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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An Artifact of Great Historical Importance, an Original Manuscript Map of Boston Harbor, done to the Highest Standards of Draftsmanship, a Magnificent ‘Presentation Piece’ made for the French Navy in order to inform their Designs to Invade Boston in the early days of the French & Indian War.

[Anonymous Draftsman at the DEPOT DE LA MARINE (Paris), after Jean-Baptiste-Louis FRAQUELIN (c. 1751-c.1712) and Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de CADILLAC (1658-1730)]. “Plan de al Baye, Ville et Environs de Baston” [Plan of the Bay, City and Harbor of Boston, Massachusetts], circa 1755.

Manuscript Map, pen and ink and wash drawing on a single oblong folio sheet of unwatermarked paper, 18 1/4 x 23 5/8 inches (465 x 600 mm.), verso labeled "Baston," in a contemporary hand. The plan finely executed in colored inks with double-ruled border, neatly lettered caption at top, a scale ("Echelle de une lieue et demie") at lower right, a large compass rose (incorporating a small fleur-de-lis) in red and green in right-hand portion, roads and man-made structures highlighted in carmine ink, the sea, fields and stylized trees shaded in green and pale ochre inks. Overall in Excellent Condition, original fold at centre where previously bound into an album, margins of the sheet strengthened in two places on verso, a small tear in ocean portion discreetly repaired.

The splendid “Plan de al Baye, Ville et Environs de Baston” is an entirely unique and truly significant cartographic masterpiece, predicated on the most august antecedents. In addition to being a work of the most exquisite draftsmanship, it has the distinction of being one of the authoritative French geographic conceptions of Boston during the early days of the French & Indian War, when the Massachusetts capital was one of the prime strategic targets of the French Navy.

Cartographically, the present map is directly based on Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin’s “Carte de la ville, baye, et environs de Baston” (1693), which is rightly considered to be one of the finest and most influential French regional maps of America. Critically, and indeed impressively, it is based on first-hand reconnaissance by French cartographers operating in New England, and during its time its geographical depiction of the environs of Boston was far superior to any known English map. Franquelin’s original work is today preserved in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Franquelin came to Canada in 1671, and at first worked as a trader, but his extraordinary natural talents as a cartographer and draftsmen were quickly recognized by New France’s hard-charging governor, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac. He was soon entrusted with drafting the official maps that were the first to depict some of the most consequential discoveries in the continent’s history, including those gleaned from the epic voyages into the interior of Louis Jolliet and Cavelier de La Salle. While he was a perfectionist, who always produced work to the highest standards of precision and artistry, Franquelin was quite prolific, being responsible for over fifty known manuscript maps. His greatest masterpiece, “Carte de l'Amerique Septentrionnale (1688), is rightly considered to be one of the most impressive works of colonial cartography of the seventeenth-century produced by any nation. This work justified his appointment to the lofty posts of “the king’s geographer,” and the “the king’s hydrographer at Quebec”.

Enter Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, the roguish, yet brilliant and charismatic adventurer. As a privateer operating out of Acadia in the late 1680s, Cadillac had the distinction of being one of the few Frenchmen to personally reconnoiter large sections of the New England coastline, including the Harbor or Boston. Blessed with superlative powers of observation, his conception of the geography of coastal New England was often far more accurate than virtually any of region’s residents, let alone the cartographers employed by the English crown. In spite of his almost unrivalled ability to infuriate his superiors, he was nevertheless considered to be one of the most valued operatives in the service of Louis XIV.

In 1692, Frontenac ordered Franquelin and Cadillac to join forces, and sailing on the Envieux, they explored additional stretches of the coast of New England. With their field surveys in hand, they duly sailed for France, arriving in November of that year. Under the supervision of the legendary and demanding Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban, the father of modern military cartography, Franquelin was charged with drafting the authoritative maps of New England which would be consulted by both civil and military officials at the very highest levels. Franquelin’s work was imbued with particular importance, as during the generations spanning 1688 and 1713, France and England were almost continuously at war. French designs to mount a seaborne invasion of New England became Versailles’ grandest ambition ion the Americas. In this vein, Franquelin’s “Carte de la ville, baye, et environs de Baston” (1693) was inarguably one of the most important maps, for it represented the blueprint for the capture of the all-important capital of New England. Lending it great credibility, within the titular cartouche, it is inscribed that the map’s geographical details were “verified by the Sr. de la Motte [alias Cadillac]”.

Franquelin’s map of Boston Harbor was nothing short of revolutionary, being startlingly more accurate and detailed than the authoritative English map of the period, Cyprian Southack’s Boston Harbor in New-England (1689), which first appeared in the maiden edition of The English Pilot. Not surprisingly, Franquelin’s chart was accorded the highest level of authority and esteem, not only its time, but as we shall see, for many subsequent decades. Franquelin’s manuscript is embellished by a highly elegant titular cartouche formed by the backdrop of a tasseled textile, the only concession to the flamboyant Baroque style favored by the ‘Sun King’, on what is otherwise a neat Enlightenment composition very much in the oeuvre of Vauban. As for its geographical details, we will move forward to focus on the magnificent present manuscript, which has great verisimilitude to its antecedent.

This map bears all the hallmarks of a ‘Presentation Piece’, being finely executed in colored inks with a double-ruled border and a neatly-lettered caption at the top, this manuscript map shows a city that was on the forefront of commerce and politics and was probably intended as a presentation piece. Details include a scale at the lower right, a large and elegant compass rose incorporating the French fleur-de-lis symbol, and stylized trees shaded, like the sea and fields, in green and pale ochre inks. Roads and man-made structures are highlighted in carmine ink. Stylistically, it perfectly exemplifies the very finest attributed of the Enlightenment style of on military cartography, which eschewed the visual distraction of unnecessary ornamentation in favor of clean lines and the very crisp depiction of seminal geographical elements. The map emphasizes and carefully delineates navigational features. Shown in considerable detail are a "Grande Entree pour Vaisseaux" (Large Passage for Ships) through the harbor islands, and a "Petit passage pour Barques et Chaloupes" (Small passage for Boats), both of which terminate at the dock areas. Boston's fortifications and harbor defenses are minutely recorded. As noted, on the jetty are mounted "60 pieces de cannon." At one end a "Batterie de 25 pieces" is located, and at the south end is the "Fort de Andros qui Comande le ville". The fort on Castle Island (Castle William) is indicated on the "Isle du Fort." At Charleston another battery is marked, as well as a "moulin" (windmill) on the south side. Most of the major harbor islands and other features are shown and labelled with French approximations: "I. Dyr" (Deer Island), "I. Egue" (Egg Island), "I. Spectidle" (Spectacle Island), "I. Petit Brust (Little Brewster Island), "I. Nan" (Nahant), "B. de Lin." (Lynn Bay). The map also depicts "Dacheten Neche" (Dorchester Neck), which is shown to be unfortified, the town of Charleston, "Rochberi Village" (Roxbury) and "Cambrige Universite" (Harvard University), while the major roads are elegantly delineated. 

The present map most likely dates from the early days of the French & Indian War (1755-1763), and both due to its content and the extremely high technical state of draftsmanship, it strongly indicates that it is a product of the Dépôt de la Marine, the cartographic division of the French Navy, which was at the time considered to be the world’s most sophisticated producer of maritime cartography. There are several factors which support this assertion. First, the very clean and highly precise style of the draftsmanship is consistent with the body of cartography produced at the Dépôt de la Marine during the mid-18th century. Circumstantially supporting this, a manuscript notation written on the verso of the present map reads “Other maps in the Portfolio dated 1755. Dépôt de la Marine”, indicating that present map was once bound in a portfolio with other maps produced by the Dépôt that were explicitly dated from this time. Indeed, it was common practice at institutions such as the Dépôt to collect maps of related subjects from a common period into an album or portfolio. Moreover, until the fall of Louisburg in 1758, the French clearly had the upper hand in the conflict, and were actively considering major offensives against the Thirteen Colonies, of which the invasion of Boston was certainly held to be one of the paramount designs. While the Depot most certainly had access to the more accurate British printed surveys of the harbor published during the early eighteenth-century, most notably Mount & Page’s A New Survey of the Harbour of Boston in New England (1707), which appeared in several editions of The English Pilot. It is certain that the French intelligentsia was well aware of this chart, for in 1740, it was copied and printed in Paris by Philippe Buache, the official cartographer to Louis XV. In spite of this, Franquelin’s 1693 chart was still held in such high esteem, being based on original French reconnaissance, so it is no surprise that it would form the basis of magnificent presentation piece, bequeathed to high-level French officials for consultation during their deliberations regarding the potential invasion of Boston in the early days of the French & Indian War. The terminus ante quem of the map can be determined by the presence of “Fort Andros”, which was destroyed in 1760 due to the explosion of its magazine.

It is an extremely rare occurrence that such a spectacular original manuscript map, and an official ‘presentation copy’ no less, made for governing elite of one of the great world powers during a critical turning point in history would become available on the free market. While important official manuscript maps, such as some of those belonging the Britain’s Board of Trade, circulated in private hands until the mid-nineteenth century, since then government archives have generally recognized the extreme historical significance of these documents, and have jealously guarded their possession. A rare exception in more recent times occurred in France during the years immediately following World War II. Some of France’s severely cash-strapped government agencies set about officially de-accessioning some of the documents from their archives. While in retrospect this policy seems very short-sighted, it was nevertheless an entirely legitimate program. The French Navy enthusiastically embraced de-accession, and it seems that, in this particular case, the “Plan de al Baye, Ville et Environs de Baston”, was likely directly sold to Emile Rossignol (1882-1950), who had been for two-generations one of France’s most esteemed antiquarian booksellers. His reputation and connections would have given him privileged access to such officially de-accessioned French government documents. The pencil notation on the verso indicates that the present map was purchased from Rossignol on July 19, 1947 by “H.C. Rice”, who almost certainly was the esteemed scholar Howard Crosby Rice, Jr. (1904-1980). Originally from Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1933, Rice had received his Ph.D. from the Université de Paris, before going on to teach at Harvard. In 1947, he was serving as the director of the United States Information Library in Paris. Subsequently, from 1948 to 1970, he was a professor at Princeton and the Assistant Librarian of Rare Books & Special Collections. It seems that the present map remained in his personal collection for some years, and was eventually offered at public auction at Christie’s New York in 1997. The offering of the map therefore represents an extraordinary opportunity, for a great American institution or knowledgeable connoisseur to acquire such an extraordinary document, with the added advantage that it possesses a very clear and august provenance.

The present “Plan de al Baye, Ville et Environs de Baston” is an entirely unique and highly important historical artifact, detailing Boston and its environs during a critical period in the history of colonial America. It is highly significant as an original example of the authoritative French geographical conception of the one of the primary strategic focal points of an epic conflict that is widely billed by historians as the true “War that created America”. It is also a prime example of Enlightenment military cartography at its very best, evincing draftsmanship of superlative skill.

W. Graham Arader III, from Christie’s New York, April 21, 1997, sale 8626, lot 106.
Dr. Howard Crosby Rice, Jr. (1904-1980), by purchase in 1947, from Emile Rossignol (1882-1950), as indicated by pencil notation on verso: “Purchased July 19, 1947, Librarie Ancienne & Moderne, E. Rossignol, 8, Rue Bonaparte Paris. H.C. Rice”.

Alexander Johnson is the Director for Maps and Antiquarian Books at Graham Arader's San Francisco Gallery. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Exeter, England, and his book, based on his dissertation, is due to be published in 2013 as The First Mapping of America: The General Survey of British North America, 1764-1775. In this work, Alex will explore how the maps and intelligence obtained from the first large-scale scientific and systemic survey of the American Colonies was used by civil administrators to formulate and implement policies and later by military leaders during the American Revolutionary War. Alex is also a prominent contributor to the History of Cartography Project, Volume 4, and has previously served as a senior consultant for cartography to Christie's London.

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