Boston on the brink of Revolution, from The Universal Magazine

A New and Accurate PLAN of the TOWN of BOSTON, in NEW ENGLAND. [on sheet with:] A New PLAN of BOSTON HARBOR, from an Actual SURVEY.  [London: John Hinton, May 1774]
Engraved plan and chart on one sheet of laid paper, together 10 ¾”h x 13 5/8”w inches at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Folds as issued and a few additional creases. Trimmed close all around, margins expertly extended.

Detailed plan of Boston and a chart of Boston Harbor, issued during the runup to the American Revolution.

The plan shows the street plan and street names, landmarks such as Boston Common (with the Powder House and Liberty Tree), the Mill Dam and Long Wharf, and several batteries and fortifications ringing the town. The plan also delineates clearly the major road axis of the city, now named Washington Street, running from the Meeting House (now the State House) to Boston Neck.

The then-geography of Boston is quite striking: At the time, the city was essentially an island linked to the mainland via a causeway, the causeway so narrow it was given to flooding at high tides and in storms. The plan thus provides a kind of “baseline” from which to examine later images of the city, as it predates the extensive filling that created South Boston, Back Bay, and much of East Boston.

Accompanying the plan is a chart of the Inner and Outer Harbors, delineating the numerous Harbor islands as well as soundings, shoals and the fort on Castle Island. For the foreign reader unfamiliar with Boston geography, this chart would have provided useful context for understanding aspects of the town plan, such as the location of the extensive wharves and fortifications.

This map was published in London to illustrate an account of New England in the May 1774 issue of The Universal Magazine.  The plan and map are well-designed and expertly engraved, supporting the contention of publisher John Hinton that its illustrations were “quite superior, in Elegancy of Engraving, and other Accuracies and Embellishments, to any boasted Performances of the kind, in any other periodical work extant.” (March 1763, p.113, quoted in Jolly)

At the time, the events leading up to the American Revolution were in full swing.  The “Boston Tea Party” had just taken place, and Parliament was in the midst of passing a series of retaliatory measures, including among others an act shutting down the port of Boston until the ruined tea was paid for.  Thus, the Universal Magazine’s readers would likely have reviewed this map with considerable interest.

Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston, p. 49. Jolly, Maps of America, 254. Phillips, A List of Maps of America, p. 148.