Old color example of this detailed set of 2 charts by Des Barres, whose charts of America are the most sought after of all 18th Century American charts.
The large inset chart at the top shows the area from Roosevelt Island and Midtown Manahattan to Flushing Bay and College Point, along with Hunt Point on the opposite side of the Bay. The primary map extends from Oyster Bay, Oak Neck and Hog Island to Eaton Neck, Huntington Bay and Cow Harbor. The map shows soundings, anchorages (including the projected Lloyd's Harbor and topographical details. The map last appeared in a dealer catalogue in Arkway Catalogue XXXI (1986).
Des Barres's Atlantic Neptune contains the coasts of Nova Scotia (volumes 1 and 2), the coasts and harbors of the Gulf and River of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic coast of North America from New York to Mexico (volume 3) and New England (volume 4). A British military engineer with long service in America, Des Barres devoted sixteen years to the publication of his masterpiece. Copies of The Atlantic Neptune were compiled as they were ordered, principally for naval captains or merchant mariners, and therefore no standard collation exists and no two recorded copies will contain the same compliment of charts, nor be bound in exactly the same sequence.
As noted by Cohen & Augustyn,
Nautical charting took an unprecedented leap toward greater precision and graphic sophistication with the publication of Des Barres's Atlantic Neptune... The Neptune provided the first generally accurate charts of many areas, and it was relied upon well into the nineteenth century. Des Barres also standardized many of the symbols, such as for navigational hazards, that are found on nautical charts to this day... Not only were Des Barres's charts technically superior to earlier works, but they were also objects of fine printing and possessed an artistry that transcended their utilitarian purpose. Moreover, this was achieved on works that were often breathtakingly large in scale, with some charts measuring over ten feet in length... Most of the surveys on which the charts of the Neptune were based were conducted between 1763 and 1773. Des Barres was then commissioned to assemble these surveys, which included his own fine work in Nova Scotia, prepare their engraving, and have them bound into usable format. Surveys of the New York and New England areas were carried out by various officers under the command of Major Samuel Holland, one of the most capable of all colonial cartographers... In some but not all cases, Des Barres provided the names of the actual surveyors of the charts... When war with the American colonies broke out, the need for good charts of American waters became imperative, and in the years prior to the war, Des Barres project was given high priority. Between 1776 and 1779, Des Barres and his more than twenty assistants had taken over two London townhouses to complete the Neptune.
Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824) was born in Switzerland where his Huguenot ancestors had fled following the repeal of the Edict of Nantes. He studied under the great mathematician, Daniel Bernoulli, at the University of Basel, before immigrating to Britain where he trained at the Royal Military College, Woolwich. Upon the outbreak of hostilities with France in 1756, he joined the British Royal American Regiment as a military engineer. He came to the attention of General James Wolfe, who appointed him to join his personal detail. During this period he also worked with the legendary future explorer, James Cook, on a monumental chart of the St. Lawrence River.
Upon the conclusion of the Seven Years War, Britain's empire in North America was greatly expanded, and this required the creation of a master atlas featuring new and accurate sea charts for use by the Royal Navy. Des Barres was enlisted to survey the coastlines of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. With these extremely accurate surveys in hand, Des Barres returned to London in 1774, where the Royal Navy charged him with the Herculean task of producing the atlas. He was gradually forwarded the manuscripts of numerous advanced surveys conducted by British cartographers in the American Colonies, Jamaica, and Cuba, conducted in the 1760s.
The result of Des Barres's travels along the Atlantic seaboard was The Atlantic Neptune, which became the most celebrated sea atlas of its era, containing the first systematic survey of the east coast of North America. Des Barres's synergy of great empirical accuracy with the peerless artistic virtue of his aquatint views, created a work that "has been described as the most splendid collection of charts, plates and views ever published" (National Maritime Museum Catalogue).
The Neptune eventually consisted of four volumes and Des Barres's dedication to the project was so strong that often at his own expense he continually updated and added new charts and views to various editions up until 1784, producing over 250 charts and views, many appearing in several variations. All of these charts were immensely detailed, featuring both hydrographical and topographical information, such that in many cases they remained the most authoritative maps of the regions covered for several decades.
The atlas is of the utmost rarity; the last example sold at auction made $779,000 in 2009.
Des Barres After the Atlantic Neptune
After the Revolution, United Empire Loyalists were resettled throughout Canada. As part of this process, a new colony was created by separating Cape Breton from Nova Scotia. Des Barres served as lieutenant governor of Cape Breton Island from 1784 to 1787. He later served as governor of Prince Edward Island from 1804-1812.
He lived an exceptionally long life, even by today's standards, finally dying at age 102-years-old. Des Barre' funeral was held at St. George's Round Church in 1824. He was buried beside his wife Martha in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Des Barres was survived by his mistress Mary Cannon and their four children.