Thomas Hutchins “Topographical Description” of the Ohio Country

8vo (8 ¾”h x 5 ¾”w). 68, [4] pp plus 2 engraved plans on a single folding sheet, engraved folding map with original outline hand-color, and an engraved folding table of distances. Contemporary marbled wraps. Pin-hole worm track through rear wrapper, table and map. Wraps somewhat worn with a sympathetic repair to upper wrap. Very good overall.

A most appealing copy of the scarce French edition of “one of the most valuable sources on the West during the British period.” (Streeter). Authored by Thomas Hutchins, one of the great cartographers of 18th-century America.

Born in Philadelphia in 1730, Thomas Hutchins had a long and productive career as an explorer, surveyor and mapmaker. During the French and Indian War he served in the Pennsylvania militia, was posted at Fort Pitt, and conducted surveys of the southern shores of the Great Lakes. In 1764 he was a member of Bouquet’s expedition into the Ohio Country, a punitive response to Pontiac’s Rebellion. Thereafter he joined the British Army as an engineer, and in 1766 he joined George Croghan and Henry Gordon’s expedition down the Ohio, drafting a detailed hydrographic survey and making numerous scientific observations. He then spent the next several years as a surveyor in the Ohio Country, until in 1772 he was posted to the South, where he conducted important surveys in West Florida and the Mississippi Valley.

Hutchins was thus eminently qualified to publish in 1778 his monumental New Map of the western parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, which for its time was by far the best cartographic description of the region. This was accompanied by a Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina (London: J. Almon, 1778) an account not only of the geography, but of the native inhabitants, agricultural prospects and natural resources of the Ohio Country he knew so well.

Offered here is the 1781 French-language edition of the Topographical Description, which includes three engraved maps and a folding engraved table of distances. Two of the maps are small plans, printed together on one sheet, illustrating a detailed section of the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Kaskaskia and a section of dangerous rapids on the Ohio. Bound at the back of the pamphlet is the folding Carte des Environs du Fort Pitt et de la Nouvelle Province Indiana (9”h x 12”w at neat line) dedicated to Benjamin Franklin. An extract of Hutchins’ New Map of the western parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina (1778), its coverage includes much of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and extends well to the west of the Muskingum and Great Kanawha Rivers. It depicts the region’s topography; provincial and other boundaries; native American villages and European forts and settlements; trails and historical events such as the destruction in 1755 of Braddock’s army near Fort Duquesne (aka Fort Pitt). Of considerable interest is the huge region labeled “Indiana” along the south bank of the Ohio: the area was claimed by the Indiana Company, a consortium of traders seeking land from the Iroquois in compensation for losses suffered during Pontiac’s Rebellion.

This French edition of the Topographical Description came about in the most unlikely of ways. In 1778-79 Hutchins had served in Georgia with the 60th (“Royal American”) Regiment, but his sympathies lay with the American cause. Nonetheless, in 1779 he risked traveling to London, purportedly with an eye toward arranging further publication of his topographical works, but there was arrested and imprisoned on charges of espionage. In 1780 he escaped and made his way to Paris, where he contacted American envoy Benjamin Franklin for assistance returning to America and joining the Continental Army. Franklin brought him in contact with George Louis le Rouge, at the time the leading French publisher of topographical works on America, mostly copied from American and British sources. Le Rouge arranged for the publication in 1781 of French editions of both the New Map of the western parts of Virginia Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina and the Topographical Description.

As for Hutchins, he managed to return to America in 1780, entered the Continental Army, and in May 1781 he was commissioned as Geographer of the Southern Army. A few months later he was promoted to Geographer of the United States, a title he shared with Simeon DeWitt until 1784, when the latter became Surveyor General of New York. As the new nation’s Geographer and in compliance with the Land Ordinance of 1785, Hutchins oversaw, albeit without much distinction, the first years of the survey of the Northwest Territory. He died in 1789.

Howes, U.S.-Iana, #H846. Sabin 34055.  Streeter, III.1299 (1778 London ed.) Sellers & Van Ee’s Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies does not make mention of the French editions of Thomas Hutchins’ maps.