The finest 18th-century chart of Narragansett Bay, with superlative provenance

Charles Blaskowitz / William Faden (engraver), A Topographical CHART of the BAY of NARRAGANSET in the Province of NEW ENGLAND, with all the ISLES contained therein, among which RHODE ISLAND and CONNONICUT have been particularly SURVEYED. Shewing the true position & bearings of the Banks, Shoals, Rocks &c. as likewise the Soundings: TO which have been added the several Works & Batteries raised by the Americans. Taken by Order of the PRINCIPAL FARMERS on Rhode Island. London: William Faden, July 22, 1777.
Engraving and etching on laid paper, 37”h x 25 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Segmented and mounted on linen at an early date. Recently washed and rebacked on the original linen, now with only minor toning and an overall clean appearance. Early docketing in ink on verso, along with unfortunate later docketing in magic marker.

The single most important 18th-century printed chart of Narragansett Bay. This example owned at an early date by Claude Joseph Sauthier, one of the greatest British military engineers and surveyors active in North America.

Comte de Rochambeau Boasting substantial port towns and the superb harbor at Newport, Narragansett Bay played a prominent role in the lead-up to the American Revolution and during the War itself.  In 1772, the British Navy essentially blockaded Narragansett Bay, in order to enforce customs duties on incoming vessels. After months of antagonizing the city’s merchants, the much-hated customs schooner HMS Gaspee was burned by patriots and its captain badly injured in what is today remembered as “The Gaspee Incident.” In May 1776, Rhode Island became the first American Colony to declare its independence, but in December of that year Newport was seized by Admiral Parker as a base for the British fleet.  In the Summer of 1778, the British repelled a combined land and sea attack by led 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 there that he marched his army in the Fall of 1781 to join the Continentaal Army at the decisive Battle at Yorktown.

Published in mid-1777, during the British occupation, this chart of the bay would thus have been received eagerly by officers of the Royal Navy and their civilian and military leaders.  The chart is somewhat unusual, in that the hydrographic data for Narragansett Bay is complemented by a detailed depiction of the adjacent landmasses, in particular Aquidneck Island.  Topography is shown by means of hachuring; Providence, Newport, Bristol and other towns are shown in tiny plan view; and in the countryside individual farms and field boundaries are indicated. Numerous shore batteries and other fortifications are indicated, most located around Newport and at strategic choke points in the bay, with a table at upper right details the numbers and types of cannons fielded by each. At right center is a list of the “Principal Farms in Rhode Island,” along with a brief description of the region.

This example of the chart was segmented and mounted on linen at an early date for durability and portability. The reverse side bears (along with some unfortunate scribbles in magic marker) the early inscription “C.J.S. Rhode Island”. These are the initials of military engineer Claude Joseph Sauthier (1736-1802), and the inscription matches known examples of his handwriting. Sauthier came to the Colonies in 1767, where he was first employed by Governor Tryon of North Carolina. When in 1771 Tryon assumed the governorship of New York, Sauthier accompanied him and soon went to work on a survey of the eastern part of the province, which at the time included all of present-day Vermont.  He was also involved in running the boundary line between New York and Quebec at the 45th parallel.

During the American Revolution Sauthier served on the staff of Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland and was with him during the New York campaign. Percy returned to England in mid-1777 after disagreements with Commander-in-Chief William Howe, accompanied by Sauthier (Since this chart of Narragansett Bay was published in July 1777, Sauthier must have acquired it after his arrival in England.) Sauthier served Percy as secretary until around 1790, then returned to his hometown of Strasbourg, France, where he died in 1802.

William Faden published several maps based on Sauthier’s surveys, including plans of the New York campaign and the monumental Chorographical Map of the Province of New York (1779).

Charles Blaskowitz and the Survey of the Northern District of North America
Chart maker Blaskowitz (ca. 1743-1823) arrived in America in the early 1760s, where he began surveying work in upstate New York and along the St. Lawrence River. In March 1764 he was assigned to the Survey of the Northern District of North America, commanded by Samuel Holland, a Dutch-born surveyor and engineer who entered British service during the French and Indian War.  After the War Holland had proposed to the Board of Trade “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, the latter extending 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, New Hampshire.  From there he sent out semi-autonomous survey teams, headed by his deputies, among them Charles Blaskowitz.

Born in Prussia around 1743, Blaskowitz had entered the British Army at a young age, served in the Royal American Regiment during the French and Indian War, and assisted Holland in a major survey of the St. Lawrence River after the capture of Quebec. In 1764 Holland detailed him to survey Narragansett Bay, in order to assess Newport’s suitability as a naval base. Upon his return to Quebec he re-joined Holland, who in the interim had been appointed Surveyor General of the Northern District. Blaskowitz served as one of Holland’s deputies until the outbreak of the American Revolution, and, given his previous experience, was the natural choice to lead the team surveying Narragansett Bay in 1774.

Blaskowitz’ surveys formed the basis for two charts issued in London, one published by J.F.W. Des Barres in The Atlantic Neptune (1776).  Offered here is the second, engraved and published by William Faden in July 1777. Faden’s is a much more accomplished production, on a larger sheet and more elaborately engraved (and according to Mary Pedley, costing two and a half times as much as the Des Barres edition). Faden sold the chart separately, and it is also found bound into some copies of his North American Atlas. Blaskowitz’ work was also pirated in Paris by George Louis le Rouge and issued on a reduced scale in 1778 and again by Sartine in 1780.

Howard M. Chapin, Check List of Maps of Rhode Island. Providence: Preston & Rounds Company, 1918, 22. Nebenzahl, Atlas of the American Revolution, map #16. Nebenzahl, Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans of the American Revolution, #34. Mary Sponberg Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 136-145 (illus. p. 137). Seller & Van Ee, 1013.

For background on Holland, Blaskowitz and the Survey of the Northern District of North America, see above all Alex Johnson’s superb The First Mapping of America, as well as Stephen Hornsby’s 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.