triangle Trade” connecting America, the West Indies and Africa.
Newport easily fell under American control in the early days of the Revolution, but in late 1776 Rhode Island was seized by Admiral Parker as a Winter base for the British fleet. In the Summer of 1778, the British repelled a combined land and sea attack by American General John Sullivan and French Admiral, d’Estaing. In July 1780, after the British evacuated the town in order to consolidate their forces in New York, the Comte de Rochambeau made Newport the base for his French expeditionary force. It was from Newport that he marched his army in the Fall of 1781 to join Washington at the decisive battle at Yorktown.
The plan depicts Newport in very considerable detail. Numerous quays jut into the harbour along the length of Thames Street, evidence that up until the Revolution this was one of colonial America’s leading ports. Every street is identified, and individual buildings are shown, with 19 of the most significant identified by a legend at lower right. These include the Trinity Church, the Court House, the Goal [sic], the Alms House, and, evincing the religious freedom that characterized Rhode Island, the meeting houses of different Protestant congregations. Perhaps the most remarkable symbol of this ethic is the presence of the Touro Synagogue, built in 1759, which today has the distinction of being the oldest such temple in the United States. Also evidence of Newport’s tolerance is “Lopez’s W[harf],” owned by Aaron Lopez, a Jewish emigrant from Portugal who became the town’s wealthiest resident by trading in slaves and whale-oil products.
Another interesting feature is the “battery raised by the Americans,” referring to light fortifications hastily leveled in 1776 by departing Continental troops in an effort to prevent their being used by the British. Also shown is Goat Island, featuring Fort George protecting the approaches to the inner harbour.
Sources and publication history
William Faden, London’s preeminent mapmaker during the Revolution, published this town plan based on an original manuscript by Charles Blaskowitz, which survives today in the Faden Collection at the Library of Congress. Blaskowitz, one of the most talented military surveyors in British service, carefully mapped Newport and Narragansett Bay in 1764 and again in 1774. He used the most advanced techniques, and his charts were viewed by his peers to be of the highest quality and precision. The Newport plan was included in Faden’s North American Atlas, now one of the most prized cartographic works of the Revolutionary period. Faden also used Blaskowitz’ work as the primary source for a 1777 chart of Narragansett Bay.
It is worth noting that the Blaskowitz-Faden plan was preceded by one published by J.F.W. Des Barres in 1776 for The Atlantic Neptune. Though at the same scale as the Faden plan and covering a larger area, the Des Barres version is far less informative, lacking much architectural detail as well as the American fortifications shown by Faden at the northern edge of town. It is likely that for his plan Faden incorporated up-to-date information obtained from the British force that occupied the town in late 1776.
Guthorn, British Maps of the American Revolution, 145/8; Nebenzahl, A Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans of the American Revolution, #35; Tooley (ed.), “North American City Plans,” Map Collector’s Circle no. 20 (1965), p. 18.
A superb impression with very wide margins