Rare 18th-century plan of Charleston, based on the unobtainable Edmund Petrie “Ichnography”

[After Edmund Petrie] / [Thomas Abernethie, engraver], PLAN of the CITY of CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA. [Charleston: William Price Young for James Cleator, 1797.]
Engraving, 7”h x 9 ½”w at neat line. Very light soiling, folds as issued. Upper and lower margins ample, side margins trimmed to neat line, lined on verso.

Very rare plan of Charleston, South Carolina, based on the unobtainably-rare Edmund Petrie plan of 1790 and the earliest plan of the city published in America.

About the plan
The plan was issued as the frontis to James Cleator’s The Charleston Directory, and Stranger’s Guide (1797). It focuses tightly on the historic old town of Charleston, laid out at the head of the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and extending north to Boundary Street (now Calhoun). It highlights the old street layout and the town’s principal buildings, all lettered or numbered to link to a two-page letterpress key (The Directory is not present here, but images of the title page and key can be provided.)

The plan is a reduced-scale edition of Ichnography of Charleston, South Carolina, surveyed and drawn by Edmund Petrie and published by the Phoenix Fire Insurance Company in London in 1790. Petrie’s was the first great published plan of the town to appear after the Revolutionary War, based on an original survey carried out by him in 1788. Surprisingly, despite its economic importance, Charleston had been surprisingly ill-mapped. George Hunter’s Ichnography of 1739, co-published by Bishop Roberts of Charleston, is the pre-war highlight, while a number of charts and battle plans were published during and just after the Revolution.

Petrie’s plan, which is so rare as to be all-but unobtainable, is also important as the earliest recorded fire insurance map of any city in the world – hence the emphasis on accuracy, as a foundation for gauging insurance risk. As the Phoenix Company expanded its overseas business, the company insured the Charleston real estate of Elisha Poinsett in August 1788, and evidently felt the need to commission a map of the business district from a local surveyor Edmund Petrie, for which he was paid the handsome sum of one hundred guineas.

This reduced-scale version of the Petrie plan was engraved by Thomas Abernethie of Charleston (fl.1783-1795), an engraver, printer and surveyor who had previously engraved maps for David Ramsay’s History of the Revolution of South Carolina (1785). It was first published in 1790, the same year as Petrie’s Ichnography, to illustrate Jacob Milligan’s The Charleston Directory. Milligan’s Directory was reissued over the next few years, but there is no evidence these later issues included the plan.

Offered here is the second state of the plan, issued as previously mentioned in Cleator’s The Charleston Directory, and Stranger’s Guide (1797). Abernethie had died two years previously, so an unknown engraver made changes were made in this state, introducing additional reference numbers (63 to 72), and three roads around
FÆDERAL GREEN”. The plate was also cut down in height, removing only non-geographical space, including the attribution of the plan to Petrie and Abernethie’s imprint. It may be that the plate was damaged, as none of the corners of the engraved border print on this state. Alternatively, it might have been cut down to remove the 1788 date and the reference to the late Abernethie; or it could simply have been to make the paper size more manageable in the small format of a directory.

Publication of the Cleator’s Directory was announced on February 16, 1797,

“THIS DAY IS PUBLISHED, The Charleston Directory, And, Stranger’s Guide, With an ELEGANT MAP of the CITY. …”, price six shilling and six pence.” (City Gazette, p. 3).

A lengthier, follow-up advertisement appeared on February 23, describing the Directory as

“Printed in a new type, on a beautiful wove paper, on 85 pages in letter press; illustrated with a new, elegant and accurate PLAN of the CITY, exactly laid down, agreeable to the late survey, and engraved by a capital Artist; containing the names, occupations and places of abode of the inhabitants, arranged in Alphabetical order; with a list of the Streets, Public Buildings and Wharves. …” (City Gazette, p. 3).

The need for a more extensive puff piece is easily explained. On the very day that Young announced his Directory, a rival project was also unveiled – the two advertisements right next to each other in the newspaper,

“THIS DAY WILL BE PUBLISHED Clarke’s Charleston Directory, On the Plan of Stephens’s Philadelphia Directory, improved; with which will be given an elegant PLAN of the CITY, engraved by RALPH, one of the First American Artist. Price only 2s.”

Clarke’s Directory is recorded in but one copy, at Duke, but lacking the plan, and indeed no example of the plan is now known.

Rarity and locations
Both states of the plan are extremely rare. I am aware of only four institutional holdings of Milligan’s 1790 Directory, at Harvard, the South Carolina Historical Society, the Charleston Library Society, and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Of these, the Harvard copy has the map, while the Berlin copy does not, while the status of the other two is not known.

Cleator’s 1797 Directory is recorded only at the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in both cases with the map. In addition I have traced two separate examples of the 1797 map, both in the University of South Carolina’s South Caroliniana Graniteville Room (Map 1805 No. 2 Size 3 copy 1 and 2). This second state of the plan is all but unknown to cartographic historians and unrecorded by Wheat & Brun in their Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, a remarkably thorough attempt to “describe the entire known cartographical contribution of the American press prior to 1800.”

In all, a significant cartographic rarity of 18th-century Charleston, South Carolina and an excellent opportunity to access otherwise unobtainable Edmund Petrie Ichnography of Charleston.

Wheat & Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #599 (1st state only). Cleator’s 1797 Charleston Directory, and Stranger’s Guide is not recorded in Drake, Almanacs of the United States.