"The first sea chart of [New England and] the Maritimes published in England." - Burden II (#444)
Rare English sea chart of the coast of North America from Long Island in the south to Newfoundland in the north, published at about the same time of the final acquisition of New England from the Netherlands in 1674 (although dated by some historians as early as 1670, including the entry for the map the Library of Congress).
Seller's chart is the first English Sea chart to closely focus on this region, illustrating the best available English knowledge of the region in the 1670s, an important decade in the development of the English colonies in the New World. In 1674, New Netherland was permanently relinquished to the English with the Treaty of Westminster. King Philip's War was fought in New England from '75-'76.
The chart is embellished with images of beavers north of the River Canada (St. Lawrence River), a subtle reminder of the fur trade, which the English had only recently commenced with the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 and the first commercially successful expeditions into the region to the Northwest, via Hudson Bay and James Bay between 1668 and 1673.
While Seller follows the basic outline of Dutch the landmark map of Dutch chartmaker Joannes van Loon and his chart Pas-caerte van Terra Nova, the map includes significant improvements and new information. As noted by Burden,
[Seller's chart] adds St John Isle, or Prince Edward Island, so poorly missed [by Van Loon] and not replaced by any other cartographer to date. He also improves the depiction of the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland with the English knowledge learned through John Mason. The R. Sauguenay and Les Trois Riviere are both prominently inserted in detail. He extends the area of coverage westwards to take in the English settlement in New England.
In addition to the improvements noted by Buren, we note that Seller significantly improved the bathymetry of the banks off of Canada and New England, adding dozens of soundings across the major banks, which have been significantly reformatted.
Seller also had a far better knowledge of the English settlements in New England, here adding Boston and Charlestown (the former previously called "Briston"), as well as New London and "Plimouth".
Laurence Worms, in his essay on Seller and Pepys notes that Seller's North American cartography is of substantial merit, noting that for North America, Seller's work was:
. . . a special case – Dutch material was less plentiful, English interest rising fast (and we may care to speculate about Seller being so frequently on the New England Walk of the Royal Exchange at the time of his trial) . . . Seller was rather more interesting and original in his work [in his cartographic depiction of the British Colonies in North America]
States of the Map
The map is known in two states:
- 1674 ca: John Seller imprint
- 1677 ca: Imprint changed to John Seller, John Colson, William Fisher, James Atkinson, and John Thornton
The chart last appeared in a 2014 Martayan Lan catalog asking $28,500. Since then, the companion Seller map of New England, which follows the present map in the Atlas Maritimus, sold at Doyle Auctions in New York for $343,750.
John Seller was one of the most notable map and instrument makers in England in the late-seventeenth century. He was especially known for the sea charts, many of which featured in his influential English Pilot and Atlas Maritimus. Seller was born in London in 1632. His father was a cordwainer and John was apprenticed to Edward Lowe, of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. He was made free of that company in 1654. Later, he also was made a brother of the Clockmakers’ Company, which housed several instrument makers. He started business as a compass maker but expanded his offering to include navigational instruments and charts.
Seller’s career was halted temporarily, and fantastically, when he was tried for high treason in 1662. He was accused of involvement in a plot led by Thomas Tonge. While Seller likely only unwisely repeated rumors, he was convicted. The other conspirators, who did admit some degree of guilt, were executed, but Seller maintained his innocence and, via insistent petitions, he eventually secured his release from Newgate Prison.
This episode did not seem to slow Seller’s rise too much, however. Seller was granted a royal license to publish English-language maritime atlases. This gave him a near-monopoly and led to his being named hydrographer to the King in 1671. Although the point of the project was to produce English charts of Dutch dominance and bias, Seller ended up using many Dutch plates as his base material. The first volume of The English Pilot was published in 1671, followed by more volumes as well as The Coating Pilot (1672) and the Atlas Maritimus (1675). Seller was commercially successful, but some of his projects required further support. The English Pilot was eventually taken over by John Thornton and William Fisher, for example, and his proposed English atlas only produced maps of six counties.
Seller’s sons, John and Jeremiah, followed in their father’s profession. Seller also apprenticed several promising young men, including Charles Price, with whom his sons partnered. Through Price, Seller can be seen as the founding figure of an important group of London mapmakers that included Price, John Senex, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, and Thomas Jefferys.