The First National Atlas of the United States.
The Exceptionally Rare 1783 Edition of Jeffery’s American Atlas.
A virtually-unknown edition of Jefferys's essential American Atlas, the updated 1783 edition, which, crucially, illustrates the latest geopolitical transformation resulting from the Treaty of Paris, declaring the establishment of the United States in several significant maps of North America - and therefore standing as the first national atlas of the United States.
Thomas Jefferys' American Atlas was one of the four great atlases of the North American Colonies available during the Revolution - along with Faden's North American Atlas, Des Barres' Atlantic Neptune, and Jefferys and Sayer's A General Topography of North America - and it was certainly the most actively published and used. Jeffreys was the leading British cartographer of his day, becoming Geographer to the King by 1761. He started producing maps relating to North American circa 1750, when he issued a series of important maps of the British American colonies. Although Jefferys died in 1771, the importance of his American Atlas can be seen in how it continued to be updated and issued by Sayer and Bennett. According to Pritchard and Taliaferro: "That Sayer and Bennett were publishing atlases under Jefferys's name five years after his death indicated the late map publisher's continuing influence in the market" - Degrees of Latitude, page 211. While the 1776 edition of the American Atlas was THE atlas of the American Revolution, having been one of the primary cartographic references for American, British, and French military officials during the conflict, the triumph of the American cause would be first enshrined in the maps of this very rare 1783 edition.
This Edition and Its Maps
This edition of the American Atlas is of the greatest interest, as it is the first national atlas issued after the cessation of hostilities to proclaim the existence of the United States. Although the title page is dated 1782, in actuality it was almost certainly issued after the January 20, 1783 iteration of the Treaty of Paris, but before August 15, 1783.
The three key maps are Stevens & Tree's numbers 4(e) [map 1]; 49(h) [maps 5-6]; and 51(d) [map 7], all of which rank among the very first English-language maps to include "United States" (or some allusion thereto) in the title.
- Map 1. A Chart of North and South America, Including the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans... According to the Preliminary Articles of Peace, Signed at Versailles, 20, Jany. 1783. Imprint: Sayer & Bennett, 10 June, 1775. Dated by Stevens & Tree: 1775-.
- Maps 5-6. A New and Correct Map of North America, with the West India Islands. Divided according to the Preliminary Articles of Peace, Signed at Versailles, 20 Jan. 1783. wherein are particularly Distinguised, The United States, & the Several Provinces and Colonies, which Compose the British Empire. 1783.
- As described by Stevens & Tree this issue has the added dashed boundary line engraved on the plate, delineating the border between the United States and British Possessions. The lower sheet of this issue remains unchanged from the 1779 issue.
- Map 7. The United States of America with the British Possessions of Canada, Nova Scotia, & of Newfoundland, divided with the French; and the Spanish Territories of Louisiana and Florida according to the Preliminary Articles of Peace. Signed at Versailles the 20th of Jany. 1783. Printed for R. Sayer and J. Bennett, Map and Printsellers, No. 53, Fleet Street, as the Act directs, 9th February, 1783.
- Printed just 20 days after the signing of the preliminary peace treaty at Versailles, Sayer & Bennett's map is one of the earliest maps to name and depict the newly formed Republic. The title of the previous edition of this map (North America from the French of Mr. D'Anville) was entirely erased from the cartouche, with the above title engraved in its place. The text of Article III of the Treaty was also added to the plate, immediately to the left of the cartouche. The boundaries of the United States are shown by a dashed line which is colored green. Phillips, A List of Maps of America, page 862.
The remaining maps are:
2. Chart Containing the Coast of California, New Albion, and Russian Discoveries to the North, with the Peninsula of Kamtschatka...
3. Chart containing the greater part of the South Sea to the South of the Line...
4. The Russian Discoveries, previous to the Year 1763.
8. The British Empire in America.
9. The River St. Laurence.
10. The Gulf of St. Laurence.
11. The Island of St. John, in the Gulf of St. Laurence.
12. The Island of Newfoundland.
13. The Banks of Newfoundland.
14. Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton, with Adjacent Parts of New England and Canda.
15 & 16. New England.
17. New York and New Jersey.
18. Lake Champlain.
19. The Province of Quebec.
21. & 22. Virginia and Maryland.
23 & 24. North and South Carolina.
25. Florida, East and West.
26. The River Missisippi, from the Balise to Fort Chartres.
27. The Bay of Honduras.
28. & 29. South America.
30. The Straights of Magellan.
Sayer & Bennett kept the American Atlas up-to-date, quickly responding to the developments across the Atlantic, particularly the negotiations at Versailles (indeed they went to press before the thing was officially settled), however demand for the book must have been far weaker than it was during the actual fighting. Consequently it is understandable that fewer examples of this 1782-but-1783 edition were issued, making them much rarer than their wartime counterparts. Phillips Atlases 1169 is a 1782-but-1783 issue and while the example cited by therein lacked the important seventh map declaring the United States, Phillips's List of Maps of America clarifies that the 1783-dated Map of the United States of America properly belongs as map no. 7 in the so-called 1782 edition of Jefferys's American Atlas. The next post-war edition of the atlas would come more than a decade later, in 1794, when resurrected by Laurie & Whittle.
It is interesting to note that not even Thomas Jefferson owned an example of this up-to-date 1783 American Atlas, as he received the 1778 edition of the atlas from the bookseller Stockdale in Aug. 1787, while serving as Minister to France (see Sowerby's Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 4, 3961).
Other than the incomplete Library of Congress copy, we have found only the Newberry Library (Ayer 135 .J46 1782) copy of this rare 1782-but-1783 edition of the American Atlas.
Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794) was a prominent London map publisher. Robert’s father was a lawyer, but his older brother married Mary Overton, the widow of prominent mapmaker Philip Overton and the proprietor of his shop after his death. Mary continued the business for roughly a year after her marriage and then, in early 1748, it passed to Robert. Robert became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company later that year; his first advertisement as an independent publisher was released in December.
Sayer benefited from Overton’s considerable stock, which included the plates of John Senex. In the 1750s, Sayer specialized in design books and topographical prints, as well as comic mezzotints. In 1753, he, along with John Roque, published a new edition of Thomas Read’s Small British Atlas, the first of several county atlases that Sayer would publish.
Sayer’s business continued to grow. In 1760 he moved further down Fleet Street to larger premises at 53 Fleet Street. In 1766, he acquired Thomas Jefferys’ stock when the latter went bankrupt. In 1774, he entered into a partnership with John Bennett, his former apprentice. The pair specialized in American atlases, based on the work of Jefferys. They also began publishing navigational charts in the 1780s and quickly became the largest supplier of British charts in the trade.
Bennett’s mental health declined, and the partnership ended in 1784. As Sayer aged, he relied on his employees Robert Laurie and James Whittle, who eventually succeeded him. He spent more and more time at his house in Richmond. In 1794, he died in Bath.
Thomas Jefferys (ca. 1719-1771) was a prolific map publisher, engraver, and cartographer based in London. His father was a cutler, but Jefferys was apprenticed to Emanuel Bowen, a prominent mapmaker and engraver. He was made free of the Merchant Taylors’ Company in 1744, although two earlier maps bearing his name have been identified.
Jefferys had several collaborators and partners throughout his career. His first atlas, The Small English Atlas, was published with Thomas Kitchin in 1748-9. Later, he worked with Robert Sayer on A General Topography of North America (1768); Sayer also published posthumous collections with Jefferys' contributions including The American Atlas, The North-American Pilot, and The West-India Atlas.
Jefferys was the Geographer to Frederick Prince of Wales and, from 1760, to King George III. Thanks especially to opportunities offered by the Seven Years' War, he is best known today for his maps of North America, and for his central place in the map trade—he not only sold maps commercially, but also imported the latest materials and had ties to several government bodies for whom he produced materials.
Upon his death in 1771, his workshop passed to his partner, William Faden, and his son, Thomas Jr. However, Jefferys had gone bankrupt in 1766 and some of his plates were bought by Robert Sayer (see above). Sayer, who had partnered in the past with Philip Overton (d. 1751), specialized in (re)publishing maps. In 1770, he partnered with John Bennett and many Jefferys maps were republished by the duo.
John Bennett (fl. 1760-d. 1787) was a London printer best known for his role in the successful partnership of Sayer & Bennett. In 1760, Bennett became a servant of Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794), the prominent print and map seller, and was apprenticed to him in 1765. In 1774, Bennett became a free journeyman and entered into a partnership with Sayer. They issued joint advertisements and publications. In 1777, Bennett owned 1/3 share in the business. The partnership was likely to continue fruitfully, but in 1781 Bennett began to show signs of mental illness. In 1783, he was admitted to an asylum for nine months and, in 1784, Sayer filed papers to dissolve their business partnership. Bennett died in 1787.