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BRM2387 Jefferys New England 1755Thomas Jefferys (1719-1771) was in his day the preeminent publisher of maps related to Great Britain’s American colonies, though his contributions extended far beyond American subjects. Indeed, he “was the leading British chart and mapmaker of his day, and his work contributed toward making London the universal centre of cartographic progress” (Cumming, p. 45).

Born the son of a Birmingham cutler, in 1735 at age 15 or 16 Thomas Jefferys was apprenticed to map engraver and publisher Emanuel Bowen. He rose quickly, though, for in 1746 he was appointed Geographer to the Prince of Wales. This relationship endured when Prince George acceded to the throne as George II, at which point Jefferys was appointed Geographer in Ordinary to the King. The next few years, during which “he has been perceived as a quasi-official publisher to branches of the British government, during the Seven Years (French and Indian) War,” were probably his most prolific and profitable. Thereafter he undertook the survey and publication of large-scale maps of British counties, an overly-ambitious project which led to his bankruptcy in 1766 (see Harley). His stock was sold at auction, though he was able to continue operating his business by “some friends who have been compassionate enough to re-instate me in my shop” (Worms and Baynton-Williams, p. 350). He died in 1771, though from 1772-76 his son Thomas continued the business in partnership with William Faden.

Jefferys himself was a map engraver and publisher rather than a cartographer. Rather, his American maps were copied from sources published in America or France, based on original surveys obtained through his superb connections, and/or compiled by the brilliant-but-morally-suspect Braddock Mead. Cumming describes Mead, who went by the alias “John Green,” as “the genius behind Jefferys” (p. 45). Green, according to Cumming, “had a number of marked characteristics as a cartographer. One was his ability to collect, to analyze the value of, and to use a wide variety of sources; these he acknowledged scrupulously on the maps he designed. Another outstanding characteristic was his intelligent compilation and careful evaluation of reports on latitudes and longitudes used in the construction of his maps.” (p. 45)

For more on the career of Thomas Jefferys see:

  • William P. Cumming, British Maps of Colonial America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
  • Matthew Edney, “Thomas Jefferys and the Mapping of North America.” Accessible on the web site of the Osher Map Library. A brief-but-careful survey of Jefferys’ career and in particular his cartographic sources.
  • B. Harley, “The bankruptcy of Thomas Jefferys: an episode in the economic history of eighteenth-century map-making,” Imago Mundi vol. XX (1966), pp. 27-48. Harley provides an excellent survey of Jefferys’ career, with particular emphasis on his bankruptcy.
  • Laurence Worms and Ashley Baynton-Williams, British Map Engravers (London: Rare Book Society, 2011), pp. 352. Provides significant biographical information and a long account of Jefferys’ many cartographic works, helpfully differentiating between his output and that of his son.

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Engraved by Tho[ma]s Jefferys, A PLAN of the TOWN and FORT of CARILLON at TICONDEROGA; with the ATTACK made by the BRITISH ARMY Commanded by Genl. Abercombrie, 8 July 1758. London: Tho[ma]s Jefferys near Charing Cross, [1758].

First published plan of Abercromby’s 1758 debacle at Ticonderoga

The most important contemporary plan of Fort Ticonderoga and surroundings, a handsome and valuable delineation of the layout of the fortress, its strategic location commanding the river between Lakes George and Champlain, and troop positions during General Abercromby’s catastrophic frontal assault during the French and Indian War. Early in the Summer of 1758, the British […]

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1842 map donation to the Library of Congress

In 1842 Library of Congress accepts a gift of two maps of North America

A small archive of material related to the 1842 donation to the Library of Congress of two interesting French and Indian War-era maps of North America.  In 1842 Doctor Andrew Nichols (1785-1853), a distinguished citizen of Danvers, Massachusetts, enquired of his Congressman, Leverett Saltonstall (1783-1845), whether the Library of Congress would welcome a gift from […]

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Key Revolutionary-era chart of the South Carolina coast

One of the finest charts of the southern coastline available to British mariners during the Revolution. The 25 miles of coast from Georgia’s Savannah River to Port Royal Sound, North Carolina was of great strategic import, encompassing as it did the superb harbor at Port Royal and the approaches to the city of Savannah. At […]

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BRM1373 Blodget Lake George_hires

Rare English edition of the first American battle plan

An extraordinary image. Based upon sketches by Samuel Blodget, and originally published in Boston just six weeks earlier, the plan shows Sir William Johnson’s victory over the French and their Indian allies on the south shore of Lake George, September 8th, 1755. Coming on the heels of Braddock’s calamitous defeat on the Monongahela, the battle […]

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[ Northwest Passage ] Map of the Northwest from [Theodore Swaine Drage (attrib.)] THE GREAT PROBABILITY OF A NORTH WEST PASSAGE: DEDUCED FROM OBSERVATIONS ON THE Letter of Admiral DE FONTE, Who sailed from the Callao of Lima on the Discovery of a Communication BETWEEN THE SOUTH SEA and the ATLANTIC OCEAN; And to intercept some Navigators from Boston in New England, whom he met with, Then in Search of a NORTH WEST PASSAGE. PROVING THE AUTHENTICITY of the Admiral's LETTER. London: Thomas Jefferys 1768.

The Great Probability of a Northwest Passage

First edition of this important 1768 English analysis of existing textual and cartographic source materials relating to the possible existence of a Northwest Passage through Arctic Canada to the Pacific. Much of the driving force for the search for the Northwest Passage in the mid-18th century came from Arthur Dobbs (1689-1765). Dobbs became obsessed with […]

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BRM2387 Jefferys New England 1755

First state of the finest 18th-century map of New England

The first state of the pre-eminent 18th-century map of New England, eminently desirable for its geographic and political significance, tremendous visual appeal, and extreme rarity. Offered here in a superb example. Issued in 1755, Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England was the largest-scale and most detailed and accurate portrait of New England to […]

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Rare map documenting the founding of Halifax, Nova Scotia

A very rare, separately-issued depiction of the critical British base at Halifax, Nova Scotia produced less than a year after its establishment. First laid out in 1749, Halifax was a major development in Great Britain’s commitment to its American colonies. It was intended as a strategic counter to the massive fortress at Louisbourg on Cape […]

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A PLAN of the CITY, and FORTIFICATIONS, of LOUISBURG, from a Survey made by RICHARD GRIDLEY, Lieut. Coll. of the Train of Artillery in 1745. [on sheet with:] A PLAN of the CITY and HARBOUR of LOUISBURG… during the Siege in 1758. London: Robt. Sayer & Thos. Jefferys, [1757/1768].

Fine plan depicting the capture of the French fortress at Louisbourg

A fine composite map, well engraved and richly informative, depicting not one but two successive sieges and conquests of the French fortress at Louisbourg, the first in 1745 during King George’s and the second in 1758 during the French and Indian War. Background Eighteenth-century North America was one theatre in the global struggle for empire […]

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