The finest 18th–century map of New Hampshire, compiled by D.F. Sotzmann and Christoph Ebeling, two German geographers who never visited America.
This excellent map depicts New Hampshire as well as adjacent areas of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Quebec. The topographic detail is fairly strong for a map of this scale, with much attention given both to waterways and to areas of elevation, particularly in the White Mountains. Standardized line forms differentiate state boundaries, county lines, township boundaries, and major roads. Counties are picked out in outline and wash color, with Grafton at the time occupying the thinly-populated northern half of the state. Though the predominant language on the map is German, the legends are bilingual and the prime meridian set at both Washington, D.C. and London.
Of particular interest are the straight line running north and east from the Massachusetts border near Winchendon and labeled “Line of Mason’s Patent 1787” and the long arc from Fitzwilliam in the South to Conway in the North, labeled “Mason Curve Line as run by Robt. Fletcher Esqr. in 1769”. These reflect alternative interpretations of the extent of Mason’s Patent, granted by the Plymouth Company to New Hampshire founder John Mason in 1629. In brief, the patent described a wedge of land 60 miles inland from the mouths of the Piscataqua and Merrimack Rivers; it left ambiguous, however, whether the two terminal points were to be joined by a straight line or an arc.
Mapmaker Sotzmann’s collaborator Christoph Daniel Ebeling maintained a correspondence with leading lights of American science, who provided the source material, both printed and manuscript, that Sotzmann sifted, compiled and reconciled with a highly critical eye. In the case of this map of New Hampshire, there is no question that Sotzmann chose as his base map Samuel Holland’s Topographical Map of the Province of New Hampshire (London: William Faden, 1784). Though it appeared in 1784, Holland’s map was based on suveys conducted in the 1760s, so Sotzmann added more up-to-date material from Jeremy Belknap’s New Map of New Hampshire (Philadelphia, 1791). The most apparent changes include the names of certain townships, the addition of county names, and a more generous interpretation of new Hampshire’s border with Quebec.
Ebeling’s cultivation of his American sources, complemented by Sotzmann’s diligent compilation of his source materials, enabled them to to produce the finest 18th-century map of New Hampshire. It would be another 20 years before it was outstripped by Philip Carrigain’s New Hampshire by Recent Survey.
Ebeling, Sotzmann and the Erdbeschreibung
This map was intended for a planned atlas to accompany Christoph Daniel Ebeling’s Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika, a magisterial study of the geography and history of the new United States. Ebeling (1741-1817) was a Hamburg academic with a general interest in free states, which interest lead him to a decades-long fascination with America and ultimately to conceive the Erdbeschreibung project. To this end he carried on a voluminous correspondence with leading Americans, who supplied him among other things with the most up-to-date American maps available. His map library eventually made its way back to America, where it was purchased by a Boston collector and eventually became the nucleus of the Harvard Map Collection.
To produce the maps Ebeling commissioned Daniel Friedrich Sotzmann (1754-1840), Geographer of the Berlin Academy. Ristow, summarizing the assessment of scholar Wolfgang Scharfe, describes Sotzmann as one “of the most distinguished cartographers in the German-speaking countries in the early years of the nineteenth century” (p. 177). The atlas was to contain 18 plates, including 16 of the individual states. Unfortunately neither the narrative nor the atlas were fully realized, perhaps because of Ebeling’s advancing years and (in his view) a lack of sufficiently accurate source material, particularly for the southern states and the newly-admitted states west of the Appalachians. In all, seven volumes of the Erdbeschreibung were issued between 1793 and 1816, while ten maps were completed: [I?] Vermont (though numbered XVI), 1796; II. New Hampshire, 1796; III. Massachusetts, undated; IV. Maine, 1798; V. Rhode Island, 1797; VI. Connecticut, 1796; VII. New York, 1799; VIII. New Jersey, 1797; IX. Pennsylvania, 1797; X. Maryland and Delaware, 1797. (According to William Coolidge Lane, in Letters of Christoph Daniel Ebeling…: “Apparently Virignia was never engraved. Later letters show that Ebeling found difficulty in getting the material.”) With the odd exceptions of the New Jersey and Rhode Island maps, all of these maps are now scarce, while some (such as Maryland) are extremely rare, and few institutions possess full sets.
Brown and Ristow differ considerably on Ebeling and Sotzmann’s respective roles in compiling the state maps, with Brown arguing for Ebeling as the prime mover and Ristow favoring Sotzmann. Whatever their relative contributions, they developed the state maps by sifting, compiling and reconciling the source maps in Ebeling’s collection with a highly critical eye. The result is a set of maps that, while in some sense derivative of American sources, were for a time—and in some cases a long time—the best available of their kind.
Rarity and references
This map is scarce on the market, with Antique Map Price Record listing examples offered in 2001 (The Map House) and 2003 (High Ridge Books), and Rare Book Hub adding a third, sold at Sothebys in 1986. I recall seeing another offered at fairs by John Hendsey perhaps 5-6 years back, and yet another, included in a Sotzmann atlas that changed hands at the Miami Map Fair more than a decade ago. I walked right by that volume, which was innocuously bound in green paper over boards, a “miss” that remains one of my great regrets as a dealer.
Cobb, New Hampshire Maps, #75. McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #N796.4. Phillips, Maps of America, p. 479. Rumsey #2746. Background on Sotzmann’s maps from Ralph H. Brown, “Early Maps of the United States: The Ebeling-Sotzmann Maps of the Northern Seaboard States,” in Geographical Review, vol. 30 no. 3 (Jul. 1940), pp. 471-479, and also Walter Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp.169-178.
Offered in partnership with James Arsenault & Company of Arrowsic, Maine.
 The patent assigns Mason “…the land from the middle of Pascataqua river, and up the same to the farthest head thereof, and from thence northwestward, until sixty miles from the mouth of the harbor were finished; also, through Merrimack river, to the farthest head thereof, and so forward up into the land westward, until sixty miles were finished; and from thence to cross over land to the end of the sixty miles accounted from Pascataqua river; together with all islands within five leagues of the coast.” (Jeremy Belknap, History of New-Hampshire VOLUME I. Philadelphia: For the author, 1784, p. 13)