A seminal account of Great Britain’s American colonies, by controversial Boston doctor William Douglass

William Douglass, A Summary, Historical and Political, of the First Planting, Progressive Improvements, and Present State of the British Settlements in North-America. London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1760.
2nd London ed. 2 vols. 8vo. [2],viii,568, engraved folding map; [2],iv,416, adverts called for by Howes not present (the map 16”h x 19 ¾”w at neat line, full wash color). Early speckled calf, spines ruled in gilt with red morocco lettering pieces. Map and text superb, bindings a bit bumped and abraded with a bit of cracking at heads of spines. Still better than very good.

The first comprehensive history of Great Britain’s American colonies written by an American, with a scarce propaganda map promoting British imperial claims in America.

The Summary is a fascinating, sprawling collection addressing the geography, natural history and human history of the British colonies in North America, assembled immediately prior to the French and Indian War. It proceeds from north to south, including separate accounts of Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. The accounts address topics such as early land grants and charters, colonial boundaries, geography, forms of government, produce and manufactures, and natural history. Rather than a cohesive narrative, the Summary has the character of an assemblage of facts and accounts of historical episodes, organized colony-by-colony and interspersed with digressions on topics of broader relevance.

This work was compiled by William Douglass (1692-1752) a Scottish-born physician who emigrated to Boston in 1716. A stubborn and cantankerous skeptic – he was, famously, a vociferous opponent of inoculation – William Douglass was probably ideally suited for such a project. Rather than falling back on well-known histories such as Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, many of which had a strong ecclesiastical bent, Douglass placed a premium on study of original source documents and correspondence with local experts. He announced the publication of the Summary thus:

“THE Land Maps, Sea-Charts, Histories, and other Accounts of our American Plantations, hitherto published, are generally so imperfect, erroneous and trifling (many little Skirmishes with Indians, the Lives of pious obscure Ministers, elders and Deacons) we judged it might be acceptable and useful … to our Readers in America little acquainted with their neighbouring Colonies, but more especially to our Readers in Europe, who know not so much of this Continent as Hevelius did of the Seas, Mountains, Promontories, Lakes, &c. in the Moon; to publish by Parcels, a Piece which we are favoured with, composed from the Author’s personal Observations during a thirty Years Residence; and the well vouched Advices to be had from Correspondents in the several Colonies. It was collected for his own private Amusement and Use, and generously bestows this laborious Amusement upon the Public, to be published Piece-Meal Monthly …” (Boston Weekly Newsletter, January 8, 1747)

Douglass’ account was first published on an infrequent basis as a sequence of articles in Gamaliel Rogers’ and Daniel Fowle’s American Magazine. The piecemeal nature of publication explains the lack of an overall narrative structure: A total of 62 parts appeared, but publication was curtailed by Douglass’ death in 1752, and he never had the opportunity to edit the collection as a whole. The individual parts were also sold separately in wrappers, and were assembled into volumes, the first dated 1747 and the second 1750.

The French and Indian War focussed British attention on North America, and Douglass’s text was picked up by London publisher, Robert Baldwin and published in 1755. Offered here is the second London edition, published by Robert and James Dodsley in 1760.

The map
As noted above, William Douglass originally intended that this work be accompanied by a map of New England, possibly sized for inclusion in a magazine format:

“In composing of the above Accounts, naturally all actual Surveys were procured that could be obtained. From those relating to New England four Colonies, is form’d a correct Map of the Dominions of New England, which by due Encouragement, may be published and annexed to the American Magazines.” (Boston Weekly Newsletter, January 8, 1747)

What emerged instead was a wall-map, Plan of the British dominions of New England in North America, an original map on which Douglass had worked for the better part of 20 years. Alas, the map was only published after his death and faced direct competition from Braddock Mead’s Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England, and it exists today in but three known copies. The delay in publication, and its size, made the map unsuitable for inclusion in a book. Thus, the Boston editions of Douglass’ Summary never featured a map, while the first London edition was illustrated with Thomas Jefferys’ NORTH AMERICA From the French of MR. D’ANVILLE Improved.

For the 2nd London edition, that offered here), the Dodsleys used John Huske’s New and Accurate Map of North America (wherein the Errors of all preceding British, French and Dutch Maps, respecting the rights of Great Britain, France & Spain & the Limits of each of His Majesty’s Provinces, are Corrected). Having first appeared in Huske’s 1755 The Present State of North America, this is one of the many polemical maps published that year in England and France, as the political and intellectual classes of both nations sought to justify expansive claims to empire in North America.

As the title makes clear, the map is fundamentally about boundaries. An ardent nationalist, Huske provided one of the most aggressive cartographic interpretations of English holdings in North America, considerably exceeding in reach even those on John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755). Like Mitchell, Huske depicts Virginia and the other southern colonies extending from the East Coast well beyond the Mississippi River, with the implication that they are bounded on the West only by the Pacific Ocean. However, based on the alleged submission of the Six Nations of the Iroquois to New York, he also assigns to that colony essentially all the territory west of 80 degrees longitude and north of the Virginia border at 40 degrees latitude” apparently giving the two a common border extending to the Pacific. As for the French, their territorial claims and many forts between the Appalachians and the Mississippi are shown in outline, but the combination of coloring and textual notes makes clear that these are illegitimate “Encroachments” in violation of the Treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Aix la Chapelle (1748).

The sources of Huske’s map are not entirely clear. There are superficial resemblances to Mitchell’s map, such as the western reach of the southern colonies and the inset of the Hudson Bay region at upper left, but closer inspection reveals innumerable differences of geography-and territorial interpretations as discussed above-that suggest use of other sources. One possible source, or conduit, was Huske’s brother Ellis Huske (1700-1755), Deputy Postmaster General of the American Colonies.

A most important, even seminal, work on Great Britain’s American Colonies, illustrated with a fascinating polemical map making one of the strongest cartographic claims to its North American empire.

Howes, U.S.-Iana, D436; Streeter Collection, II-694 (2nd British ed. of 1760). For the map, see McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #755.16 and Schwartz, The French and Indian War, fig. 44.