Important Revolutionary War Chart of the Chesapeake Bay, Based on Anthony Smith's Seminal 4 Sheet Map.
Fine example of the Depot de La Marine's revised and improved edition of Anthony's Smith's chart of the Chesapeake, which appeared in Neptune Americo-Septentrional, the Sea Atlas prepared for use by the French Royal Navy during the American Revolution.
The chart was, for example, utiized by Commander Francois-Joseph de Grasse and his French Naval forces when they blockaded the entrance to the Chesapeake during the Siege of Yorktown, in aid of the joint French and American land forces led by General George Washington and Lietenant General Rochambeau in 1781.
Smith's map of the Chesapeake is of tremendous importance, being the most accurate and up to date map of the region during the mid-18th Century. Nothing is known of the actual authorship of the chart, although it is assigned to Anthony Smith of St. Marys. Nothing has been found on this man, who, to judge from the charts, must have been exceptionally well informed regarding below sea-level and littoral characteristics of the Chesapeake Bay and its estuarine rivers. The original 4 sheet Smith chart is now virtually unobtainable, making this French edition, prepared by the French Naval and War Department an historically important Revolutionary War chart and the only reasonably obtainable version of Smith's chart.
Prepared under the orders of the French Secretary of the Navy, Antoine de Sartine, this chart has been significantly revised and improved with information contemporary to the American Revolution, including an annotation referencing the burning of Norfolk in January 1776. The map provides the best available details of the available soundings, anchorages, channels, shoals, and navigational sightings, Fort Johnson and the town of Brunswick.
The textual notes include detailed instructions and explanations concerning the entry and navigation of the James River, Potomac River (as far as the Alexandria area), Choptank River, Patapsco River, and others, along with detailed notes regarding the ocean currents along the coast of Virginia.
Among the map's more interesting features is the identification of a number of important settlements, often depicted with small profile views of buildings, far up the major rivers, including Suffolk, James Town, Williamsburg, York, Gloucester, Leeds, Urbanna, St. Mary's, New Marleboro, Cochester, Bellhaven or Alexandria, Oxford, Annapolis, Baltimore, Ogle Town, Bolingbroke, Chester and George Town.
The present example is the second state of the map, which can be differentiated from the first state by the shading on the land sections of the map and the boxing off of the text sections.
A chart of exceptional historical importance.
The Dépôt de la Marine, known more formally as the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, was the central charting institution of France. The centralization of hydrography in France began in earnest when Jean-Baptiste Colbert became First Minister of France in 1661. Under his watch, the first Royal School of Hydrography began operating, as did the first survey of France’s coasts (1670-1689). In 1680, Colbert consolidated various collections of charts and memoirs into a single assemblage, forming the core of sources for what would become the Dépôt.
The Dépôt itself began as the central deposit of charts for the French Navy. In 1720, the Navy consolidated its collection with those government materials covering the colonies, creating a single large repository of navigation. By 1737, the Dépôt was creating its own original charts and, from 1750, they participated in scientific expeditions to determine the accurate calculation of longitude.
In 1773, the Dépôt received a monopoly over the composition, production, and distribution of navigational materials, solidifying their place as the main producer of geographic knowledge in France. Dépôt-approved charts were distributed to official warehouses in port cities and sold by authorized merchants. The charts were of the highest quality, as many of France’s premier mapmakers worked at the Dépôt in the eighteenth century, including Philippe Bauche, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Rigobert Bonne, Jean Nicolas Buache, and Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré.
The Dépôt continued to operate until 1886, when it became the Naval Hydrographic Service. In 1971, it changed names again, this time to the Naval and Oceanographic Service (SHOM). Although its name has changed, its purpose is largely the same, to provide high quality cartographic and scientific information to the France’s Navy and merchant marine.