Sayer & Bennett’s iconic map of the siege of Boston and Battle of Bunker Hill

R[obert] Sayer & J[ohn] Bennett, THE SEAT OF WAR, IN NEW ENGLAND by an American Volunteer… [with:] PLAN OF BOSTON HARBOUR … [with:] PLAN OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON WITH THE ATTACK on BUNKERS-HILL …. No. 53 Fleet Street, London, Sept. 2, 1775.
Two engravings on single sheet, together 18 ¼”h x 21 ½”w plus generous margins, full original color.
$55,000

A lovely example of this dramatic 1775 map of the siege of Boston and depicting in some detail the Battle of Bunker Hill.

After the April 1775 encounters at Lexington and Concord the British forces under General Gage retreated to Boston. There they were besieged by American forces entrenched on the heights surrounding the town and at the choke point of Boston Neck. On June 16-17 the Americans attempted to break the stalemate by occupying the commanding position at Breed’s Hill in Charlestown. The ensuing Battle of “Bunker” Hill was nominally a British victory, though they suffered horrendous losses while the Americans’ strong performance provided a great boost to their morale. George Washington assumed command on July 3 as Commander-in-Chief of the new Continental Army, and the two sides settled into the tedium of the siege. The British were forced to evacuate Boston in March 1776, after the Americans occupied Dorchester Heights and achieved artillery command of the town and its harbor approaches.

This terrific image comprises three maps, each at a different scale. The main map depicts the area within a roughly 60-mile radius of Boston; lays out the position of forces under American Generals Putnam, Ward and Thomas on hills surrounding the city in June 1775; and shows the approach of American reinforcements from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire as well as the “march of General Washington” from the West. Washington’s arrival in early July marked the creation of the Continental Army and the Continental Congress’ attempt to take control of the war effort. The geographic information on this map and the inset harbor plan at upper right are closely copied from Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England, which publisher Robert Sayer acquired when he purchased Thomas Jefferys’ assets in 1768. However the roads and military information in the Boston area are based either on Isaac de Costa’s Plan of the Town and Harbour of Boston (London, July 29, 1775) or perhaps on some unknown manuscript source common to both maps. Sayer & Bennett have also added a introduced a number of roads, present neither on the Jefferys nor the de Costa, implying that there was at least one other source used in the compiling the map.

The plan at lower right depicts Boston and the Charlestown Peninsula, with the Battle of Bunker Hill at its height. Charlestown is in flames, the British are advancing on the American redoubt and the famous “rail fence,” and a British squadron in the Charles River and Boston Harbor is pouring fire on the Americans. As on the main map, the military action is shown in profile rather than plan view, giving the image a dramatic quality not present on most battle plans of the period. Boston proper is shown in considerable detail, highlighting landmarks such as Long Wharf, Beacon Hill, and Fort Hill, with an “Incampment [sic] of the Regulars on the Common.” Three tables at the base of the plan name streets and list the town’s wards and no fewer than ten destructive fires in its long history.

In all, a remarkable and attractive map providing vital geographic context for the early events of the American Revolution.

References
Guthorn, British Maps of the American Revolution, 150/6; Nebenzahl, Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans of the American Revolution, #6 & 6a; McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #775.1; Krieger & Cobb, Mapping Boston, p.103; Schwartz & Ehrenberg, The Mapping of America, plate 117; Sellers & Van Ee, #813; Stokes, American Historical Prints, p. 27. Not in Nebenzahl, Atlas of the American Revolution or Phillips, Maps of America.

Condition

Flattened and gently surface cleaned, with some lingering scattered foxing. Very good overall, and one of the most attractive examples I have seen.