18th-century Peter Tufts, Jr. survey of a road from Concord to Cambridge, Mass.

Peter Tufts, This Plan Laid down by a Scale of Half-Mile per inch By Peter Tufts junior June 14th 1797. [Cambridge?] June 14, 1797.
Ms. In ink and watercolor on 2 joined sheets of laid paper bearing “BUDGEN” watermark. 9 1/2”h x 31 1/8”w at neat line. Docketed on verso, “Road from Concord to Boston.” Some foxing, soiling and staining, edges ragged with some loss of neat line and old repairs.

A 1797 manuscript survey by Peter Tufts, Jr. of the roughly 18-mile road from Concord Meeting House to Cambridge, terminating at the new West Boston (now Longfellow) Bridge. This route was followed by the British on the morning of April 19, 1775, and much of it is known today as Massachusetts Avenue.

The survey (at top of the sheet) depicts a route from Concord center through Lexington center, Menotomy (modern-day Arlington center), then skirting the old Cambridge-Charlestown line in what is now Somerville, before dropping into Cambridge and terminating at the West Boston Bridge. Distances are marked each mile, and a few landmarks are indicated, with the meetinghouses at Lexington and Menotomy depicted pictorially. A faint extension of the route to the East shows the road from Cambridge to the alternative crossing at Charlestown Bridge. Below the main route is “The Old Road taken from a [sic] old Plan Drawn by Mr Osburn,” depicting the more southerly route from Concord to Cambridge via Waltham, passing by Harvard en route to the Bridge. The whole is ornamented by a lovely ink-and-watercolor compass rose at upper left, though close inspection reveals that “East” and “West” are reversed.

The map was drawn by prominent Somerville, Massachusetts surveyor Peter Tufts, Jr. (1774-1825).

“Peter Tufts, Jr., lived a life of great activity. He was keeper of the Powder House, and when in 1815 the powder was transferred to the new storehouse at the end of Magazine street, he continued as keeper, took up his residence near the magazine and died there in 1825. He was a civil engineer by profession, and among the many Peters is designated as ‘the surveyor.’ He drew a plan of Charlestown in 1818, and the mass of plans that he left behind him shows how laboriously he was engaged in the surveys of public and private property. In public life he was prominent, having been trustee of schools, selectman for most of the years between 1806 and 1817, assessor for several terms and representative to the General Court for six terms, between the years 1809 and 1819.” (Edward C. Booth, “The Tufts Family in Somerville.” Historical Leaves, vol. 1, April 1902-Jan. 1903)

The exact circumstances of Tufts’ survey are not clear. One plausible scenario is that it was commissioned by the proprietors of the West Boston Bridge, which had been completed but a few years earlier. They would naturally have had much interest in maximizing traffic and tolls, and faced stiff competition from other bridges across the Charles.

In addition to his plan of Charlestown, published in 1818, OCLC lists some 21 manuscript maps and plans by Tufts, dated 1793 to 1823. Among these is a map of similar dimensions and content to the manuscript offered here, but dated “December 4, 1801,” held somewhere in the Minuteman Library Network (OCLC 1107272756). I find no record of other Tufts manuscript maps or plans having appeared on the antiquarian market.

It is highly unusual to find an 18th-century survey depicting such an important area, so skillfully executed, and with such pleasing decorative elements.