One of the few contemporary views of the Battle of Bunker Hill by an American. Background The battle fought in Charlestown on June 17, 1775 was the first significant conflict of the Revolution after the initial hostilities at Lexington and Concord. If those first encounters furnished the colonists with impetus to mobilize against Great Britain, Bunker […]
Bernard Romans was born in Delft, Netherlands about 1720. He learned mapmaking and surveying in England, before moving to the North American Colonies in 1757. He worked as a surveyor in Georgia, where he would rise to become Deputy Surveyor General in 1766, before moving on to Florida, where in 1773 he was appointed Deputy Surveyor General for the Southern District under William Gerard de Brahm, though the two men soon came to hate one another. In 1775 he published his A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, one of the most important Colonial works on Florida, and also produced the monumental Maps of East and West Florida.
Bernard Romans was in Boston when war broke out in 1775, keeping tabs on Paul Revere as the latter engraved his maps of Florida. Romans enlisted in the American cause, was appointed a Captain and served with Benedict Arnold and Nathaniel Greene in their attacks on Fort George and Fort Ticonderoga. He went on to oversee construction of fortifications at Constitution Island on the Hudson River across from West Point, then in April 1776 took command of a Pennsylvania company on service in Canada. Controversy followed him everywhere, however: Romans feuded with the commissioners overseeing the Constitution Island works, which were ultimately deemed insufficient for proper defense of the Hudson; and in Spring 1776 he was court-martialed for the licentious behavior of the troops under his command in Canada, though he was soon acquitted. There is then a nearly two-year gap in our knowledge of his activities, but in July 1778 he resigned his military commission and moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut. There he married one Elizabeth Whiting in January 1779.
From early 1779 until his death, Bernard Romans’ last years are “shrouded in uncertainty.” The two dominant narratives have him being captured by the British and imprisoned for several years, either in Montego Bay, Jamaica or in England itself. Both accounts have him dying at sea on his return to America in 1784, possibly murdered for his money.
Despite wartime conditions, Romans produced a striking number of important cartographic publications during the Revolution. During the 1775-76 siege of Boston he published An Exact View of the Late Battle of Charlestown and a map of the area around Boston, entitled The Seat of Civil War In America, which he dedicated to John Hancock. Later he published three maps in New Haven, including Connecticut and parts adjacent (1777), the Chorographical Map of the Northern Department of North America (1778) as well as A Chorographical Map of the Country Round Philadelphia (1778).