Des Barres's chart of the Mississippi River is the largest printed map of the Mississippi River published in the 18th century and almost certainly one of the most important. The chart is extremely rare and is not present in most examples of the Atlantic Neptune.
Des Barres's chart tracks the course of the Mississippi beginning in the area of Vicksburg, Mississippi and proceeding south beyond Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The map was issued during one of the most fascinating periods in the history of the South, during a time when the region to the east of the river was controlled by Great Britain, while New Orleans and the region to the west were under the control of Spain. Much of the information used in Des Barres's chart derives from Lt. John Ross' map of the river, based upon his expedition of 1765.
The map a tremendous amount of local information, especially along the eastern bank of the river. The map includes settlements, forts, creeks, cliffs and many property lots. The Village of Toniac Indians is located, along with the French Settlements of Point Conpee.
Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824) was born in either Paris or Basel, Switzerland, to a Hugueont family. 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 was impressed with his charting ability. During this period, he also worked with the legendary future explorer, James Cook, on a monumental chart of the St. Lawrence River.
Des Barres is best known for the Atlantic Neptune, was a remarkable, multi-volume set of sea charts and coastal views prepared from recent surveys, some of which were overseen by Des Barres in Nova Scotia after the Seven Years’ War. The maps, charts, and views were prepared under the supervision of Des Barres and employed as many as twenty engravers and assistants. They were produced over the course of a decade, from 1774 to 1784, in time to be used by the Royal Navy in the American Revolution.
After the Revolution, Loyalists were resettled throughout Canada. As part of this process, a new colony was created by separating Cape Breton from Nova Scotia. Des Barres, who already owned extensive lands in the Maritimes, served as lieutenant governor of Cape Breton Island from 1784 to 1787. He later served as governor of Prince Edward Island from 1804-1812.
Des Barres lived an exceptionally long life, even by today's standards, finally dying at age 102. Des Barres' funeral was held at St. George's Round Church in 1824 and he is buried in Halifax.