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Description

Sailing Into Boston Harbor During The American Revolution

Large aquatint and engraved sheet with four profile views of Boston, which were published by J.F.W. Des Barres, which appeared in his Atlantice Neptune.

This sheet of views would have used by navigators approaching Boston during the Revolution, to accompany the sailing directions and chart of Boston Harbor also created by Des Barres.  The views include:

  • Boston, as seen between Castle Williams and Governors Island, distant 4 miles
  • Appearance of the High Lands of Agameticus, N.E. with Penobscot Hills, to the Eastwards, at 3 to 4 Leagues off Shore
  • Boston Bay, the Light House bearing N.W. b. W. distant one League
  • The Entrance of Boston Harbor

The Atlantic Neptune

The chart was issued in The Atlantic Neptune, an atlas of North American waters published in London by J.F.W. Des Barres and used by British navigators throughout the American Revolution. The charts were of an extraordinarily high quality, remained the standard for decades, and were often copied and reissued by American and European engravers and publishers.

Copies of the Neptune were apparently made up to order, and new charts, maps and views were being produced throughout the Revolutionary years, and there was thus no standard collation. The most complete versions extended to five volumes, covering in turn Nova Scotia, New England, the River and Gulf of St. Lawrence (based on the work of James Cook), the coast south of New York, and American coastal views. The volumes integrated nautical charts, recognition views and sailing directions to provide seamen with multiple, (hopefully) complementary data sets for navigating the often difficult waters off the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.  

Reference
Phillips, A List of Maps of America, p. 221
Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres Biography

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.

Atlantic Neptune

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.