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France & England in Global Conflict:   The South Asian Theater of War 

A rare and important 1781 separately issued map of the East Indies by André Basset.

This map was issued to illustrate a series of conflicts in India and the East Indies associated with the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), including the Anglo-French War (1778–1783), Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780–1784), and the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780–1784). The theater of war described is a vast expanse of East Asian territory centered on the Malay Peninsula, but extending from the Maldives to the Philippines and from China to Java, including all of the East Indies, the Indian Subcontinent, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia.

The signing of the American Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1776 set the roughly equipped and loosely organized American colonies against Great Britain, the greatest mercantile, military, and naval empire of the age. The American Colonial or Continental armies quickly realized that they needed allies and so turned to the traditional enemies of the English, in this case France and the Dutch Republic. The Continental government secured a military alliance with the French and a strategic trade agreement with the Dutch Republic. These treaties expanded the scope of the war from North America into a global conflict. The British, French, and Dutch used the war as an excuse to escalate pre-existing colonial rivalries in Asia. This map attempts to illustrate the key players and regions in that theater.

Much of the conflict took place in and around the Indian subcontinent and is associated with the Anglo-French War. The French signed the Treaty of Alliance with the United States in 1778. When word of the alliance reached British East India Company officers in India, they moved quickly to take the French colonial outposts of Pondicherry and Mahé. The French, in turn, supported the Nawab of Mysore, Hyder Ali, in his war against the British East India Company. Deprived of their bases on the subcontinent, the French instead focused on the seas, sending a fleet under Vice Admiral Pierre André de Suffren Saint-Tropez. Suffren was equally matched with the British commander, Vice Admiral Edward Hughes, with whom he fought five hard contested battles with no clear victor.

While the Dutch signed no formal treaty with the United States, they did recognize the Continental Congress in April of 1782 and, in October of the same year, concluded a treaty of amity and commerce. The British took this as an opportunity to assault Dutch colonial and economic interests in the East Indies. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the British engaged in several conflicts in Sumatra, where both had outposts. The British sent a weak force against the VOC stronghold of Padang who, unaware of just how weak the British force was, surrendered the entire west coast of Sumatra without a fight. The VOC, already in decline, never fully recovered.

The most significant result of these conflicts was that the British were forced to fight a multi-front global war. Unable to send the bulk of their forces to the Americas they instead relied on allies and loyalists in the colonies to support their cause. Had the British been able to direct their full military towards the Americas, it is unlikely that the Continental forces would have won the American Revolutionary War.

In addition to attempts to illustrate the theater of war, this map also bears some interesting annotations. In modern-day Cambodia, it notes the Ke-Moy, tributaries of the King of Chochinchine, who are described as sun-worshippers and sorcerers. The waters of this country are said to be deadly to strangers who drink it.  

In Borneo, the note translates as follows:

Whose interior is occupied by the Savage Nation of the Biatos or Beajous, who have Princes or Chiefs, several of whom pay tribute to the King of Bender-massin. The Malay Muslims who occupy the coasts harass this Nation that worships only God alone. The Isle of Borneo produces rice and excellent fruits; coffee, wax, white and black pepper, lacquer resin found in ant camphor, aromatic plants, pitch, and curious birds. There are immense mines and forests. There are monkeys of various colors, etc.

In the Celebes, the note translates as follows:

The inhabitants of this island were formerly cannibals, idolaters, and pirates. It is fertile in rice, coconuts, cattle, etc. They have been Muslims since 1640.

States of the Map and Rarity

The map, drawn by Louis Denis and engraved by Louis Belanger, is known in 2 states:

  • State 1:  Published by Paul-André Basset in 1781.
  • State 2:  Revised edition was issued in 1782 by Chaumier.

Louis Denis (1725-1794) was a Paris-based engraver, cartographer, and publisher. Little is known of Denis, but he held the titles of Géographe des Enfants de France and Géographe du duc de Berry (future Louis XVI). André Basset (or Bassett) was part of a well-known French family of publishers and engravers active on the Rue St. Jacques, Paris, during the 18th and 19th centuries.  

This map is part of a series of separately issued maps by Denis and Basset prepared in 1781-82 to promote the expanding conflicts associated with the American Revolutionary War. He also issued similar 'Theatre de la Guerre' maps of colonies in America, the West Indies, and Europe.

All maps from this series are no rare on the market.

Condition Description
Full original color. Staining and minor loss at lower right corner, stabilized for conservation purposes. The French coat of arms has also been cut out and replaced with blank paper, almost certainly during the French Revolution.
Louis Denis Biography

Louis Denis (1725-1794) was a French geographer and cartographer best known for his incomplete road atlas of France, Le Conducteur français. Originally trained as an engraver, he partnered with Louis-Charles Desnos to create and edit maps. Later, Denis served as geography tutor to the children of the French royal family. His pupils included the Duc de Berry, the future Louis XVI.