The first printed chart of Boston Harbor

[After Cyprian Southack and Augustine Fitzhugh], BOSTON HARBOR in NEW=ENGLAND. London: William Fisher and John Thornton, 1689-1698.
Engraving, 16”h x 9.5”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Minor soiling, marginal chip at upper right reinstated. Very good overall.

A great rarity, being the first large-scale printed map of the Boston area, the first printed chart of Boston Harbor, the first printed image to provide any detail for the town of Boston, and the first navigable chart of any harbor in North America.

This remarkable work charts the Massachusetts waters between Marblehead and “Wamor” (present-day Scituate). The broad outlines of Boston Bay and Harbor are recognizable, as are the complex of harbor islands, many of whose names (Thompsons, Spectacle, Long, Casle, &c) endure today. Though their positions leave something to be desired, the mouths of the Dorchester River, South Bay, and Charles, Mystic and Chelsea Rivers are all noted.  Remarkably for a chart of this period, the main shipping channel into Boston is clearly marked with dozens of soundings, as are numerous shoals, banks and other navigational hazards. At the top of the chart Boston itself is shown, with details including “Sentenall hill” (i.e., Beacon Hill), the Old Wharf, and Fort Hill. This is the second state of the chart, with three crosses next to the island east of the compass rose.

The attribution to the inimitable Cyprian Southack is based on a 1694 manuscript, held by the British Library and titled A Draught of Boston-Harbor By Capt: Cyprian Southake: Mayde by Augustine Fitzhugh Anno 1694. Per Jeannette Black,

“This Southack map resembles in almost every detail the ‘Boston Harbour in New England’ engraved by John Thornton, which is found in the British Museum (i.e. now BL) copy of the earliest edition of ‘The English Pilot. The Fourth Book’ (London, 1689). Although the exact date of the survey that resulted in this map is unknown, it could not have been made before 1685, the date of Southack’s first arrival in Boston …” (Blathwayt Atlas, II, pp. 26-7).

The chart appeared only in the first two editions of The English Pilot. Fourth Book, published in 1689 and 1698. The Pilot was originally conceived by London publisher John Seller as an effort to break the Dutch monopoly on chart publication. The earliest volumes appeared in the 1670s and concentrated on European waters, with later editions achieving worldwide coverage. Seller however ran into financial difficulties and some time in the 1680s sold his interest in The Fourth Book, which concentrated on American waters, to John Thornton and William Fisher.  They brought out the first edition in 1689, with Fisher supplying the text and Thornton the 17 charts, including Boston Harbor. During its publication history of over a century, the Fourth Book went through some 37 editions, though this chart of Boston Harbor appeared only through 1698 and was replaced in the 1706 edition.

The chart is extremely rare both institutionally and in trade, with Burden locating only 12 institutional examples, including one bound into a copy of Thornton’s Atlas Maritimus (Though not noted by Burden, Phillips’ List of Maps of America p. 164 suggests that a thirteenth is held by the Library of Congress.) Another example is held in the private collection of Norman Leventhal of Boston.

Southack and Fitzhugh
Cyprian Southack (1662-1745) was a Boston-based captain, privateer, and map- and chart maker. During his eventful life Southack was involved in numerous campaigns against the French in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Maine; engaged in diplomatic missions related to the ongoing wars with France; was commissioned to oversee the salvage of the wrecked pirate ship Whydah, sunk off Cape Cod in 1717; and was a strong advocate for development of the Nova Scotia fisheries. Southack may have known more about the waters off New England and Nova Scotia than any man alive, and over a long career he produced a number of highly important maps and charts. Among his greatest cartographic accomplishments was his Chart of the English Empire in North America (1717), the first (extant) engraved map published in the modern United States.

Augustine Fitzhugh was apprenticed to John Thornton in 1675, in the Drapers’ Company; unfortunately, there is no record in the extant files of him being made free. It seems likely that Fitzhugh continued to work for and with Thornton as he remains a relatively minor figure in the loose group of chartmakers found within the Drapers’ Company (or Thames School). Thomas R. Smith refers to nine charts made by Fitzhugh, made between 1694 and 1697, including three of North America, four of the Indian Ocean and Southern Asia, one of South-East and East Asia, and one of Guinea (Manuscript And Printed Sea Chart In Seventeenth-Century London: The Case of the Thames School, pl. 100).

Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston, p. 24; Burden, North America, #666 (state 2); Garver, Surveying the Shore, pp. 16-17 (ill.) Krieger and Cobb, Mapping Boston, p. 94 (ill.)  Verner, Facsimile Edition of The English Coast Pilot The Fourth Book, chart #18. Probably also in Phillips, Maps of America, p. 164 (“Boston harbor in New England. [anon]. 9 ½ x 16 [n. p. 1670?]” Additional background from Burden, Mapping of North America II, pp. 348-350.


Faint stain at upper left, else excellent