An extraordinary image. Based upon sketches by Samuel Blodget, and originally published in Boston just six weeks earlier, the plan shows Sir William Johnson’s victory over the French and their Indian allies on the south shore of Lake George, September 8th, 1755. Coming on the heels of Braddock’s calamitous defeat on the Monongahela, the battle was the first English victory of the French and Indian War and caused a sensation among the colonial public. Blodget described the battle as “the greatest, in its kind, that ever happened in North America.”
In 1755 Major General Braddock, Commander in of the British forces in North America had designed a three-pronged attack against the French. The first thrust was directed at Fort Duquesne and ended wretchedly when Braddock’s force was annihilated in an ambush, while an expedition against Fort Niagara sputtered to a halt due to logistical problems. The third thrust aimed at Crown Point on Lake Champlain and was comprised of 3500 New Englanders and New Yorkers and several hundred Mohawks under the leadership of an Indian trader named William Johnson. This force set out from Albany in the Summer of 1755 and by September was camped along Lake George and at Fort Edward a few miles south. There on September 8 it encountered a large force descending from Lake Champlain, led by Baron de Dieskau, and consisting of Canadian militia and allied Indians augmented by a few French regulars.
Samuel Blodget was a sutler (provisioner) for Johnson’s army and as such took no active part in the ensuing “Battle of Lake George.” This allowed him “as good an Opportunity as any Person whatever, to observe the whole management on both sides.” He returned to Boston in late October or early November 1755 with the sketches he had made. These he had engraved by Thomas Johnston (1708-67) and his explanatory notes written for an accompanying pamphlet by Richard Draper. Blodget announced in the December 22 Boston Gazette that the plan displayed ‘to the eye a very lively as well as just representation’ of both engagements. According to Shadwell it was the first American engraving to depict an American historical scene. The significance of the engraving was immediately recognized and by February 2, 1756 London publisher Thomas Jefferys had engraved and published an English edition.
The Prospective View
For its quality of information and execution Blodget’s battle plan is recognized as “the most interesting and reliable contemporary account of the Battle.” (Samuel Blodget, “The Battle near Lake George in 1755 A Prospective Plan with an Explanation thereof … Reprinted in facsimile from the Edition Published in London by Thomas Jefferys in 1756 with a Prefatory Note by Henry Stevens,” page v.)
The sheet is divided into three parts: The “First Engagement” shows the initial action of the battle, early on the morning of Sept. 8th, when 1,000 provincials marching south from the camp on Lake George towards Fort Edward were ambushed by 2,000 or more French and Indians, hidden in the bush along either side of the road. Suffering heavy losses, the provincials retreated towards Lake George. Among their dead were the important Mohawk leader Chief Hendrick and Colonel Ephraim Williams, whose will funded the establishment of Williams College.
The plan of the “Second Engagement” takes up the greater part of the sheet. After the attack at the road, the enemy marched to the camp on the lake, which had been hastily fortified by felling trees that were laid singly on the ground. It was here that the battle was won, with the French regulars suffering heavy losses as they advanced against artillery emplaced at the center of the American line.
Blodget’s use of a “bird’s-eye” perspective imparts to these plans an extraordinary visual quality. The great virtue of the perspective is that it combines the ability of a plan view to convey the overall tactical situation, force composition &c, with a pictorial view’s capacity for conveying urgency, energy and graphic detail. It is particularly effective here in depicting the flow of the battle while contrasting the fighting styles of the French regulars, the provincials, and the allied Indians.
The third part is a map of the Hudson from New York to Albany, which is just the second published map of that river, following one by Van Keulen published in 1684. Blodget says that it is “partly designed for the direction of navigation, and partly to convey a more plain Idea of the Difficulty of the Carriage from Albany to Lake George.” Numerous place names are given, most of which are easily recognizable: Greenbush, Kinderhook, Claverack, Livingston’s Manor, Antonys Nose, Tappan Sea, New Windsor, and so forth. The spelling is frequently eccentric: “Pakepsy” for Poughkeepsie, “Dub’s Ferry” for Dobb’s Ferry, “Coats Kill Mountains” for the Catskills.
In addition, there are small inset plans of Fort Edward and Fort William Henry. Fort Edward, called Fort Lyman on the map of the Hudson, was above Albany on the east bank of the Hudson, and was the jumping off place for the portage to Lake George. It was established by Sir William Johnson during his march to that lake. Of Fort William Henry on Lake George, Blodget says “I’ve received from a Friend a Sketch” of that fort, “which is not yet completed.” The inset on the two editions of Blodget’s plan is most likely the earliest printed plan of Fort William Henry.
The Boston edition of Blodget’s plan is unobtainable, with no copy on the market since 1984. Jefferys’ separately-issued English edition of 1756 was reissued unaltered in Sayer & Jefferys A General Topography, 1768, one of the rarest of all atlases relating to North America. The Jefferys edition is nearly as rare as the Boston, with only the Middendorf copy appearing on the market in the last 40 years. That copy, in original color, sold at Parke-Bernet in New York in May 1973 (lot 14), then reappeared at the Guthman sale at Sotheby’s New York on December 1, 2005 (lot 190), where it fetched $66,000. Prior to the Parke-Bernet sale it passed through the hands of Kenneth Nebenzahl in or around 1970.
From the collection of Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman.
Provenance and references
Deák, Picturing America, no. 105; Hitchings, “Thomas Johnston,” in Boston Prints & Printmakers, pp. 83-131 (American ed. illus. pp. 96-97); Pritchard & Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude, pp. 164-7 (American edition); Schwartz, French and Indian War, pp. 65-66, fig. 38; Schwartz & Ehrenberg, Mapping of America, p. 163, pl. 100; Shadwell, American Printmaking The First 150 Years, nos. 22 & 23; Stokes & Haskell, American Historical Prints, no. 1755 C13.
Minor marginal soiling and tears, repaired. Overall a very good example of a very rare and important plan.