Thomas Jefferys and the Mapping of North America


Thomas Jefferys (ca.1710-1771)

Thomas Jefferys was one of the more prominent commercial cartographers in London during the middle of the eighteenth century. Although he was responsible for a wide variety of prints and for maps of much of the world, he is particularly remembered for his publication of many maps of North America, such as the Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England (1755). Jefferys did not himself compile this map. Indeed, he was not a geographer per se. He was an engraver and publisher of maps which other people had compiled and drawn. In the ethically flexible map trade of the eighteenth century, he made a significant name for himself. Harley’s (1966) biography remains the best account of Jefferys’s life and forms the basis of subsequent accounts (e.g., Ristow 1974; Winearls 1996).

Jefferys’s beginnings in the map trade are somewhat confused. Our first record of him is in 1732, when he reworked an existing copper plate for a map. Yet the recently examined records of the Merchant Taylors’ Company indicate that he apprenticed himself as an engraver to the map maker Emmanuel Bowen only in 1735 (Worms 1993, 3). This discrepancy remains unexplained. Thereafter, Jefferys’s career seems to have followed a normal trajectory. He worked as an engraver for a variety of London publishers, as when he engraved twenty maps for Edward Cave’s Gentleman’s Magazine after 1746. He increasingly originated his own projects, although the need for capital required him to enter into partnerships with other engraver/publishers. During this period Jefferys worked in the east end of London, home of the “Hackney scribblers.” The profits from such business eventually allowed him to set up shop for himself. In 1750 Jefferys acquired new and larger premises in the far more reputable district of Charing Cross, midway between the economic center of London and the governmental center of Westminster.

In the same year, he also got married, a sure sign of his economic independence. In 1746, Jefferys received the Court appointment of “geographer” to Frederick, prince of Wales. This translated in 1757 to geographer to George, prince of Wales and later, with George’s accession to the throne in 1760, Jefferys became “geographer to the king.” Too much should not be made of these titles because they signified only the status of a favored tradesman. The titles indicate that Jefferys was seen as a reputable publisher with a sufficiently large collection of maps to fill the prince’s, or king’s, personal needs. They did not represent an official position sanctioned and salaried by the government. Government agencies used a variety of commercial cartographers to publish maps; the Board of Trade and Plantations employed Thomas Kitchin, for example, to engrave and publish John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755) (Harley 1966, 33-37).

We do not actually need to give Jefferys any special government privileges in order to explain his access to source materials. The British government was run in a rather unprofessional manner ~ excepting the agencies of taxation and, perhaps, warfare (Brewer 1988) ~ and did not have strictly regulated flows of information; from the modern perspective, there was much leakage. Since 1688, a growing public demand for information about the condition of the state, driven as much by distrust of the ever-growing government as by the Enlightenment desire for statistics and economic data, had also loosened access to the archives and had led to the expectation that much government information was indeed to be published (Brewer 1990, 221-49). Moreover, in an age when most government positions carried low salaries, it was expected that officials would be able to use the products of their service to their own benefit; many maps made by colonial officials were thus sent to London’s commercial cartographers at the instigation of the original surveyors rather than of the government agencies, although the permission of the latter was usually required. James Cook was able, for example, to publish some of his charts of Newfoundland under his own imprint (Skelton 1965).

The result is that eighteenth-century cartographers like Thomas Jefferys would already have had available to them a wide array of government information even without the benefit of any special access to official archives. What Jefferys’s titles as “geographer to the prince/king” certainly did was to increase his status and business as a geographical publisher; as such, he would have been given first offer by government officials or by individuals of manuscripts to be engraved and published, and his profits would have given him greater opportunity to take advantage of the more publically available materials. Ultimately, “special relationships” would have evolved, as they did between Jefferys and the Board of Trade and Plantations in the 1760s (Harley 1966, 34-37), but such relationships did not translate into any official status or guarantee of business. (There seems after 1770 to have been conscious attempts to restrict the distribution of government information and to establish more formal arrangements for cartographic business; see in part Edney 1994b.)

The dramatic rise in map production and demand occasioned by the Seven Years War (1756-63)—the Anglo-French struggle fought in Europe, North America (as the French and Indian War), South Asia, and across the oceans in between—gave Jefferys’s business a massive boost. The cost of acquiring his source maps was likely low; at worst Jefferys would have had to pay a draftsman for taking a copy of a map or he would have had to give a portion of his profits to the map maker. His costs would have been mostly related to production; Harley has estimated that he employed about twelve draftsmen and engravers in his Charing Cross premises. The profits would likely have been relatively high (Harley 1966, 40).

Demand for maps of North America seems to have dropped off somewhat with the end of the war and the pattern of Jefferys’s cartographic practice changed rapidly. He continued to print maps of the colonies and of foreign territories from his existing plates, but in his new work he emphasized the large-scale surveys of English counties. This was a vital and quite innovative arena of cartographic activity and Jefferys saw it as a new business opportunity. Not only would he receive profits from the sale of such maps, there was also the chance of receiving a prize of £100 offered by the Society of Arts after 1759 for each county survey of sufficient quality (Harley 1963-64; Harley 1965). Such county surveys bore a heavy cost in addition to the expenses of engraving and printing the final maps: good surveyors commanded good wages; expensive instruments had to be bought; the surveyors and their staffs had to be transported, fed, and housed in the field for many months. Harley cites the example of a 1766-69 survey of Northumberland that cost £350; the total cost of Benjamin Donn’s 1765 map of Devon was “nearly £2,000.” Much of these expenses were covered by subscriptions, but the survey’s organizer would still incur a substantial capital outlay. Harley’s evidence also suggests that sales of county maps were high when first published but they quickly dropped off thereafter and did not provide the sort of long-term income generated by smaller-scale chorographic maps. Despite this troubling economic picture, Jefferys embarked on an ambitious plan to survey several counties. Bedfordshire was surveyed and published in 1765; his survey of Nottinghamshire was judged too inaccurate to publish and so was a complete write-off; he attempted surveys of no less than three more counties in 1766. Harley persuasively argues that Jefferys’s bankruptcy in November 1766 was not coincidental. Jefferys quite simply had insufficient capital for his surveys (Harley 1966, 43-44).

His bankruptcy forced Jefferys into a partnership with Robert Sayer, a successful publisher of a diverse range of materials (see Pedley 1986). Sayer provided the capital to reprint many of Jefferys’s existing plates and presumably took the larger share of the profits. Of particular interest here is the publication by “Sayers and Jefferys” of Jefferys’s General Topography (Jefferys 1768a). This put in one volume a large collection of 93 maps and charts in 106 sheets; several of the older maps were updated for this publication, perhaps to enhance sales. After Jefferys died in 1771, Sayer bought up more of Jefferys’s plates and with a new partner, John Bennett, published several new editions of them. Most notable of these publications was the American Atlas of 1775 or 1776 (Jefferys 1775). This was a smaller and more selective collection of North American maps—only 23 maps on 29 plates—than the General Topography had proffered a few years before. Boosted by the American Revolution, the American Atlas was certainly a greater commercial success; it was reprinted in 1776 (i.e., 1777), 1778, and 1782. All the plates were old Jefferys’s stock and the atlas was described on the title page as being by Jefferys. This highly popular work generated the great majority of surviving copies of the Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England, in its third edition (November 1774)

After Jefferys’s death, his son Thomas Jr. (born 1755) tried to continue the business. He seems not to have been successful and, in 1773, he entered into a partnership with William Faden. Faden’s capital stake was probably provided by his father, a very successful printer. The partnership of “Jefferys and Faden” was dissolved in 1776, at which time Faden took sole possession of the Charing Cross property and began to publish under his own name (Harley 1966, 44-47 and 40 n. 61; corrected by Pedley 1996, 162). Faden took advantage of the American Revolution to build up for himself a highly profitable mapping business (Harley 1967). Unlike his former partner’s father, Faden would not squander his profits.

Jefferys and the Mapping of North America

The English had made manuscript maps, charts, and surveys since their earliest settlements in Virginia and New England, but few of these cartographic productions were ever printed (see Boulind 1982). Most, like John Smith’s New England (1616), appeared as part of larger geographical texts; there were only a very few separately published maps, such as those printed on broadsides by William Penn to promote his colony (Black 1978, 115-17). The steady expansion of settlement and of the Atlantic trade led to a sufficient demand to warrant the publication of charts (notably in the English Pilot, The Fourth Book of 1689) and increasingly specialized chorographic maps (see Woodward 1978). This expansion paralleled the general rise of English print culture after Parliament allowed censorship to lapse in 1695 (Kernan 1987, 48-90).

The real spurt in demand for maps of the American colonies came only after 1748 and the realization that the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle’s maintenance of the Anglo-French status quo in North America was only temporary. A more definitive resolution to the conflicting imperial claims was clearly looming and interest in the colonies climbed dramatically. At the same time, the existing maps of the American colonies lacked detail. The cartographic image of New England, for example, might be typified by the small-scale map of John Speed (1676) and the anonymous map in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (Mather 1702). There was a definite demand for large, highly detailed maps of all parts of the colonies.

Jefferys moved to take advantage of the increasing demand for maps of North America. Indeed, two of his maps ~ both compiled by John Green ~ are among the many highly significant maps of the colonies which first appeared in 1755 (Winearls 1996, 33). Once war was officially declared with France in 1756, Jefferys’s output of North American maps increased dramatically. Jefferys took a highly partisan line against the French and their territorial claims in North America. It is unnecessary to argue that he was being paid by the government to produce his cartographic and textual polemics; nor was he cynically meeting a demand created by the political tenor of the day. Rather, Jefferys’s sentiments were part of that political tenor. There were few, if any, dissenters who argued that the French policy of encircling and encroaching on the English colonies in North America did not pose a substantial threat.

First, Jefferys used existing French maps of North America. The critical geography of Guillaume de l’Isle (1675-1726) and his successors ~ Jean Nicolas Bellin (1693-1772), Jean Baptiste d’Anville (1697-1782), and Philippe Buache (1700-1773) ~ had coincided with the great amount of information generated by the French explorations along the interior waterways of North America to produce a number of large, detailed, and highly reputable maps of the continent (Tooley 1985). Jefferys sold many of these maps; he tipped advertisements announcing the availability at his shop of new maps from Paris into two works published in 1755 ([Green] 1755; Washington 1755; see Harley 1966, 37 n. 50, and Pedley 1996, 170 n. 5). More importantly, Jefferys also translated the French maps into English and published them anew (see Winearls 1996; also Pedley 1986). He did not pass off these copies as his own work. Instead, he prominently displayed the identities of their reputable authors, thereby stressing the maps’ accuracy and quality. An example of these maps is Jefferys’s North America From the French of Mr D’Anville (London, May 1755), which was used as the frontispiece to the first (1755) London edition of Douglass (1749-52).

Jefferys did not restrict himself to stealing French maps. His second source of materials for North America were maps already printed either in the colonies, which did not enjoy copyright protection, or even other works printed in London. For example, in 1755, Jefferys directly pirated George Washington’s journal and map of his expedition to the Ohio in 1753 (Harley 1966, 37; Washington 1755).

Third, Jefferys followed the simple expedient of buying existing plates from other cartographers. Thomas Kitchin had in 1756, for example, pirated Lewis Evans’s General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America (Philadelphia, 1755); Jefferys subsequently acquired this plate and reissued under his own name in 1758, against the opposition of Evans’s friend, Thomas Pownall (1949 [1776/84], 10-11; see Klinefelter 1971, 54-57; Ristow 1974, x). Again, Jefferys ~ or perhaps more properly Sayer ~ bought the plates of James Cook’s surveys of Newfoundland, originally published at Cook’s own cost and under his own imprint, and reprinted them in 1769 as part of a large collection of charts of the Canadian maritimes (Jefferys 1769; see Skelton 1965, 22-27, and Skelton & Tooley 1985, 180-81). Those other charts reflect Jefferys’s other sources (Skelton 1965, 27-32).

The fourth, and perhaps largest, set of source materials for Jefferys’s maps of North America were original manuscripts produced in the colonies and sent back to London. Some were sent back to London specifically to be engraved; Harley quotes a colonial advertisement in 1764 for a map that was explicitly to be engraved in London by Jefferys (Harley 1966, 37 n. 53). Most of this category of maps, however, were published by Jefferys as a contractor to different government agencies. For example, the Board of Trade and Plantations in 1750 ordered the colonies to make maps of their territories (in order to get information to be used by John Mitchell for making his 1755 map of North America); Virginia directed Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson to make such a map, which they completed in 1751 and sent back to London; ultimately, the board passed it on to Jefferys to be published and the map eventually appeared in print, probably in 1754. Harley also quotes the board’s records with respect to Jefferys’s printing in 1760 of a map of Halifax harbor (Harley 1966, 35).

Jefferys’s fifth source of publishable maps ~ and pamphlets ~ was in-house: he employed geographers to compile new maps and books which he could then publish. We know today of the identity of only one of these employees, John Green. Green seems to have gone to work for Jefferys at about the same time as Jefferys moved to Charing Cross; we know that he produced three, or perhaps four, maps and three books which appeared under Jefferys’s imprint; he also planned and perhaps constructed other maps which did not appear in print. After Green committed suicide in 1757, Jefferys apparently employed a new geographer, who wrote the Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions (Jefferys 1760). Reviewers of this work did not think it as “perfect” as it might have been, which Harley has interpreted as indicating the lesser qualities of Green’s replacement (Harley 1966, 37; Winearls 1996, 39-41). It might be thought that Jefferys’s employment of critical geographers was part of the sort of ambitious, larger scheme in which Jefferys would later engage when he mapped several English counties. The similarity of the titles of the Fry and Jefferson map (1754) and of the Jefferys-Green map of New England (1755) is suggestive in this regard. Telling against such a supposition is the lack of critical concern displayed by Jefferys in the rest of his cartographic business. Green (1753, 48) had concluded, for example, that the famed voyage by Admiral de Fonte to the northern Pacific was in fact completely fictitious, yet Jefferys continued to publish maps showing the spurious geography of Northwestern America derived from that fiction (e.g., Jefferys 1768b; see Winearls 1996, 45-47). Jefferys’s hiring of Green and his anonymous successor was clearly a business investment. The geographer’s wages constituted an extra cost, but in return Jefferys got a quality product that would only enhance his reputation. From the sorts of maps which we know Green to have worked on, but which were never completed, it does not seem that Jefferys sought to have new maps created so as to provide complete cartographic coverage across all the English territories in North America. Jefferys did not have a larger agenda, such as the advancement of geographical knowledge, other than the generation of profit.