History of the Pelham Map

Henry Pelham. London, Published according to Act of Parliament, June 2d, 1777. A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs, Including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin, Cambridge, Medford, Charleston, Parts of Malden and Chelsea. With the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775, and 1776. With the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775, and 1776. 2 Sheet map. Overall size, 38 ¼" x 27 1/8". Engraved in "Aqua Tinta" by Francis Jukes.



The most important battle plan of the New England theater of war, showing in detail the American fortifications on the Dorchester Heights forcing the British removal from Boston to New York in 1776. Well known as best printed plan of the city of Boston, and its environs, to date, this finely engraved in aquatint and beautifully printed on heavy paper, this copy is one of perhaps six known signed in manuscript format by the author.

The map is taken from an original survey completed by Henry Pelham and includes an engraved "passport" issued to Pelham "to take a plan of the towns of Boston & Charlestown and the rebel works…" The map shows streets, churches, wharves and municipal buildings in Boston. Kenneth Nebenzahl describes the military information included in this map as "very good and extensive…including British and American fortifications in Charlestown… Boston, with their lines of Fire". The map is dedicated to Lord George Germain, the British Colonial Secretary.

Pelham, a Loyalist, was born in Boston in 1748/9. In service under General Gage during the opening of hostilities, Pelham was privy to English plans of the city. Engraved in the upper left of this map is a copy of the passport issued to Pelham two months after the Battle of Bunkers-Hill, in order for him to examine the enemy lines. This survey was conducted for a separate map of Charleston which was never published, as he was directed by General Gage "that it would not be altogether proper to publish a plan of Charlestown in its present state, as it would furnish those without a knowledge of the fortifications erected there…" The plan was not published, but the information was included on his large plan of Boston offered here.

The aquatint is of interest. Of the highest quality, it is known that Pelham consulted John Singleton Copley (the artist and half-brother of Pelham) regarding the production o f the map. Pelham was eleven years Copley’s junior, and there is little question that Pelham learned to draw from his accomplished elder. Correspondence between the two makes clear the care Pelham gave to the design and execution of his Boston map. The outstanding result is without question the finest cartographical print relating to the American War.

During occupation by British troops in 1775/6 the city of Boston was ravaged. As Pelham himself writes to his brother "not a hillock 6 feet High but What is entrench’d, not a pass where a man could go but what is defended by Cannon; fences pulled down, houses removed, Woods grubbed up, Fields cut into trenches and moulded into ramparts…An hundred places you might be brought to and you not know where you were…Charlestown I am sure you would not. There not a Tree, not a house, not even so much as a stick of wood as large as you hand remains… In Boston almost all the fences; a great Number of Wooden House, perhaps 150, have been pulled down to serve for fewel (fuel)… The Old North pulled down and burnt…"

"less than a dozen recorded impressions of this important map, about half of which are thus signed." The Library of Congress had for some time only the upper unsigned sheet in its collection. Philip Lee Phillips, who purchased the lower, signed, sheet for the Library considered it the "most valuable single sheet acquisition during his long tenure in that position" (conversation with Mrs. Clara E. Le Gear, 1968).

Stokes. American Historical Prints,1776-B110.
Colonial Society. Boston Prints & Printmakers, pp. 52-56.
Seller & Van Ee. Maps & Charts…. #935.
Nebenzahl. Battle Plans of the American Revolution, #290.
Krieger & Cobb. Boston,… Plate 29.

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