The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington’s recent acquisition of the Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection positions the Library as one of the world’s leading centers for the study of cartography in the era of the American Revolution.

Featuring over 1,000 individual objects that date between 1740 and 1799—including manuscript and print maps, bound atlases, watercolor view sheds, and other documents—the collection will offer new opportunities for researching and teaching the history of the American Revolution, Early Republic, and eighteenth-century cartography.

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Lewis Evans, A general map of the middle British Colonies, in America (1755). The Welsh-born Evans produced the most influential map of the middle colonies in the eighteenth century. Dedicated to Thomas Pownall, then lieutenant governor of New Jersey, Evans's map reveals the North American interior at the outbreak of the French and Indian War. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, MVLA. (Digital image provided by the Leventhal Map & Education Center.)

A Unique Perspective

Nicholas Scull and George Heap, A plan of the city and environs of Philadelphia, (1777). Originally published in 1752, this 1777 edition of Scull and Heap's map of Philadelphia illustrates William Penn's vision for an orderly city nestled between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, MVLA. (Digital image provided by the Leventhal Map & Education Center.)

Nicholas Scull and George Heap, A plan of the city and environs of Philadelphia, (1777). Originally published in 1752, this 1777 edition of Scull and Heap's map of Philadelphia illustrates William Penn's vision for an orderly city nestled between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, MVLA. (Digital image provided by the Leventhal Map & Education Center.)

The vast majority of the objects in the collection were produced between 1754 and 1783, a period of significant change in North America. They trace the expansion of British America during the Seven Years’ War (what the colonists called the French and Indian War) through the end of the War for Independence. They reveal the transformation of George Washington’s world from a British landscape to an American one.

Artifacts in the Brown Collection illustrate how eighteenth-century inhabitants of the Atlantic world “saw” North America and the Caribbean. The era’s leading cartographers, surveyors, and engravers produced maps that allowed politicians and military commanders on both sides of the Atlantic to view the American landscape in high-resolution detail, and imagine its possibilities.

The maps reveal how Europeans and Americans established competing legal claims to mainland and Caribbean territory, obscured the presence of slavery and indigenous peoples, and waged war on local and continental scales. They help modern viewers to see eighteenth-century efforts to improve coastal navigation and commerce, record crucial military intelligence, and plan new cities. They tell us as much about how eighteenth-century women and men viewed themselves as they do about the world around them.

Richard Williams, Cambridge with Washington’s Headquarters, (1775). Williams, a twenty-five-year-old member of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, arrived in Boston in June 1775, only six days before the Battle of Bunker Hill. Over the next several weeks, Williams painted in water color and drew in pencil the landscape around him. His work offers modern viewers unprecedented contemporary views of the American Revolution’s early days. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, MVLA. (Digital image provided by the Leventhal Map & Education Center.)

New Scholarship

Robert Stobo, Plan of Fort le Quesne, built by the French at the fork of the Ohio and Monongahela in 1754, [1768]. In 1754, French soldiers constructed Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to control access to the North American interior. In the spring, George Washington led 300 Virginia troops toward the fort with orders from the Virginia governor to drive the French out. Washington's skirmish with French forces at Jumonville Glen in May triggered the French and Indian War, which sparked the global Seven Years' War. The British and French fought vigorously for control of Fort Duquesne during the conflict. Eventually, the French abandoned and burned the fort. The victorious British constructed Fort Pitt on its ashes. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, MVLA. (Digital image provided by the Leventhal Map & Education Center.)

Robert Stobo, Plan of Fort le Quesne, built by the French at the fork of the Ohio and Monongahela in 1754, [1768]. In 1754, French soldiers constructed Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to control access to the North American interior. In the spring, George Washington led 300 Virginia troops toward the fort with orders from the Virginia governor to drive the French out. Washington's skirmish with French forces at Jumonville Glen in May triggered the French and Indian War, which sparked the global Seven Years' War. The British and French fought vigorously for control of Fort Duquesne during the conflict. Eventually, the French abandoned and burned the fort. The victorious British constructed Fort Pitt on its ashes. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, MVLA. (Digital image provided by the Leventhal Map & Education Center.)

The Washington Library is excited to collaborate with scholars and educators to develop new scholarship and teaching opportunities centered on the Brown Collection. We hope that it will inspire new work on topics such as:

  • The process of map making and the science of cartography in the eighteenth century
  • Imperial competition for North America and the Caribbean
  • Coastal geography and hydrology
  • Slavery
  • Dispossession of Native Americans
  • Colonial settlement reform
  • Military engagements of the Seven Years’ War and the War for Independence
  • Creation of the United States
  • The iconography of maps and charts

The Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library previously digitized the majority of the Brown Collection. High-resolution images are now available through the Washington Library’s Digital Collections portal. The collection also includes a number of bound works that cannot be digitized for preservation reasons.

The Washington Library is currently preparing a finding aid and other resources to help scholars and the public make the most of the Brown Collection. These items will be online in the near future. Qualified researchers wishing to examine specific items in the collection may contact the Library to schedule an appointment beginning in Winter 2020. 

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