Spectacular Revolutionary-era chart of the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, likely compiled from Colonial-era surveys and British reconnaissance just before the 1776 Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Published in the Atlantic Neptune, it was for its time by far the finest printed chart of the area. Blessed by a large, sheltered harbor and proximity to the […]
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.