One of the finest contemporary plan of the 1775-76 siege of Boston, the opening campaign of the American Revolution, drawn by Richard Williams, a British officer on the spot, and published in London by Andrew Dury. The map is featured on the cover of Krieger and Cobb’s Mapping Boston, while Nebenzahl’s Atlas of the American Revolution uses it to illustrate the events of the siege.
After the April 1775 battles at Lexington and Concord, the British retreated to Boston, where they were besieged by thousands of New England militia. The Americans encamped in Charlestown, Cambridge, Brookline and Roxbury were for the most part inexperienced soldiers. They were however industrious and accustomed to extremely hard work, and they soon erected a ring of fortifications encircling the town. After the shocking violence of the June 17 Battle of Bunker Hill, the siege settled down to months of stalemate and low-intensity conflict. American generals lacked confidence in their army’s ability to execute an amphibious attack on Boston and feared destroying the town in the course of liberating it. The British for their part were kept in check by General Howe, who was shocked by the slaughter at Breed’s Hill and still hoped for a reconciliation with the rebels.
The plan takes in Boston, its harbor, and large parts of the surrounding towns, depicting clearly the positions of the American and British armies during the siege. It depicts the essentials of the Battle of Bunker Hill and shows in some detail the many encampments, fortifications and batteries in and around the city. Points of particular interest include Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge, the extensive British fortifications along Boston Neck, and “Mount Whoredom” just west of Beacon Hill. A lengthy key at right identifies British batteries in the town and the American positions at Roxbury, including the observation that the latter were “fortified in appearance with great judgment”.
The map quickly makes clear the dynamics of the siege: Without command of the Charles River and/or Boston Harbor, the Americans could not possibly hope to effect a landing in the town or take it by storming the ramparts on Boston Neck. Conversely, while their command of the Harbor enabled the British to keep the town supplied, any effort to break out into the countryside would have exposed them to flanking attack and left the town itself exposed. Ultimately the siege was brought to a successful conclusion when on the night of March 4-5, 1776 the Continental Army emplaced cannon—captured at Ticonderoga and brought overland in Winter!—on Dorchester Heights to the south of the town. This gave the American artillery command of the approaches to Boston and completed the isolation of the city. On March 17—just days after this map was published–the British and many Boston Tories evacuated to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Richard Williams (fl. 1750-1776)
A legend in the upper left corner notes that “The principal part of this Plan was Survey’d by Richard Williams Lieutenant at Boston, and sent over by the Son of a Nobleman to his Father in Town, by whose Permission it is Published.” The nobleman’s son was probably Earl Lord Percy, commander of the British relief force at Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775, and son of the Duke of Northumberland.
Most of what we know of Richard Williams comes from his diary of the period, which by some strange twist now resides at the Buffalo and Erie County Library. After training as an engineer at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he arrived in Boston on June 11, 1775 to join the 23rd Regiment of Foot. He seems to have been rather taken with the town, writing the next day that it “is large & well built, tho’ not a regular laid out town. it has several good streets, the generality of houses are built of timber & mostly with their gabel ends to the street.” He had little sympathy for the rebels though, writing a few days later that they had “not in the least deviated from the steps of their ancestors, allways grumbling & unwilling to acknowledge the authority of any power but what originated amongst them” (Diary entries cited in Allison K. Lange, “Richard Williams Maps the Siege of Boston,” published on line at Journal of the American Revolution, Oct. 5, 2015.)
Williams seems to have based his map primarily on observations taken from atop Beacon Hill. He also used this vantage point to produce a remarkable panorama of the town, which not long ago was featured in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s exhibition We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence. It is unclear whether Williams ever saw action, but he was invalided back to London after the evacuation in early 1776 and died later that year.
Boston Engineering Dept., Maps of Boston Published between 1600 and 1903, p. 55. Guthorn, British Maps of the American Revolution, pp. 40, 62. Nebenzahl, Atlas of the American Revolution, pp. 48-49 (double-paged illustration). Nebenzahl, A Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans of the American Revolution, 16.
Very good, with minor staining and minor mends to separations at upper and lower centerfold. Call number in pencil in upper left corner (but properly deaccessioned from a New England institution).