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The Atlantic Neptune was an atlas of charts and views of North American waters used by British navigators through much of the Revolution. The charts were generally of a very high quality, outstripping anything previously available.

The Atlantic Neptune is indelibly associated with the name of J.F.W. Des Barres.  He oversaw the publication of the charts, and indeed had supervised the surveys of Nova Scotia later published in the Neptune.  However the project had been catalyzed by Samuel Holland, a Dutch engineer in the British service. In 1764 Holland had proposed to the Board of Trade “an accurate and just Survey… upon… a general scale and uniform plan” of North America east of the Mississippi. This was to be a “geodetic” survey following the most advanced methods then in use in Europe, but applied for the first time in North America.

Holland’s proposal was approved, and in 1764 he was named Surveyor General of both the Province of Quebec and the Northern District of North America, while Gerard de Brahm was named surveyor General of the southern District. Their work, and that overseen by Des Barres in Nova Scotia, was eventually published in The Atlantic Neptune.  

The demand for charts was high in those unsettled times, and Des Barres’ operation soon occupied two townhouses and employ 20 assistants in compiling, drafting and correcting the charts. While The Atlantic Neptune was usually made up to order and had no standard collation, it ultimately extended to five sections: Nova Scotia, New England, the River and Gulf of St. Lawrence (based on the work of James Cook), the coast south of New York, and American coastal views.

13 results, ordered by Publication Date

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Thomas Wheeler chart of Plymouth Bay Massachusetts from The Atlantic Neptune.

Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts from the Atlantic Neptune

A landmark in the mapping of Massachusetts, being the first large-scale chart of Plymouth Bay and environs. This chart depicts the waters of Plymouth Bay, with its distinctive geography marked by two long barrier beaches. The hydrographic data includes tidal data and soundings along the channels into Plymouth and the Jones and Duxbury Rivers. The […]

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[J.F.W. Des Barres, [A View of Portsmouth in Piscataqua River.] London: J.F.W. Des Barres, ca. 1780-81.]

Lovely aquatint view of Portsmouth New Hampshire from The Atlantic Neptune

A very rare and quite lovely aquatint view of Portsmouth Hew Hampshire, which supplanted an inferior line engraving of the same subject in The Atlantic Neptune. Background In 1764 the Lord Commissioners of Trade & Plantations appointed engineer Samuel Holland as Surveyor General of the Northern District of North America. In this capacity he was […]

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Joseph] Frederick Wallet Des Barres (publisher) / [Samuel Holland et al., surveyors], Massachusetts Bay. London, April 29, 1776.

Massachusetts Bay from The Atlantic Neptune

The Atlantic Neptune is arguably the finest atlas of North American waters ever produced, achieving in its more complete states full coverage of the East and Gulf Coasts. The Neptune’s great strength was the integration of form and function: while its hundreds of charts, plans and views are based on rigorous observations taken by British military […]

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1776 J.F.W. Des Barres chart of Newburyport to Cape Elizabeth

A nice example of what was for its time the finest chart of the coasts of New Hampshire and southern Maine. It was issued in 1776 in The Atlantic Neptune, an atlas of the East Coast used by British captains during the Revolution. The charts were so respected that they remained in use for decades, often […]

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Atlantic Neptune chart of Portland Maine

Portland, Maine from the Atlantic Neptune

A landmark in Maine mapping, being the first large-scale navigation chart of Portland Harbor and environs. The chart centers on the environs of Falmouth, Maine, including present-day Portland, the Cape Elizabeth peninsula, and the inner reaches of Casco Bay. Falmouth was at the time the largest town in Maine and an important center of the […]

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Piscataqua Harbor New Hampshire from the Atlantic Neptune

A lovely example of the first chart of Piscataqua Harbor and surroundings. The chart was issued in 1779 in The Atlantic Neptune, an atlas of charts and views of the East Coast used by British captains through much of the Revolution. The charts of the Neptune were so respected that many remained the standard for […]

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“One of the greatest of the Atlantic Neptune charts” (Nebenzahl)

A large, superbly-executed, and very scarce map depicting the 1776 campaign for New York City and Westchester. The campaign was a disaster for General Washington and the young Continental Army, who had been ordered by the Continental Congress to defend the indefensible city. Surrounded as the city is by navigable rivers, and blessed with a […]

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Chart of Boston Bay from the Atlantic Neptune

A lovely example of what was for its time the finest chart of Boston Harbor and its approaches. The chart was issued in 1776 in The Atlantic Neptune, an atlas of charts and views of the East Coast used by British captains through much of the Revolution. The charts of the Neptune were so respected that […]

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Chart of Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound, from The Atlantic Neptune

This chart from Des Barres’ Atlantic Neptune was the most accurate contemporary chart of the region and remained so for the better part of 50 years. For their blend of accuracy and visual appeal, the charts of the Neptune have probably never been surpassed. Description The chart depicts the Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound and the surrounding […]

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The Barre Publishing edition of The Atlantic Neptune

The two New England volumes of the Barre Publishing Company’s wonderful full-scale reproduction of The Atlantic Neptune. Produced at great (actually unsustainable) expense, this work is printed on luxurious rag paper from photogravures of Augustus Loring’s copy of the Neptune, with each image colored by hand. The project was so expensive that it was abandoned […]

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