Gorgeous example of Lewis Evans’ Map of the Middle British Colonies

Lewis Evans / Benjamin Franklin (printer) / James Turner (engraver), A general MAP of the MIDDLE BRITISH COLONIES, in AMERICA; Viz VIRGINIA, MARILAND, DELAWARE, PENSILVANIA, NEW-JERSEY, NEW-YORK, CONNECTICUT, and RHODE ISLAND: Of AQUANISHUONÎGY, the Country of the Confederate Indians; … By Lewis Evans. 1755. [Bound in:] Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical ESSAYS. The FIRST, Containing An ANALYSIS Of a General MAP of the MIDDLE BRITISH COLONIES IN AMERICA; And of the Country of the Confederate Indians; A Description of the Face of the Country;…By LEWIS EVANS. The second EDITION. PHILADELPHIA: Printed by B. FRANKLIN, and D. HALL. MDCCLV. And sold by J. and R. DODSLEY, in Pall-Mall, London.
4to. iv,1-32pp plus folding engraved map in full original color, 21”h x 27 1/8”w at neat line plus margins. In original marbled wraps with “Evans Analysis of Map of The Middle British Colonies” in ms. on front cover. Faint tide mark to text block, map with splits at folds reinforced, and some wear to wraps. Still a lovely example, with the color on the map particularly vibrant.

A superb example in full original color of the rare first state of the Lewis Evans Map of the Middle British Colonies, called by Schwartz and Ehrenberg “the most ambitious performance of its kind undertaken in America up to that time.” Bound in, as issued, to Evans’ Analysis of a General Map of the Middle British Colonies. Together the two provide the best early depiction of the Ohio country and make a passionate and well-informed case for an energetic British imperial policy in North America.

The map
The map extends from the St. Lawrence just above Montreal south to the southern extent of Virginia below the mouth to the Chesapeake, and from the Atlantic westward almost to the Mississippi. Colonial boundaries are indicated, while the colonies themselves picked out in vibrant, absolutely original wash color. It is of particular note for treating the Iroquois Confederacy as a geopolitical power in its own right, with its own internal political structure, territory (here known as “Aquanishuonigy”), dependent peoples, and diplomatic interests.

The map abounds with detail rewarding close attention: It locates hundreds of European and native American settlements, depicts the network of roads and trails, and provides an immense amount of information about the navigability of rivers, useful portages and exploitable natural resources. The many notations include for example Dartmouth College, the location of “elephant bones,” “Antique Sculptures,” salt and limestone deposits, and petroleum in western Pennsylvania and coal in Ohio.

Lewis Evans was a highly talented surveyor and mapmaker. Pritchard and Taliaferro describe him (ca. 1700-1756) as “the best geographer working in the English colonies in the mid-eighteenth century. A dedicated scientist, he exchanged scholarly information with Peter Collinson, Benjamin Franklin, colonial administrator Thomas Pownall, New York mathematician and mapmaker Cadwallader Colden, and others.” (Degrees of Latitude, p. 172) His natural talent and intellectual integrity, his own extensive surveys in western New York and Pennsylvania, and his large network of scholars and mapmakers enabled to produce what for its time was a remarkably accurate and detailed map. Many compared it favorably to the monumental Map of the British and French Dominions in North America, recently completed by Virginia physician John Mitchell. Benjamin Franklin, for example, wrote that “When [Evans’ map] is done, Dr. Mitchel’s Map may perhaps be something improv’d from it.” (Degrees of Latitude, p. 174)

By way of example, Evans’ treatment of Virginia exemplifies both his connections within the American scientific community and his commitment to accuracy. He acknowledges using as his base map the first edition of Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson’s Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia (1753). However, he made important change to the position of the Potomac:

“…an actual Survey from Philadelphia to the Mountains, near the great Bent of the Potomack, by the Pensilvania Surveyors in 1739, enabled me to give the just Longitude of that Place from Philadelphia, which they [i.e., Fry and Jefferson] mistook by 10 or 12 Miles; and this obliges me to give Potomack, and the whole country, a Position something different.” (Essays, p. 5)

In turn, Peter Jefferson’s son, Thomas Jefferson, used Evans’ map to underpin his Map of the country between Albemarle Sound and Lake Erie, issued with his Notes on the state of Virginia 1782 [1785].

This first state of the map is distinguishable by the absence of “The Lakes Cataraqui” above Lake Ontario. The second edition of the text, as here, was also issued in 1755, and the combination of the first state of the map with the second edition of the text is not unusual. The map’s importance, and the rarity of the Philadelphia edition, soon led to its being pirated and reissued in London and elsewhere many times by the end of the 18th century.

The Analysis
In much of the accompanying pamphlet, Evans anatomizes his map—the specific surveys underlying it, where it was and was not accurate—all in great detail. He also refers to previous maps that had been corrected and folded into this one as well as to Indians and traders who were sources. Few maps prior to this one had been accompanied by the kind of granular, self analysis as found here.

In reading the pamphlet, it is hard to imagine that few others knew the American frontier of the day better than Evans. For example, his knowledge of native American peoples, their territories, locations, strengths, affiliations, and degrees of friendliness toward both the British and French, is remarkable in its subtlety as much as in its extent. Evans clearly sees the crucial role to be played by native American peoples in the coming war. He displays a clear understanding of the difference between Indian and European conceptions of property. Evans exhibits his remarkable, on-the-ground knowledge of the Ohio Valley in his extensive discussion of the water courses that connect the eastern colonies with frontier. In fact, this is very much a transportation map. As water was the primary medium of transport connecting the colonies with the frontier, Evans takes great pains to describe the available routes, both for the purpose of their use in the war with the French and in the course of future development. Evans also speaks knowledgeably of the practicalities of surveying, noting particularly the difficulties imposed by the thickly forested frontier areas.

But the Analysis also has an urgent and in places even prophetic geo-political agenda. It was published in June 1755, in the early months of the French and Indian War, a zero-sum battle for the control of most of North America. Indeed, it appeared just weeks before General Braddock’s catastrophic defeat along the Monongahela River, and it is well known that Braddock had at least one proof copy of the map with him.

Evans sees clearly the nature of the conflict, arguing that the war presented Great Britain with an opportunity to dominate much of North America, along with the risk of losing entirely its American empire:

“… a State, vested with all the Wealth and Power that will naturally arise from the Culture of so great an Extent of good Land, in a happy Climate, it will make so great an Addition to that Nation which wins, where there is not third to hold the Balance of Power, that the Loser must inevitable sink under his Rival” (p. 31).

 Evans also cautions the British not to fear the inevitable growth of the American colonies in the event of a victory, arguing that the disparately organized and managed colonies could never unite against Britain, as long as they were properly administered as genuine British subjects. Presciently, Evans predicts that if not so managed then the colonies might indeed unite in revolt.

Reception of Evans’ map
Evans’ map was not without its flaws. Some criticized its small scale and crowded style; others, inevitably, criticized his interpretation of colonial boundaries. Nonetheless, the map quickly became a primary tool for visualizing the American frontier. To give but the most prominent example, George Washington’s probate inventory show that he owned at least one copy of the map, and his correspondence repeatedly demonstrate that he thought highly of it and made reference thereto. As early as 1756, he wrote to John Robinson, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, regarding the boundaries of the English settlements:

“And, now, Sir, one thing to add, which requires the Assembly’s attention; and that is—what vale, or upon what part of our Frontiers these Forts are to be built? For, I am to tell you, that the Great Ridge, or north mountain, so called in Evans’s map, to which I refer; is now become our exterior Bounds: there not being one Inhabitant beyond that, on all the potomack waters; except a few families on the South Branch, and at Joseph Edwards’s, on Cacapehon (which I have already mentioned) guarded by a Party of ours. So that it requires some consideration to determine whether we are to build near this, to protect the present Inhabitants; or on the South Branch, or Pattersons Creek: in hopes of drawing back those who have forsaken their dwellings.” (Washington to John Robinson, 24 April 1756)

Decades later, Washington wrote to another correspondent that Evans’ map and Analysis “(considering the early period at which they were given to the public) are done with amazing exactness.” (Washington to Benjamin Harrison, 10 Oct. 1784)

In all, a monument of 18th-century Americana, offered here in superb original condition.

Cresswell, Donald, H., “Colony to Commonwealth: The Eighteenth Century,” in Stephenson, Richard W. and Marianne M. McKee, Virginia in Maps, pp. 53-54, 82; Gipson, Lawrence Henry, Lewis Evans,” 1939; Klinefelter, Walter “Lewis Evans and His Maps,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 61, No. 7, 1971), pp. 3-65; Papenfuse, Edward C. and Joseph M. Coale III, The Hammond-Harwood House Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland, 1608-1908, pp. 33-34; Pritchard, Margaret B. and Henry G. Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America, pp. 172-175; Seymour I. Schwartz and Ralph E. Ehrenberg, The Mapping of America, pp. 162, 165, Plate 98; Wheat, James Clement and Christian F. Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800: A Bibliography, pp. 65-66, #298; Evans 7412; Sabin 23175; Howes E226; Church 1003; Garrison, Cartography of Pennsylvania, pp.269-274; Suarez, Shedding the Veil 57; The World Encompassed 255; Stevens, Lewis Evans and His Map (London: 1905).

Provenance: Private Connecticut collection (2019); Museum Books Store, Catalog 8 (Nov. 1905), #402, 22.10 pounds.

Offered in partnership with Martayan Lan and Robert Augustyn Rare Maps & Prints.