New England chart from the rare George Grierson edition of The English Pilot

[After Samuel Thornton,] / [James Barlow, engraver], A Large Draught of NEW ENGLAND NEW YORK AND LONG ISLAND. Dublin: George [i.e., Boulter] Grierson, [1730/1767.]
Engraving on laid paper, 17 ¼”h x 21 ¾”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Moderate toning, a bit of spotting, and some restoration in margins.

A rare chart of the New England coast published by George Grierson in his pirated edition of the English Pilot. The Fourth Book.

The chart depicts the northeast coastline and nearby waters from New York City to Mount Desert Island. Designed for use at sea, it provides considerable information on soundings, banks and shoals, and other navigational hazards, particularly in the complex and dangerous waters off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. All the major coastal features are present, though some in surprisingly distorted form. Most notable in this respect are the overstated east-west extent of Boston Harbor, the attenuated Cape Cod, and the hyperextended Buzzards Bay. There is little inland detail, though it is worth noting the tiny mill on Nantucket Island and the “White Hills” just inland from Portland, Maine.

The chart is a close copy of one first issued by Samuel Thornton in the 1706 London edition of the Pilot, which in turn was derived from the work of Cyprian Southack. It was first issued in a 1730 Dublin edition of The English Pilot. The Fourth Book published by George Grierson. The impression offered here was removed from a 1767 reissue Grierson’s son Boulter, who reprinted the original plates unchanged.

George Grierson (c.1678 – 1753)
George Grierson was one of the most important publishers, editors and mapmakers in 18th-century Ireland. Dublin was then one of the most important cities in the British Empire, being a bustling port and a financial and services center. Its publishing sector remained underdeveloped however, hampered by ongoing political instability, a relatively strict regime of official censorship, and the overwhelming market dominance of London printers. Particularly with respect to cartographic printing, Dublin’s footprint was miniscule, and even most surveys of Ireland being printed in England. Grierson stepped into the void and more than any other figure transformed Dublin into major printing hub.

Much misinformation has been written about Grierson, and one easily gains the erroneous impression that he was some sort of disreputable fly-by-night journeyman printer subsisting on the piracy of others’ intellectual property. In reality, he was an innovative entrepreneur, the leading publisher in Ireland, and a respected member of the Dublin upper class. While he printed works originated by others, he always did this within copyright laws and always with attribution. In this sense, he was no different than any map maker who issued his own edition of a map previously published (a common and well-accepted practice).

Grierson started out printing Bibles and other religious texts, but eventually moved into printing classics and literature. He produced important editions of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. His series of affordable pocket-sized books, Grierson’s Classics, were bestsellers of the era. His first major foray into cartography was the publication in 1730 of a new edition of The English Pilot, including the Fourth Book covering American waters, with the charts based closely on the London prototypes.

George Grierson died in 1753, but his printing business was continued, first by his eldest son (also George), who died in 1755 and was succeeded by his younger brother Boulter (d. 1771). Boulter reissued the English Pilot in 1767, with no changes to the plates, a copy of which supplied the chart of New England offered here. Grierson charts are rare, the present one particularly so: I find no record of another example having appeared on the market, though the firm of Arkway offered a copy of the full atlas for $58,000 in 2002.

McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #749.3. Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North American and the West Indies, #725. For a capsule biography of Grierson and the attribution of the engraving to James Barlow, see Worms and Baynton-Williams, British Map Engravers, pp. 48-49, 283-284.

Owned in partnership with Barry Ruderman Antique Maps.