“One of the greatest of the Atlantic Neptune charts” (Nebenzahl)

J[oseph] F[rederick] W[allet] Des Barres (publisher) , A Sketch of the Operations of His Majesty's Fleet and Army under the Command of Vice Admiral the Rt. Hble. Lord Viscount Howe and Genl. Sr. Wm. Howe K. B. in 1776., London, January 17, 1777 .
Engraving on laid paper bearing the "Bates"-watermark, 31 5/8"h x 21 3/8"w at neat line, original wash and spot color

A large, superbly-executed, and very scarce map depicting the 1776 campaign for New York City and Westchester.

The campaign was a disaster for General Washington and the young Continental Army, who had been ordered by the Continental Congress to defend the indefensible city. Surrounded as the city is by navigable rivers, and blessed with a superb harbor, a huge British fleet was able to land huge concentrations of troops at will and outflank the Americans at almost every turn. Indeed, if the brothers William and Richard Howe-commanding respectively the British land and naval forces-had prosecuted the campaign more aggressively, they could likely have brought the Revolution to an end. Instead, Washington a few thousand Continentals managed to escape to New Jersey, where victories at Trenton and Princeton soon gave new energy to the American cause.

According to Nebenzahl, the map offers “the best topographical information on the lower Hudson valley, western Long Island and Staten Island,” as well as detailed soundings for the Hudson River and New York Bay and Harbor. Superimposed on this are roads, areas of habitation, and alphabetical symbols keyed to legends identifying the key events of the campaign. These include the site of the British landing on Long Island on August 22nd; the August 27th Battle of Long Island (or Woody Heights); the launching of American fire ships against the HMS Phoenix and Rose on October 16th; the September 15th British landing on Manhattan Island; the October 28th Battle of White Plains; and the November 16th capture of Fort Washington. (Note that some of the legends were printed on an entirely separate sheet, not present here.)

The map was compiled by Joseph F.W. Des Barres and issued both separately and bound in volumes of The Atlantic Neptune.  The Neptune was executed at the expense of the British government for the use of the British Navy in America during the Revolution, “and no expense appears to have been spared in the execution in order to render it a monument worthy of the nation.” The results were magnificent; the Neptune has been described as “the most splendid collection of charts, plans, and views ever published.” (Rich, Bibliotheca Americana Nova, as cited by Sabin)

Des Barres does not identify his sources for this map, but they were probably several. The topography was likely based on surveys conducted in the 1760s and 1770s by John Montresor, Bernard Ratzer, and/or Claude Sauthier, all of whom published important maps of the area. These may have been augmented by slightly later surveys conducted by Sauthier and/or Charles Blaskowitz, both of whom were present during the British attack and occupation of 1776. The soundings were probably from hydrographic surveys by Samuel Holland taken during his brief stay in the area in 1775 and/or by Blaskowitz in 1776. Finally, the data on troop positions and movements on information was probably obtained from Blaskowitz and/or Sauthier, the latter of whom was with Lord Percy during the battles in and around the city. It would be of particular interest to compare the information on this map with the monumental “headquarters map” produced by Blaskowitz in 1777 and now held in the private collection of Richard Brown (This map may be viewed in high resolution on the Leventhal Map Center web site at http://maps.bpl.org/id/rb18100.)

The map is very uncommon on the market. Antique Map Price Record lists only this example, which was previously offered for sale by Martayan Lan in or around 1992, though at least a couple of others have traded quietly in recent years.

Haskell, Manhattan Maps, #486-487. Nebenzahl, Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans, #99. National Maritime Museum (UK) on-line catalogue of charts from the Atlantic Neptune, #HNS 149. Streeter, #706 (vol. III chart 15 in the Streeter copy of the Neptune.) Sellers and van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #1057.

For background on Des Barres, Holland and the Atlantic Neptune, see Stephen Hornsby’s superb 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.


Trimmed close all around, with loss of lower neat line. Nonetheless, very nice condition, with none of the folds, losses or stains common to Des Barres' maps and charts, which were printed on friable paper, usually folded for binding, and often saw hard use at sea.