Revolutionary-era map of Boston, used as the cover image for Mapping Boston

PLAN DE LA VILLE ET DU PORT DE BOSTON Capitale de la Nouvelle Angleterre. Paris: Chés Lattré, [ca. 1775?]
Engraving on an untrimmed sheet of laid paper, 18 ¼”h x 25 7/8”w at neat line plus generous margins, original outline and wash color retouched. Some light soiling, a central vertical fold and faint signs of a horizontal fold, expertly-mended horizontal cracks, and a hint of soiling along lower centerfold and in margins. Some manuscript lines at lower right, one a scribble, the other perhaps tracing a path through the harbor. About very good.

An impressive and detailed plan of Boston by Jean Lattré, likely dating to the middle of 1775, just as news of the American Revolution was filtering into France. One of the most attractive Boston plans of any era, it is featured on the cover of Mapping Boston (1999), to this day the standard work on the subject.

The map depicts Boston in its original configuration as a peninsula linked to the mainland only by Boston Neck, which was so narrow that storms and high tides left it flooded and the town cut off. The town is shown in great detail, with the street plan delineated and street names given; major geographic features such as the Common, Beacon Hill, and the Mill Pond highlighted; and the town’s many fortifications, wharves and civic and religious landmarks indicated. Neighboring portions of Charlestown, Dorchester and Roxbury (at the time towns in their own right) are shown in outline.

A legend at lower left identifies a dozen Boston landmarks, including Town Hall, Faneuil Hall, places of worship, &c. A long paragraph of text at upper right emphasizes Boston’s geographic advantages, strong defensive situation, important role in colonial trade, and many fine public and religious establishments. Below the title at upper left is a list of the town’s twelve wards (est. 1735) followed by a list of ten major fires suffered by the city, the “last and most terrible” in 1760.

The map is dramatically composed, beautifully engraved and colored in vivid red and green wash. It is, in short, absolutely lovely, hence its use as the cover image for Mapping Boston, written by David Cobb, now emeritus curator of the Harvard Map Collection. The map has also received high praise from Cobb’s colleagues across the Charles River:

“The talent and skill of Jean Lattré, a French publisher and engraver, are displayed in this attractive map of the immediate environs of Boston. The city and harbor command a sparse but forceful appearance in which the clarity of the engraving is complemented by the richness of the full wash color. The city itself is carefully rendered, with each existing street shown…” (Leventhal Map and Education Center)

Offered here is an example of the first state of the map. The second state includes numerous changes, most notably the addition of fortifications on the Shawmut Peninsula and in Roxbury, and the complete re-engraving of Charlestown, relating to the siege of Boston. These may have been taken from Richard Williams’ Plan of Boston and its Environs shewing the true Situation of His Majesty’s Troops, and also those of the Rebels (London: Andrew Dury, March, 1776).

Dating the map
The map is undated, though bibliographers and catalogers almost invariably assign it to 1764. This however is almost certainly incorrect. First off, there was simply no reason for Lattré to issue such a map in that year: The French and Indian War was effectively over in 1760 with the British conquest of Canada and was settled by the 1763 Treaty of Paris, and in any event Boston was hardly the center of action during that conflict. Prima facie, the map seems far more likely to have appeared in the Summer of 1775, just after news of Lexington and Concord reached France but too early for information about the siege of Boston or the Battle of Bunker Hill to be included on the map.

More suggestive still is the presence of the Arbre de liberté (“Liberty Tree”) on the Common, though its actual location was a ways distant, at the intersection of Orange (now Washington) and Essex Streets. I have not seen the tree on any earlier printed map of Boston, and it probably did not gain fame until after August 1765, when it was the site of a raucous protest against the Stamp Act.

There is also strong documentary evidence in support of an early-Revolutionary-era dating: First, the map is not listed in the 1764 or 1773 trade catalogs of Lattré’s publications held by the Clements Library, but it is listed in Lattré catalogs of 1777 and 1784. Sealing the argument is Lattré’s business address as given in the imprint, “rue St. Jacques vis-a-vis la rue de la Parcheminerie”, in the 5th arrondissement. Though Lattre spent his career on the Rue St. Jacques a la ville de Bourdeaux (at the sign of the town of Bourdeaux), the address form “vis-a-vis la rue de la Parcheminerie” does not appear in the imprints of his maps until the mid-1770s.

Jean Lattré (1722?-1788)
Jean Lattré is at one and the same time one of the most important figures in the French map trade in the second half of the 18th century and one of the least known; even his life dates are not firmly established. Lattré was certainly still active in 1784, when he published his famous map of the United States, dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, and his last securely datable map appears to be a 1788 plan of Paris.

Lattré is connected, as perhaps the greatest French jobbing map-engraver of his generation, to many of the great French maps of the period drawn by figures outside the map publishing trade, such as Louis Claude de Vezou, Rigobert Bonne and Giovanni-Antonio Rizzi-Zannoni. His skills were recognised by his appointments as graveur ordinaire de monseigneur le Dauphin in 1767, graveur ordinaire de monseigneur le duc d’Orléans et de la Ville [de Paris] in 1771 and as graveur ordinaire du roi in about 1775.

As a publisher in his own right, Lattré specialized in news maps and town (fortification) plans, making him one of the most interesting and significant members of the Parisian map trade.

Jacques-Nicolas Bellin authorship?
The map is usually attributed to hydrographer, geographer and map publisher Jacques-Nicholas Bellin (1703-1772). For example, a 2002 exhibition catalog asserts that “it is the earliest detailed plan of Boston published in France, and was probably based on a 1760’s English survey that Bellin copied for his country’s use during the French and Indian War.” (Mapping Boston Foundation, Mapping Boston II[:] The Drama of a City Transformed. Boston: Mapping Boston Foundation and Norman B. Leventhal, 2002, p. 12)

However, beyond the fact that Bellin and Lattré were contemporaries active in Paris, I have found absolutely no evidence for the Bellin attribution. Like so much in the history of cartography, it may be one of those many surmises that becomes “fact” through sheer repetition. Further, if I am correct in dating the map to the 1775, Bellin would already have been dead for three years.

All this of course does nothing to answer the question of the source or sources for Lattrés map. As far as I am aware, its layout and content do not match those of any other printed map of the Colonial or Revolutionary eras. It is however worth noting that in many of its details it resembles later editions of John Bonner’s great map of Boston, such as this 1769 edition published by William Price. However, that map focuses on the town to the exclusion of surrounding areas and is far more detailed than the Lattré, though it does not include the Liberty Tree on the Common. Perhaps, then, Lattrés map is loose synthesis of the Bonner-Price with one or more manuscript sources, still to be identified.

In all, a scarce and beautiful map of Boston, long taken somewhat for granted but well worthy of further study.

Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston Published between 1600 and 1903, p. 45 (with attribution to Bellin). Sellers and Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies 1750-1789, #885 (also with attribution to Bellin).

Translation of text block at upper right
Description. Boston, a city of North America, in New England, with a good harbor on the coast near Cape Anne. It is one of the most important cities of english america. Its location by the sea makes it very suitable for commerce. On the seaward side, it has a strong castle on an island, at the entrance to the port, called Castle Island or the castle of the island; on the landward side, it is defended by various strong places on three neighboring heights. The city is adorned with beautiful buildings, both public and private; among others, the town house which is very beautiful. There are very beautiful views: there are nearly 12,000 inhabitants. The garrison is still very strong. There are two parishes for the English, one for the French, and two houses where we meet. The two ancient Churches, namely that of the North and that of the South serve the Presbyterians or Calvinists, whose religion is the dominant one. The Church Francoise is for the Protestant refugees of this nation. The two Houses of Assembly are occupied, one by Anglicans or Episcopalians, the other by Anabaptists. This port is regarded as the best of the English colony. Every year, 3 to 400 vessels are loaded with fish, beef or bacon for different places in America and Europe. This city is the residence of the governor of the country, and the place of the assembly of the members of the regency, for the councils and the courts. In a word, Boston is a very beautiful city and must give way to very few cities in old England. A market is held there on Thursdays every week. There are two fairs a year, namely, the first Wednesday in May and October and each Fair lasts three days. Boston is 53o 26′ west from London and 50o 14′ from Paris. Its lat. is 42.o 24 ‘