A magnificent and extremely rare 1825 chart of the waters around southern Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica, highlighting the many hazardous passages through the islands and keys into the Gulf of Mexico. By Richard Patten, an all-but unknown American chart maker and publisher active in New York City into the early 1830s.
The chart is both carefully engraved and monumental in scale, executed on four sheets and measuring some 4 ½ feet high by 5 feet wide if joined. It depicts the extremely complex geography of the region’s many archipelagos with care and provides extensive hydrographic data particularly for the Bahama Bank but also off the east coast of Florida and the Florida Keys. The coverage of Florida extends little past Tampa Bay (“Bay of Spirito Santo”) in the west and roughly to present-day Cape Canaveral in the east, giving the northwestern extremities an oddly unfinished appearance; there is however no doubt the chart was published (Patten’s Chart of the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico, also issued in 1825, has a similar gap in coverage.)
The mystery of Patten’s sources
A long note under the title describes Patten’s sources:
“In compiling this CHART, great pains have been taken. The BAHAMA BANKS and EAST COAST of FLORIDA are from an entire NEW SURVEY by order of the British Government in the Years 1819-20 & 21 by Anthony De Mayne. The NORTH COAST of CUBA and OLD BAHAMA CHANNEL is from the SPANISH CHART which was made use of on board the UNITED STATES VESSELS while in search of the PIRATES, and reported QUITE CORRECT.”
Regarding the attribution to “an entire new survey… by Anthony de Mayne”, I have been unable to locate any such chart by de Mayne published prior to 1826, a year after Patten issued his chart. More generally, in construction and/or detail Patten’s chart is noticeably different from extant English charts, although he had claimed to have “established a correspondence with the first Chart Publishers in England” (New York Mercantile Advertiser, no. 8665 (Feb. 6, 1819) p. 2), implying access to the best of the English charts. The nearest resemblance I have found so far is the treatment of southern Florida and the Keys, which broadly resembles the work of George Gauld, while differing in many details, as seen for example on William Faden’s A Chart of the Gulf of Florida or New Bahama Channel, (1794).
Identifying the other cited source, an unnamed “Spanish chart which was made use of on board the United States vessels while in search of the pirates”, is if anything more problematic, particularly given the generic description. A comparison with some of the leading contenders by the Direccion Hidrographica, including the Carta Esferica que comprehende todas las Costas del Seno Mexicano, Golfo de Honduras, Isla de Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamayca y Lucayas (1799, 1808, and later); the Carta esférica que comprehende las costas del Seno Mexicano (1799, 1803, and later); and the Nueva carta del canal de Bahama (1805 and later) does not reveal obvious similarities. One particularly striking difference, also evident from comparison with British charts, is the enormous amount of hydrographic data Patten gives for the Bahama Banks, far exceeding that on other charts I have examined.
It is possible that these references to de Mayne and a “Spanish chart” are deliberate red herrings. The more likely scenario is that Patten poached material from one or more charts by his New York City competitor Edmund March Blunt. Indeed, contemporary notices record that Blunt published a chart of the Bahamas in 1818, the same year as the present chart was first announced, with a major revision in 1820 based on a survey of the Bahama Banks conducted by Blunt’s son Edmund and U.S. Navy navigator Edward C. Ward (Richmond Enquirer, June 20, 1820, p.3) Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any examples of these Blunt charts of 1818 or 1820, though much later charts of the region by the firm of Blunt are known. However, working as they both were in New York City, it would have been impossible for Patten simply to ignore the important work being done by his competitor. For now, at least, this chart by Patten has a strong case for being the earliest extant chart to include the findings from the important Blunt-War survey of 1820.
States and census
This may be the second issue of the chart, for in 1818 Patten had announced a “new Chart of the Bahama Banks and Gulf of Florida, now universally acknowledged to be superior to an Chart published in England or America; by which Vesssels have carried over three fathoms, and never less than 2¾ on the shoalest part of the Bank.” (New York Mercantile Advertiser, no. 8358 (Feb. 10, 1818), p. 2) It is also possible that, faced with what may have been a dramatically improved treatment of the Bahama Banks in Blunt’s 1820 chart, Patten scrapped the 1818 chart and began anew. These questions will have to remain unanswered until examples of these early Blunt and Patten charts can be located and scanned.
In any event, this is believed to be the only complete (four-sheet) example of the chart extant. The only other 1825 printing traced is in the Clements Library, recorded as “top sheet of a two-sheet chart” and noted as having condition problems.
An auction listing of Patten’s plates (more on which below) suggests a second state from 1827, no example of which has been located. A further state from 1832 is held at the University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, again recorded as “Two sheets, Part of a larger chart; sheets for Bahamas and Florida only.”
Patten (1792-1865) was one of the great American instrument-makers of the first half of the nineteenth century, sufficiently prominent to have been appointed manufacturer of Mathematical Instruments to the United States Government. He established his business in New York City in 1813, selling nautical books and charts, and domestic and imported instruments for use at sea and on land, advertising on an early trade card as “the only manufacturer of sextants & quadrants” in New York.
Patten also advertised as a chart seller, publishing between about 1817 and 1832, with a good reputation; a contemporary magazine noted,
“Mr. R. Patten, also of our city, has likewise published a great variety of elegantly finished charts, and has nearly completed an extended map of the city, embracing an extent considerably larger than the city itself, especially to the northward and southward, including also the western bank of Hudson river, and part of Long-Island. This gentleman has likewise acquired a high reputation as an artist, in the manufacture of nautical instruments, particularly azimuth compasses; his circumferenters and theodolites for land surveying, it is thought, have never been excelled” (Ladies and Gentlemen’s Diary, vol. II (1821), p. 90)
Despite his contemporary reputation, Patten is today entirely overshadowed by the contemporary, and more commercially successful, publisher Edmund March Blunt (1770-1862), with whom Patten had a long-running feud. This feud was first properly evidenced when Patten gave evidence against Blunt in a libel action brought by Blunt against another rival, Isaac Greenwood, in 1822. It culminated in a copyright action brought by Blunt in 1828 against Patten for plagiarism, which Blunt won, when a jury concluded that Blunt could copyright the location of the South Nantucket Shoals, which he had paid to chart, and found Patten guilty of plagiarism (This was an extraordinary decision running contrary to established (British) case law and, apparently, never re-litigated in American courts.) Richard Patten’s New Chart of the North Eastern Coast of the U. States, the subject of the copyright claim, is not known to survive.)
Patten’s output has hitherto been considered as meagre, based on the small number of surviving charts, most of which are recorded in a solitary example. These include charts of the Gulf of Florida, Bahama Banks and part of the Gulf of Mexico (1817), Caribee or West India Islands (1818), Atlantic Ocean (1819), South Atlantic (1819), western seaboard of South America (1820) and companion western seaboard of central American and Mexico (1825), West Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi & Alabama (1823), West Indies (1825), Southern Coast of the United States (1826), North Eastern Coast of the U. States (1827), and Brazil (1831). He also published Edward W. Bridges’ Map of the City of New York in 1829.
Unfortunately for Patten, but fortuitously for map historians, in 1828 he was beset by financial problems, perhaps related to the Blunt case. To raise funds, he was compelled to mortgage his map plates to Benjamin Demilt and Samuel Demilt, then subsequently defaulted on the mortgage. The plates were then offered by the Demilts at auction, and itemized in the auction paper work, which survies (see Addenda).
This lengthy list, calling for no fewer than 80 plates, transforms our knowledge of Patten’s publications and the depth and geographical spread of his output. The sheer volume certainly places him on a par with—if not ahead of—Blunt and his associate William Hooker. It forms a basis for a re-evaluation of Patten’s importance as a chart maker and his contribution to American chart publishing, even if only a very small percentage of actual charts survive for the modern historian to examine.