A rare and important chart of Boston Harbor

A New SURUEY of the Harbour of BOSTON in NEW ENGLAND. Done by Order of the Principall officers and Comissioners of his Ma.ties Navy and sold by George Grierson ... [Dublin]: George Grierson, [1730 or later].
Engraving, 16 5/8”h x 20 7/8”w at neat line plus margins, traces of old color. Minor soiling, more evident in margins, soft diagonal fold line at upper left, and minor edge wear including a short tear in left margin not touching neat line. Good.

A considerable rarity, the Dublin edition of the most detailed chart of Boston Harbor for its time, first engraved and published for inclusion in the English Pilot. Fourth Book, the most important English 18th-century pilot book of North America and the Caribbean. The chart was of considerable influence and longevity, as it was not fully superseded until the new series of surveys made during the Revolutionary War siege of the town, 1775-1776.

The chart depicts Boston Harbor from modern-day Winthrop in the north to Hull and Hingham in the south. It provides an immense amount of information for these complicated waters, including the many harbor islands, hundreds of soundings, and a multitude of rocks and shoals. Of particular interest is the ship channel that threads its way between “Bruster”, George, Lovells, Long, and Spectacle Islands. There is also a surprising amount of terrestrial data, particularly in the depiction of Boston, where Beacon Hill, the Mill Pond, the harbor-facing wharves, and the concentration of housing in the North End are all clearly visible.

Though not the first navigable chart of Boston Harbor – that honor goes to Thomas Pound’s “New Map of New England”, known from a unique example held at the Library of Congress – this is one of the earliest a collector can hope to obtain. A smaller chart of the area did appear in the 1689 first edition of the English Pilot. Fourth Book, but it was so schematic as to be more hindrance than help to pilots, as is the insets on Mordens “New Map of the English Empire in North America” (1695).

The chart is unsigned.[1] The reference in the chart title to “Done by order of the principall officers and comissioners of his Ma.ties Navy” is very much of a catch all; while the Admiralty’s principal hydrographic surveyor of the date in the region was Cyprian Southack, Southack’s cartographic work is relatively well documented in contemporary records, and his surviving surveys of Boston Harbor are closely related to the (much inferior) 1689 English Pilot. Fourth Book chart. A note next to the compass rose reads “Variation West 10° Observed Ano. 1700 by Capt. Edm. Halley,” however this data which was readily available from Halley’s 1702 chart showing worldwide magnetic variations, and I know of no evidence that Halley himself conducted detailed surveys of Boston Harbor. The chart’s sources must for now remain unknown.

Publication history
This chart is a close copy of an English edition, which first appeared in the 1706 edition of The English Pilot. Fourth Book.[2] The English Pilot was originally developed by the London publisher John Seller, who conceived it as an effort to break the Dutch monopoly on chart publication. While the two-volume first edition focused on European waters, later editions achieved worldwide coverage, with the Fourth Book focusing on the Americas first appearing in 1689. During its publication history of over a century, the Fourth Book went through 37 editions.[3]

However, this plate was prepared for George Grierson’s piracy of the English Pilot. Fourth Book, first published in Dublin in 1730.

George Grierson
George Grierson (1680?-1753) was the leading printer and publisher active in Ireland in the 1720s and 1730s. He was born in Scotland (probably in Edinburgh) but settled in Dublin in 1704 and made a freeman of the city in 1709. In the late 1720s, Grierson embarked on a systematic programme of publishing pirated Dublin editions of the leading English map-books and atlases of the day, starting with Thomas Salmon’s Modern history : or, the present state of all nations (1727), then The English pilot. Part I (Southern Navigation) and The English pilot. The fourth book. Describing the West-India navigation (both 1730), and probably also Part II (Northern Navigation). Subsequently he reprinted Sir William Petty’s Hiberniae Delineatio (1732) and pirated Henry Pratt’s A Mapp of the Kingdom of Ireland Newly Corrected & Improv’d (1732). Also that year he was appointed Printer to the King in Ireland—contemporary views on piracy were far more relaxed than in modern times! He followed up with pirate editions of Herman Moll’s The world described and Atlas minor (both 1735), and Christopher Browne’s Geographia classica : the geography of the ancients (1736).

Early editions of the English version of The English Pilot. The Fourth Book are very rare, Grierson’s Dublin editions even more so. The only separate example of Grierson’s Boston chart I can locate is at the Leventhal Map Center, while the following editions of the atlas can be located:

1730: Boston Athenaeum (unique).
1749: British Library; National Maritime Museum (London).
1767: Library of Congress; British Library; National Maritime Museum (London).

Justin Winsor, Memorial History of Boston, vol. II, p. lii (illustrating the Grierson edition); Phillips, List of Maps of America, p. 165. Biographical background on Grierson from Worms & Baynton-Williams, British Map Engravers (2011).

[1] For what it’s worth, it is very similar to a manuscript chart held by the American Antiquarian Society, which is also unsigned.

[2] According to Verner the English edition of the chart was used as late as 1732 (although I am unaware of examples appearing in editions after 1729), with reduced versions used as insets on the 1706 chart of New England and the 1731 chart of New England (after Cyprian Southack).

[3] The English edition of the chart is also found in some examples of the Atlas Maritimus, a composite atlas published to order throughout this period, which suggests that the plate originally originated issued from the workshop of Richard Mount & Thomas Page (I) (aka, the firm of “Mount & Page”).