The first printed chart of Boston Harbor

[Cyprian Southack?] / [printed for William Fisher and John Thornton], BOSTON HARBOR in NEW=ENGLAND. , [London, 1689-1698].
Engraving on laid paper, 16"h x 9.5"w plus margins, uncolored

A great colonial rarity, being the first printed chart of Boston Harbor and the first navigable chart of any harbor in North America.

This remarkable work charts the Massachusetts waters between Marblehead and “Wamor” (present-day Scituate). The broad outlines of Boston Bay and Harbor are recognizable, as are the complex of harbor islands, many of whose names (Thompsons, Spectacle, Long, Casle, &c) are still used. Though their positions leave something to be desired, the mouths of the Dorchester River, South Bay, and Charles, Mystic and Chelsea Rivers are all noted. Remarkably for a chart of this period, the main shipping channel into Boston is clearly marked with dozens of soundings, as are numerous shoals, banks and other navigational hazards. This is the second state of the chart, with three crosses next to the island east of the compass rose.

Burden argues that this chart was based on a manuscript produced in the mid-to-late 1680s by Cyprian Southack (1662-1745), a Boston-based captain, privateer and map- and chart maker. During his eventful life Southack was involved in numerous campaigns against the French in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Maine; engaged in diplomatic missions related to the ongoing wars with France; was commissioned to oversee the salvage of the wrecked pirate ship Whydah, sunk off Cape Cod in 1717; and was a strong advocate for development of the Nova Scotia fisheries. Southack may have known more about the waters off New England and Nova Scotia than any man alive, and over a long career he produced a number of highly important maps and charts.

The attribution to Southack is based on a 1694 manuscript, held by the British Library and titled A Draught of Boston-Harbor By Capt: Cyprian Southake: Mayde by Augustine Fitzhugh Anno 1694. The attribution has not been confirmed, but is based on the inference that both the printed chart and the Fitzhugh manuscript are based on a prototype produced by Southack some time after his arrival in Boston in November 1685.

The English Pilot. Fourth Book
The chart appeared only in the first two editions of The English Pilot. Fourth Book, published in 1689 and 1698. The Pilot was originally conceived by London publisher John Seller as an effort to break the Dutch monopoly on chart publication. The earliest volumes appeared in the 1670s and concentrated on European waters, with later editions achieving worldwide coverage. Seller however ran into financial difficulties and some time in the 1680s sold his interest in The Fourth Book, which concentrated on American waters, to John Thornton and William Fisher. They brought out the first edition in 1689, with Fisher supplying the text and Thornton the 17 charts, including Boston Harbor. During its publication history of over a century, the Fourth Book went through some 37 editions, though this chart of Boston Harbor appeared only through 1698 and was replaced in the 1706 edition.

The chart is very rare, with Burden locating only 12 institutional examples (including one bound into a copy of Thornton’s Atlas Maritimus). Another example is held in a Boston private collection.

Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston, p. 24; Burden, North America II, #666 (state 2); Garver, Surveying the Shore, pp. 16-17 (ill.) Krieger and Cobb, Mapping Boston, p. 94 (ill.) Verner, Facsimile Edition of The English Pilot The Fourth Book, chart #18. Additional background from Burden, Mapping of North America II, pp. 348-350. Not in Antique Map Price Record; Phillips, Maps of America; or Phillips, Atlases.


Faint stain at upper left, else excellent