William Douglass and His Plan


It has long been realized that William Douglass’s Plan of the British Dominions of New England (London, [1753]) was the primary source for Thomas Jefferys’s and John Green’s Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England (London, 1755). Douglass’s map was also used, in part, for Connecticut by Lewis Evans in his landmark General Map of the Middle British Colonies, in America (Philadelphia, 1755), and by Thomas Pownall for New England generally in his 1776 extension of Evans’s map (Pownall 1949 [1776/84], 9 and 18-20). Despite being the “mother” or “type” map for a half-century of mapping of New England ~ and for being the first map to emphasize the region’s distinct, and distinctive, political constitution in towns [i.e., townships] ~ Douglass’s map has received remarkably little attention from cartographic historians.

Douglass’s Plan (1755) – Library of Congress

It is perhaps the map’s extreme rarity that accounts for the manner in which it has been eclipsed by the much more common Jefferys-Green map (Cumming 1974, 34). Indeed, Douglass’s map is today remembered simply as the source for the later map (e.g., De Vorsey 1974; Schwartz & Ehrenberg 1980, 157). Douglass’s plan has been reproduced only once to my knowledge, and then in an almost illegible photograph (Cumming 1980, pl.54), whereas the Jefferys-Green map has been reproduced in at least three full-size facsimiles. The longest treatment to date of Douglass’s map was made by William Cumming (also Cumming 1980, 93-94), who drew mostly from entries in Sabin’s Bibliotheca Americana (Sabin 1868-1936, nos. 20726-28) and from a few comments in Douglass’s own published account of the British colonies in North America (Douglass 1749-52, 2:20-21). Cumming’s essay is quite brief.

One eighteenth-century commentator, at least, would no doubt have thought this historical treatment to be completely unbalanced. Pownall (1949 [1776/84], 9), former governor of Massachusetts Bay, wrote in 1775 that of “New England there has been no new Map published since that by Dr. Douglas[s].” Pownall clearly regarded the Jefferys-Green map, and all its subsequent derivatives, to have been only so many copies of the real source map. I therefore take this opportunity to rescue William Douglass from unfortunate cartographic obscurity by presenting a preliminary account of his geographical work.

Note: Dates such as “20 Feb 1720/21” indicate the difference between the English Old and New Style calendars. It is well known that England changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars in September 1752, thereby “losing” eleven days. Less well known is that the same calendrical reform act of 1750 also changed the legal New Year from March 25 to January 1, as of 1752. (Scotland had made the second change in 1600.) Thus, Douglass actually wrote the date 20 Feb 1720; but from the viewpoint of the New Style calendar, the letter was written in 1721. Any English document dated between January 1 and March 24, 1751, is a fake!

William Douglass (ca.1691-1752)

The circumstances of William Douglass’s life are known primarily from his published works and from his intermittent correspondence in the 1720s with Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776; Stearns 1970, 559-74), a doctor and botanist who was surveyor general and member of the governing council of New York (Colden Papers and Sparks 1854; Stearns 1970, 477-84, superceded Hindle 1956, 48-50). Weaver (1921) provided some information, apparently derived from the records of the Suffolk County probate court, that has apparently not been used by historians since; in a similar manner, Christianson (1982) has mined legal records to give some new information about the character of Douglass’s medical practice.

Douglass was a lowland Scot from near Haddington in Lothian, east of Edinburgh. He was educated first at Edinburgh (MA, 1705) and then in Paris, Leiden, and Utrecht; he received the MD from the University of Utrecht in 1712 (see Brock & Christianson 1982, 126, re dates). The prospect of a friend being appointed governor of Massachusetts Bay induced him to leave his practice in Bristol, then the second-largest city in England, to seek preferment in Boston. (Brock and Christianson 1980, 126, state that he had gone beforehand to Bermuda, but they cite no evidence for this.) Douglass arrived in Boston in 1718, only to find that his friend had not, after all, become governor. He nonetheless decided to stay in Boston. As the only doctor in Boston with a degree, Douglass was able to establish a substantial and lucrative practice. He was quickly able to participate in the purchase of a large tract of New Sherburn township, in Worcester County, in April 1823 (Emerson 1879, 29-30); in 1746, he paid the township’s inhabitants about £900 in cash and land to have the township named after himself (Emerson 1879, 17-19); he paid £650 for the Green Dragon Tavern estate in Boston, in August 1743 (New England Historical and Genealogical Register 44 [1890]: 54); on his death, his real estate was appraised to be worth more than £3,000 (Tuttle 1877).

Several commentators suggest that Douglass did not fit well into Boston society because he was not an Englishman and because he apparently held unorthodox religious views. He was nonetheless a prominent member of the Scots Charitable Society (New England Historical and Genealogical Register 56 [1902]: 189) and he was, on one occasion, a pal bearer together with members of several prominent Puritan families (ibid 16 [1862]: 69). The impression of Douglass’s place in Boston society seems to be related to his opposition to Cotton Mather’s advocacy of inoculation during the smallpox epidemic of 1721/22; Douglass certainly held strong opinions about the members of Boston’s elite, and was not part of the Mather-Dudley circles.

Like many educated men of the time, especially those with aspirations to gentility, Douglass pursued several intellectual activities. He was an early representative of the physicians produced by the Scottish Enlightenment, who would over the following centuries carry their strong interests in natural history around the globe in the service of the British Empire. Once in Boston, Douglass quickly set about collecting plants, making meteorological observations, traveling, and collecting geographical reports. His initial fervor was, however, soon tamed by his professional commitments, most notably caused by the smallpox epidemic of 1721-22. As his practice grew, his travels and botanizing declined and his intellectual pursuits increasingly became more sedentary. He had pretensions as a political economist and expounded at length on the utter evils of paper money; these tracts earned him the sobriquet of the “honest and downright Dr. Douglass” from Adam Smith (quoted by Sabin 1868-1936, no.20728). And, he read widely in history and geography. His geographical and historical interests ultimately manifested themselves in two published projects: a map of New England, the Plan of the British Dominions of New England; and, a rambling account published in two volumes, A Summary, Historical and Political, . . . of the British Settlements in North America (Douglass 1749-52).

Any account of these two projects is necessarily complicated by the fact that the map both pre- and post-dates the book. By the time that he began writing his book, Douglass had already begun, abandoned, and re-begun his map of New England. Douglass thought to incorporate the map into his text, thereby implying that the two works were more coherently linked than simply by a common subject matter. Even so, when the map was posthumously published, probably in 1753, it was once again separated from the Summary.

Douglass’s “Summary . . . of the British Settlements in North America” (1749-52)

Douglass had been taking notes on the “nature and constitution of this Country as a Body Politick” and on other historical, political, and geographical matters almost from the moment he first stepped ashore in Boston in 1718 (Douglass to Colden, 20 Feb 1720/21 [Colden Papers, 1:114-23]). He did not turn to placing these notes in some kind of order and publishing them until the 1740s. The resumption of the wars with the French and their Indian allies seems to have prompted this close look at the entire British colonial edifice in North America, much as it apparently motivated Douglass’s occasional correspondent, Cadwallader Colden of New York, to revise his account of the Iroquois Confederacy (Wroth 1934, 111).

Douglass’s intention was to write an account of all the British colonies in North America from the fifteenth century to his own time. His plan was to provide a general overview of the various European enterprises in the continent both before and simultaneous with the British colonies. This would be followed by detailed accounts of each of the British colonies, from the territories and activities of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the far north to the newly founded (and, to Douglass, misguidedly utopian) colony of Georgia in the south. Lawrence Wroth (1934, 176-77) gave a succinct summary of the Summary’s complex publication history. Douglass’s original plan had been to publish the book in installments, as a series of pamphlets. Douglass completed two batches of pamphlets before his death in October 1752; each batch was later bound to form the two volumes of the Summary. One result of this process was that the title page to the second volume bears the date 1751, even though the work includes a notice of Douglass’s death and was published posthumously. The first volume, published in 1749, contained the general introduction and accounts of the territories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, of Nova Scotia and Arcadia, and of Massachusetts Bay. The second volume continued the enumeration of the colonies, starting with New Hampshire and ending with the half-finished section on Virginia. Despite being incomplete, the two volumes were subsequently reprinted in London, in 1755 and again in 1760.

The form and style of the Summary were determined by its production, and particularly by the manner in which Douglass sent the text to the printer for typesetting almost as soon as it was written. The text thus preserves the immediacy of Douglass’s writing. Changes in the circumstances surrounding Douglass’s writing means that the two volumes are significantly different in character. A note at the very end of the first volume states that Douglass wrote the constituent pamphlets between January 1747 and May 1749; he sent the first three parts to Colden in March and April of 1747 (Colden Papers, 3:367 and 3:375). This origin means that the volume’s division into parts, sections (i.e., chapters), and articles was somewhat inconsistent until the project’s organization finally gelled. Douglass’s style, however, is relatively considered and polished. His many tangential commentaries are placed in footnotes or, if lengthy, in formal “digressions” placed between sections. The volume ends quite suddenly in the midst of a summary of the progress of the then current King George’s War against the French (1744-48, part of the larger War of Austrian Succession). A squabble with the governor of Massachusetts Bay, William Shirley, seems to have diverted Douglass’s attention from writing at this point. (The squabble is perhaps cartographically relevant; see below).

Douglass began writing once again in April 1750, as he made clear in a passage that served both as a “supplement” to volume one and as the introduction to volume two. In comparison with the first volume, the second is quite erratic. It is confused by much repetition; by the need to revisit earlier sections in order to add further information that Douglass had omitted earlier; and, by frequent digressions, especially with respect to paper money, each ending with Douglass excusing himself for his tendency to prolixity. The end of the volume comprises a digression on the subject of inoculation; once again a topical subject because of another outbreak in 1752 of the smallpox. Douglass had objected to the willful application of inoculation during the 1721/22 epidemic; he now recanted his opposition both to the method and to the clergy who had supported it. Ironically, Douglass himself died during this epidemic (but I don’t know whether from the smallpox or not).

Except for those individuals who felt the bite of Douglass’s ad hominem attacks, contemporary writers seem to have approved of the Summary, warts and all (Wroth 1934, 88-90). Later commentators were not so kind. The early biographical sketch by James Thacher was quite prejudiced against Douglass, mostly because of his initial stance against inoculation and for his “loose and unsettled” “notions of religion”; it was of a piece for Thacher to opine that the Summary was “often incorrect in point of fact” and that it “can only be considered as a strange medley of affairs relating to his family, his private squabbles, and public transactions, without judgement or sound discretion” (Thacher 1828, 255-57). Echoes of this assessment are clear in Howes’ (1962, no.436) description, that the Summary is a “vast reservoir of untrustworthy information.” Cumming (1974, 34) was far more charitable ~ he actually read the book ~ but he nonetheless concluded that the Summary was “a collection of valuable notes rather than an organized history of New England.” This would perhaps be the case, were the Summary solely a history rather than an attempt at a comprehensive “account” of the colonies. It was as much a geography and political treatise as it was a history; it was as much an explanation as it was a description. Realizing this point, Wroth (1934, 87-91) provided a very sensitive assessment of the Summary and deftly balanced Douglass’s intemperate character against the qualities and purpose of his writing.

The “Summary” as a Critical Geography

The key to Douglass’s Summary, despite the digressions and his sarcasm, was his attempt to construct a critical account. He objected to the plagiarizing habits of those contemporaries who simply copied previous works. He further objected to the trivializing of history by the inclusion of what he thought as irrelevancies. Douglass expressed himself most strongly right at the start of his discussion of the New England colonies. He opened the first section on a New England province, Massachusetts Bay, with criticism of the previous accounts of New England and of the difficulty in constructing a more rigorous account. He thought his predecessors “too credulous and superstitious”; they were too interested in the “trifling” stories “of every white Man and Indian mutually kill’d or otherways dead” or in ecclesiastical chronology and inappropriate hagiography; they were “in all Respects” and “beyond all Excuse[,] intolerably erroneous.” He accordingly resorted to the provincial archives to correct his account [full quotation]. He also complained both about those “Scribblers and Hackney Writers” who perpetuated the errors of the earliest accounts of the New England colonies and about the confusions and falsifications of the accounts of the European voyages of discovery (Douglass 1749-52, 1:407 and 1:62n).

Douglass justified his opinions in several notes, in which he identified several important works, gave examples of their errors, and wrote scathing criticisms. For example, Cyprian Southack’s “land map” ~ i.e., his New Chart of the English Empire in North America (Boston, 1717, reprinted 1746) ~ was crudely done “but has no other bad Effect, than turning so much Paper to Waste” (see LeGear 1954, 143-44, nos.8 and 20; Wroth 1942, 26-38); by comparison, Southack’s “large Chart of the Coast of Nova Scotia and New England” ~ i.e., his New England Coasting Pilot (Boston, ca.1735) ~ was “one continued Error” and such “a random Performance” that Douglass thought that it should be “destroy’d wherever it is found amongst Sea Charts” (quoted by LeGear 1954, 141, and J. Campbell 1964, 29); Oldmixon, in his British Empire in America (Oldmixon 1708), “generally writes as if copying from some ill-founded temporary News-Paper”; Thomas Salmon, in his Modern History (1725-38; see Sitwell 1993, 496-500) showed himself “to be a Scribbler, and no accurate Historian.” And so on.

Beyond any amusement the modern reader might get from Douglass’s sarcastic, “forthright,” and perhaps slanderous opinions, his description of various “accounts” of New England is significant because of the manner in which he lumped histories together with maps together with natural history. The last might be explained as a product of Douglass’s training as a physician: many physicians of the period cultivated an interest in natural history beyond the requirements of materia medica as a mark of their gentility and social position. (Douglass was explicit on this point, perhaps reacting to Josselyn’s (1672) purpose of outlining the “physical and chyrurgical remedies” used “constantly” by the Native Americas “to cure their distempers, wounds, and sores.”) The linkage between the disciplines of geography and history, on the other hand, reflected the eighteenth-century conflation of the two disciplines (see Edney 1997, 41-46). Douglass found his history necessarily turning into geography:

“I am afraid, that by being so particular in the Description of our Territories or Colonies, I may be found guilty of an Impropriety, in giving the Geography instead of the History; but we must consider, that these Countries, young and dependent, cannot afford many State Revolutions, therefore our History must chiefly consist of Delineations, and of some Accounts of their various Produce and Commerce.” More precisely, Douglass defined the scope of geography in the statement that “The most essential and invariable Things in the Geography of a Country, are its general Position upon the Surface of the Earth as to Latitude and Longitude; the remarkable Mountains and great Hills; the Sea Coast; and the Runs of Rivers and Rivulets from the inland into the Sea.”

Much of his descriptions of the different colonies thus constituted verbal maps. For each colony, he defined its boundaries, paying special attention to any demarcation surveys that had been made of them; he gave a few latitudes and longitudes when known; he listed the counties and towns; he identified the hills and mountain chains; and, he enumerated the various watercourses.

The geographical component of Douglass’s history rested upon his fairly substantial knowledge of cartography and cartographic affairs. He clearly had at his disposal many of the recent European texts on geography and exploration. His critical judgements of various maps appear to reflect an acquaintance with several of the maps of the various British colonies then in circulation, such as Lewis Evans’s 1749 map of the middle colonies. Stearns (1970, 482) noted that he was familiar with Joseph Kellogg’s journal on the Great Lakes, sent by Paul Dudley to the Royal Society. And in the Summary, especially in the introductory overview of North America, Douglass raised several geographical topics: he gave an explanation for the decline in representations of terra australis on charts and maps; he was well-versed in the on-going debates over a North-West Passage; he suggested a river route across the continent, prefiguring Lewis and Clark; he also suggested a decimal system of measures based on the length of the second pendulum; he was a great fan of Edmund Halley’s 1700 chart of magnetic variations and wanted it to be updated regularly, both as a guide to navigation and to guide the determination of colonial boundary lines; and, like any educated person with geographical interests, he appreciated the implications of different methods for determining longitude (respectively Douglass 1749-52, 1:26-72; 1:54-62 and 1:273-87; 1:55-56; 1:219-20n; 1:260-72; 1:142n and 1:262).

But Douglass’s cartographic expertise should not be overstated. He was not so well acquainted with the latest scientific advances as to be able to appreciate the subtleties involved, for example, in the measurement of a geodetic arc in Sweden by members of the French Academy of Sciences in the 1730s. He was amazed that two parties could separately measure a baseline of well over eight miles in length, and yet differ by only four inches; he attributed the claim to “Romantick Exactness” and to exaggerated Gallic pretensions (Douglass 1749-52, 1:49-50n, also 1:262n). Another example of the problematic character of his knowledge concerned John Smith’s famous map of New England (1616). Douglass knew that the name “New England” originated with that map, but he also stated that the map encompassed the coast between the St. Croix and Hudson rivers, which is to say the area claimed as New England by the British in the 1740s (Douglass 1749-52, 1:365 and 1:374). Smith’s map actually delineated the coast only between Penobscot Bay and Cape Cod.

Overall, Douglass comes across as one of the several cartographically and geographically literate participants in North America’s Enlightenment. These were the people who provide the other side of map making; these were the map consumers. What made Douglass different ~ what made him one of a select few ~ was the strength of his opinions and of his pretensions to geographical and historical knowledge that made him write down and then publish his ideas (refer Edney 1994a). Is it any wonder that Douglass should have created his own map of New England?

Douglass’s “Plan of the British Dominions of New England” ([1755])

Douglass’s map covers what is today known as southern New England ~ Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island ~ together with the adjoining parts of New Hampshire and the southern tip of Maine. An inset shows Casco Bay and the lower Kennebec River in Maine. Douglass might have been induced not to encompass the territory of Sagadahoc, east of the Kennebec, not only because of the lack of English settlement there, but also because the territory’s uncertain political status effectively placed it outside New England proper (Douglass 1749-52, 1:382-85). To the west, the map shows parts of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. In content, it is mostly a map of colony and town boundaries; meeting houses are shown prominently, but there are no roads and very few towns. The dominant physical features are the coastline (of course) and the rivers; only a few, “remarkable Mountains” were shown rather than chains of hills (Pownall 1949 [1776/84], 9). As will be explained below, the preponderance of boundaries is very much a product of the sources used.

The map is known only in printed form. Unlike most large English-language maps published in the mid-eighteenth century, it is not particularly revealing about its origins. In particular, it lacks the standard phrase ~ published “according to Act of Parliament” on such a date, by this person, and (perhaps) at that location ~ by which English print and map publishers had claimed copyright since the extension in 1734/35 of Queen Anne’s 1714 copyright act to encompass prints and maps as well as books. (But note that neither act covered works produced in Ireland or the American colonies; Hunter 1987.) What the map does have is the statement, “Published by the Executors of Dr. William Douglas [sic] of Boston in New England, from his Original Draught. Engraved by R. W. Seale.” This information provides clues that allow some knowledge of the place and date of publication. This is particularly the case when it is realized that Douglass actually died intestate. The probate court appointed an administrator for the estate ~ John Erving, a merchant and member of the Massachusetts Council ~ until Douglass’s nephew and heir, Cornelius, arrived from Edinburgh to take up the estate in August 1753 (Tuttle 1877).

Seale was a London engraver whose name appears on several maps, starting with Henry Popple’s huge, twenty-sheet Map of the British Empire in North America (London, 1733) and ending in the 1760s (Tooley 1979, 572-73). That Seale engraved the map indicates that the map was published in London rather than in Boston. Although a few maps were printed from copper plates in Boston and Philadelphia during the colonial era ~ the first known being Southack’s map of 1717 (refer Wheat & Brun 1978) ~ the normal practice was for London publishers to engrave and print American manuscripts. Although not stated, the date of the map’s publication is fairly certain. Most references, starting with the printed map catalog of the British Museum [now Library] in 1885, state that the map was published in 1753. The reasoning is presumably that if Douglass’s executors sent the map to London shortly after his death in October 1752, and allowing for transportation and engraving, it would not have been printed until 1753. Sellers and Van Ee (1981, no.796) are a bit more cautious and add a question mark to that date. This dating is rather open-ended, but some certainty is provided by newly realized information that control of Douglass’s estate by an executor/administrator ended in August 1753; were the map produced in 1754 or later, it would not have borne the note referring to Douglass’s executors. (There always remains the possibility that the map was engraved in 1753 but published thereafter, without the note having been first removed.) I therefore give the date as [1753], indicating that it is deduced and fairly certain.

Update: subsequent research indicates that Douglass’s Plan was actually published, in London, in mid-1755. See Matthew H. Edney, “New England Mapped: The Creation of a Colonial Territory,” in La cartografia europea tra primo Rinascimento e fine dell’Illuminismo: Atti del Convegno internazionale «The Making of European Cartography», Firenze BNCF-IUE, 13-15 dicembre 2001, ed. Diogo Ramada Curto, Angelo Cattaneo, and André Ferrand de Almeida (Florence: Leo S. Olshki Editore, 2003), 155-76.

Douglass’s First, Failed Attempt at Making a Map, 1724-1728

The posthumous publication of the map, and its ties to the Summary, should not draw attention away from its early beginnings. In what is only in part genteel self-deprecation, Douglass noted in the first volume of the Summary that he had made the map in his “Amusement Hours.” It had, he stated, taken him “many Years” and “considerable” expense to collect the various source materials and to compile them into the map.

Just how long Douglass had been working on the map is made clear in his surviving correspondence with Cadwallader Colden, then surveyor general of New York. Colden had wanted to make a large map of the colonies. Colden recollected this plan in 1756, when the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, the earl of Loudoun, requested just such a map from him right at the start of the French and Indian War (a.k.a., Seven Years War, 1756-63). He “was once so vain,” Colden wrote to Loudoun’s aide-de-camp, “as to entertain hopes of obtaining encouragement from the Crown to form a general Map of the Northern Colonies.” He had used his own money to collect materials from the circle of his “acquaintance” in other colonies. But government money had been unforthcoming and he had abandoned the project. He reiterated all the worthwhile reasons why such a map should have been supported by the government for the purposes both of the civilian governments and of the military. Colden ended his near-diatribe with a rather snide comment: “I mention these things that my Lord Loudoun may not think that it is from negligence or indolence in my office that I am not able to answer his Lordships expectations” (Colden to Capt. James Cunningham, 6 Dec 1756 [Colden Papers, 4:100-3]; see Kraus 1928, 174-75; also Colden to Peter Collinson, draft of Mar-Apr 1740/41 [Colden Papers, 2:208-11]).*

Colden did not specify in this letter just when he had tried to make this map, but I think it probable that it would have been in the early 1720s. In September 1724, Douglass wrote in answer to Colden’s request that Douglass “contribute towards” a “correct Map of N. America” by sending Colden “a good Map of the Provinces of N[ew] Engl[and].” Douglass was unable to oblige Colden. All of the extant maps, he wrote, were “intolerably and greatly erroneous.” On the other hand, Douglass could provide Colden with “some hints” which would allow Colden to correct existing maps. In particular, Douglass informed Colden of the differences between the colonial boundaries defined de jure in various charters and the de facto lines produced by “consent” between the colonies. He could supply Colden with details of the settlements over the boundaries, togther with a survey of the Merrimack River, which together would go a long way to solving Colden’s needs.

Douglass did note two more general cartographic works then in progress, but neither were available for Colden’s use. Douglass thought highly of a chart prepared by a Captain Durel of the coast from Boston to Cape Breton, but this was unavailable because Durel “designs to make a present of it at home,” so that it was “not proper” for Douglass “to desire a Copy of it here.” (Douglass probably referred to Capt. Thomas Durell, RN, who has left a 1736 chart of the Maritimes: Penfold 1974, no.1078, also no.1167.) The second project was by Paul Dudley (FRS, 1675-1751; Stearns 1970, 455-72) but it was unavailable because, Douglass thought, Dudley wanted to get all the credit for the work: “Dudley . . . has for some years been hammering out a Map of this Country, but I fancy it will not make its appearance yet a while[. H]e pretends to be a sort of Virtuoso therefor [he] communicates nothing freely to a friend least he should be prevented in the reputation of being the Author” (Douglass to Colden, 14 Sep 1724 [Colden Papers, 1:164-67]).

In 1724, Douglass was not himself engaged in making a map of New England, although he had collected some geographical materials. The spur to his embarking on the map would seem to have been Colden’s request for information. Douglass seems to have quickly made some sort of map, because in a letter three years later he implied that he had previously sent the first part of a map of New England to Colden. But he was having difficulty in finishing the work: “The other part of the map of New-England which I promised some time ago, I cannot finish to my own satisfaction; it may be advisable for you to undertake that part of Connecticut which is adjacent to New-York (we having little or no communication with them) and transmit to me, the better to enable me to comply with my promise” (Douglass to Colden, 18 Mar 1727/28 [Colden Papers, 1:249-53]). The implication is that the lack of survey data prevented Douglass from completing his map. This situation would not be resolved for several years. It would seem that Douglass kept collecting materials, and kept updating his map, through the 1730s and 1740s, until it achieved its final form sometime before 1750. Certainly, Douglass took care to update his map with the town of “Douglass” as it was known after 1746.

What purpose would Douglass have had in producing his map, other than for his personal “amusement,” for his undeniable vanity, or for Colden’s benefit? A clue is provided both by the dedication of the published map to the General Assemblies of the four New England colonies and by a repeated hint in the Summary. Realizing that he did not have to go into extraordinary detail in his description of the geography of the province of Maine because he had a map at hand that would serve the purpose, Douglass further hinted at another motivation in making the map. He wanted to publish his map and distribute it ~ free ~ to all the local governments in New England. The map, he wrote, “is a free Gift, for a publick Benefit to the Provinces of New-England, each Township or District is to have a Copy gratis, to be lodged in the Town Clerk’s Office.” He repeated this statement in the introduction to the second volume. Whether Douglass intended this public-spirited gesture of the 1740s even when he first began to compile the map in the 1720s is uncertain, but it is certainly possible.

* Sparks (1854, 185-88) misread the date of this letter as 1729.

The Sources, Construction, and Character of Douglass’s Plan

As published, Douglass’s map is a rather strange hybrid of the two dominant modes of terrestrial mapping in the early eighteenth century: topography and chorography (refer Edney 1993). Topography, the mode of land surveys made at scales larger than approximately 1:100,000, featured the direct observation and measurement of land, most commonly for determining boundaries. Chorography, the mode of regional and global mapping at scales smaller than approximately 1:1,000,000, entailed the graphic compilation and reconciliation of many different sources within a “graticule” of parallels (lines of latitude) and meridians (lines of longitude), guided by knowing the latitude and longitude of a few places.

Douglass constructed his map at the nominal scale of five miles to an inch, or 1:316,8000; that is, his map was made at a “medium scale.” Eighteenth-century medium-scale maps were usually made by intensifying the role of the graticule: extensive surveys ~ usually carried out as a series of traverses along roads, rivers, and boundaries ~ were fitted into the map’s framework of latitude and longitude. This was the case whether the one group of surveyors planned and executed all the work, from astronomical observations to drafting maps (as in Samuel Holland’s and Gerard de Brahms’s regional surveys after 1763), or if a cartographer in London brought together many different sources of data into one map.

An alternative that was increasingly common in Europe by the middle of the century was to use a complex triangulation to control highly detailed surveys; triangulation does not seem to have been used in the American colonies (see Edney 1997, 85-112). Douglass’s map is remarkable because he made his map from many sources but he did not do so according to the established techniques of either small- or medium-scale chorographic mapping. It is not that he did not understand or was unaware of the technique. In his September 1724 letter to Colden, Douglass revealed his knowledge of how regional maps were made: “I presume the most natural easy and exact method of beginning a draught or Map is by first laying down some certain fixed points accurately determined as Lat[itude] and Longitude, and the other principal parts laid down according to their exact distances and bearings from these invariable points will prevent any gross mistake.” Although Douglass did not mention drawing the projection graticule ~ a topic which had so engrossed Green, that it might be construed the only component of chorographic map making ~ the “laying down” of the “fixed points” would necessitate the construction of a graticule.

Instead, it would seem that Douglass lacked sufficient control points to control the compilation of multiple sources. He had just one well-determined location: Boston. Douglass might have extended his map to the west and south (as Green would do in 1755), so as to encompass New York, whose latitude and longitude Colden had determined in 1723-24 (Douglass to Colden, 14 Sep 1724 [Colden Papers, 1:164-67]). But to take advantage of this second control point, Douglass would have had to have had geographical data that linked New York with Boston. And, certainly in September 1724, it would seem that Douglass had little data for the Connecticut/New York region. Perhaps a continued lack of data for southern New York (even as new data became available for Connecticut) prevented him from using New York. Another possibility it that he failed to update the frame of his map even as new data became available in the 1730s and 1740s.

Whatever the reason, Douglass constructed his map as a giant survey plan. This was a unique situation because of the manner in which traditional surveying techniques, which were applied only to small areas, rested on the assumption that the earth is flat. For extensive surveys, the plane of the survey diverges from the curved surface of the earth causing substantial errors. John Green had accordingly cautioned in 1717 that the basic techniques of plane surveying should be used “only for representing the smallest Portions of the Earth, as a Town-Land, Territory, County, or Province, but never to extend to a Kingdom” (Green 1717, 84-85). Southern New England is just too large an area for a single, plane survey. Yet Douglass constructed what looks like one. There is no graticule, not even a superimposed, fake graticule of the kind imposed by English makers of county maps later in the eighteenth century (see Laxton 1976). Nor did Douglass attempt to correct the map’s orientation: he left it oriented to magnetic north, just as if it were indeed a large-scale map of a grant of land produced by a single survey.

The “surveyed” character of the map is further proclaimed by the note that directly follows the title: “Boston lies in Latitude 42 D. 25 M. north, Longitude from London 71 D. 30 M. west. The Plan is suited to the Compass or Magnetic Needle at a Medium of 8 D. 30 M. west Variation. The Scale is 5 English Mile[s] (whereof 69 to one Degree of Latitude) to one Inch. From these Positions the Latitude, Longitude and Distance are easily found.” This note hints at the manner in which a geographer might measure distances and directions off the map, and then calculate the latitudes and longitudes of any place on the map. But Douglass had not himself done so: his map is thus set up as a single survey, as the product of coherent observation.

The map’s image as having been derived from a single survey is belied by Douglass’s admissions in his Summary. He had indeed followed a critical process of compiling and reconciling multiple, reputable sources. He had gone back to, and selected from, “the actual Surveys (as upon Record) of each Township and District in the four Colonies of New-England.” He subsequently expanded on this statement: the map, he wrote, was “founded upon a chorographical Plan, composed from actual Surveys of the Lines or Boundaries with the neighbouring Colonies, and from the Plans of the several Townships and Districts copied from the Records, with the Writer[‘]s Perambulations.” Douglass had made some of his travels through the state specifically “upon account of his Chorography” (Douglass 1749-52, 2:21n). It is impossible to reconstruct these without a journal, so I will not dwell on them further.

The position of Boston had been fixed by Thomas Robie of Harvard College (FRS, 1689-1729; Stearns 1970, 426-35 and 482). Robie had determined the latitude of Cambridge to be 42o24′ north; Douglass therefore took Boston to be 42o25′ north.

Longitude was, of course, a different matter. Robie observed a lunar eclipse on March 15, 1716/17; Jacques Cassini (Cassini II) and Phillipe de la Hire had observed the same eclipse from the Paris Observatory and had published their results. Both observations had included the local time of the eclipse, giving a difference in time of 4h 55m 40s; taking off the 9m 40s difference between Paris and London, and another 3 seconds of time for the difference between Cambridge and Boston, placed Boston 4h 45m 57s, or 7129′ west of London. (Douglass subsequently rounded the longitude to 7130’ west of London.) Douglass was very satisfied with this value for Boston’s longitude because it had been derived from simultaneous observations, which were always to be preferred over the use of tables and calculations (Douglass to Colden, 14 Sep 1724 [Colden Papers, 1:164-67]; Douglass 1749-52, 1:109n and 1:425-26).

Douglass did not refer on his map to any of the surveys which he had used. He did, however, mention several surveys in his Summary which probably provided at least some of his detailed source material. He gave a few examples of “some actual Surveys of Extents” made in Massachusetts Bay colony “which ought not to be lost in Oblivion.” One of these was of the distance and bearing—41½ miles, W16N (magnetic)—between Groton and Northfield meeting houses “as surveyed by Col. Stoddard, Major Fulham, and Mr. Dwight, by Order of the General Assembly” (Douglass 1749-52, 1:425n). Elsewhere, Douglass (1749-52, 2:53-54) referred to the “frequent Surveys of New Townships” made in New Hampshire “some Years since” by “Col. William Dudley” [i.e., David Dunbar].* Douglass could also draw on a standing tradition of town surveys in Massachusetts Bay; the old colony’s General Court passed a law in 1641 “requiring that every new town . . . have its bounds surveyed and recorded within a year after its grant had been made” (Benes 1981, 36). Douglass was well aware that “considerable alterations” had been made to the original towns by their being subsequently divided, dismembered, and united (Douglass to Colden, 14 Sep 1724 [Colden Papers, 1:164-67]). Even so, most of those alterations would have been accompanied by new town surveys, providing a substantial archive of town maps for Douglass to have used. Thus, his verbal description of the seventeen towns laid out in Maine by the later 1740s match the seventeen towns on the map (Douglass 1749-52, 1:389, also 1:244n); similarly, Douglass’s comments in the Summary match the representation of the “double line of Towns” running between the Connecticut and Merrimac rivers in New Hampshire as a “Barrier against the Indians” (Douglass 1749-52, 1:424n, also 1:505-6). Finally, Douglass mentioned the 1737 “provincial survey” ~ no longer extant (Thompson 1940, no.14; Cumming 1974, 26) ~ by Gardner and Kellogg that delineated the line of the Connecticut river and the adjoining towns, although he did so in the context of Massachusetts rather than Connecticut, which was the primary focus of the survey (Douglass 1749-52, 1:459; see Pownall 1949 [1776/84], 18).

In fitting all these surveys together ~ in graphically eliding the inevitable gores (lacunae) and overlaps between towns ~ Douglass relied on the various surveys of the boundaries between the colonies to provide geographic control. At the start of each section on a colony, Douglass gave a minute description of the various determinations and negotiations over each of the colony’s boundary lines. He also gave verbal descriptions of the course of each line. The boundaries of Massachusetts ~ both the main colony and its eastern province of Maine ~ with New Hampshire were determined in 1737 and 1741. (Colden served as an impartial commissioner for the earlier demarcation: Colden Papers, 2:172-75; see S Green 1891, 18-22.) Massachusetts Bay does not seem to have taken part in the 1737 adjudication, and appealed to the Crown in 1739, leading to the second round of surveys in 1741. The line between Maine and New Hampshire was run by Walter Bryent (or Bryant) after Massachusett’s appeal in 1737; Bryent demarcated the line along the Piscataqua river and its tributaries, and then ran 30 of the 70 miles of rectilinear border due north before the spring thaw “rendered the further Survey Progress impracticable” (Douglass 1749-52, 1:387-88; see Penfold 1974, no.2564). The southern boundary between Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire entailed two surveys (Douglass 1749-52, 1:415-17 and 1:422-25). George Mitchell ran the line three miles north of the Merrimack River, until the river turned north (Penfold 1974, nos.2561-65; Benes 1981, 34; Cobb 1981, nos.17-20); from there, Harvard graduate Richard Hazzen (or Hazen) ran the rectilinear border westwards to New York (Hazzen 1879 [1741]; Penfold 1974, no.2501; Garvin 1982, 57-58 and fig.2). The boundaries between Massachusetts Bay and the smaller colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut present a far more complex history with numerous adjustments and compromises, but Douglass was quite conversant with the geographical lines (Douglass 1749-52, 2:90-93, 2:102-3, 2:160-61). Douglass also seems to have employed the old boundary between the Plymouth and old Massachusetts Bay colonies (before they were united in 1691) to brace the geometry of Massachusetts (Douglass 1749-52, 1:397-401). Lewis Evans thought that Douglass’s verbal descriptions of these boundary lines were good enough to guide his own maps: “I have been assisted in drawing the EASTERN COLONIES now States by Memorials, preserved in Douglas’s Summary, of the Colony Lines, as actually run . . .” (quoted by Pownall 1949 [1776/84], 18).

Within the framework formed by these boundary lines, Douglass lay down his various town and road surveys to make his map. Douglass evidently took great care in constructing that framework. He went on at length in his Summary about the need to keep track of “the continued irregular [and] progressive Variations” of the magnetic needle. In a short digression ~ which he admitted was a “utopian Amusement” ~ Douglass speculated on the need to define the boundary lines with respect to true north. He later described at length the problems caused when surveyors did not take into account changes in magnetic variation over time, producing many gores between townships and colonies (Douglass 1749-52, 1:246 and 1:260-72). The comment in his map’s title cartouche that the “Plan is suited to the Compass or Magnetic Needle at a Medium of 8 D. 30 M. west Variation” indicates Douglass’s attempts to reduce more than five decades of surveys to a common magnetic regime.

It might be expected that Douglass would have taken his coastline from a current navigational chart but he seems not to have done so. The only charts he mentioned in the Summary were those by Southack, which he utterly derided (above), and those in the Atlas maritimus et commercialis (London, 1728), which were merely faulty (below). Douglass’s coastline is, in fact, rather crude. The islands between Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard are all misplaced. The mainland coast is remarkably featureless. For example, Falmouth Neck, in Casco Bay, appears as a smooth stretch of coast. These points ~ together with the map’s structure as a giant land survey rather than a small-scale, graticule-constructed regional map ~ led me to believe that Douglass constructed his coastline from the town maps and that he did not try to fit the many land maps to another set of geographic data.

The final issue with respect to Douglass’s construction of the map is the statement of scale in the title cartouche. It was standard practice in the mid-eighteenth century to relate the many different linear units then in use to a standard unit, specifically the length of one degree of longitude at the equator. Geographical, modern “nautical,” miles were defined as being one minute of longitude, or “60 to a degree.” Statute miles were usually taken as “69½ to a degree.” Douglass’s map, however, specifies, only “69 to one Degree of Latitude.” Whether this was a typographic error on the part of the engraver, and what the significance is of the reference to degrees of latitude, requires more research.

* I have found no sources that mention survey work in New Hampshire by a William Dudley; Douglass probably meant Col. David Dunbar, surveyor general of woods, as he made the reference while describing the kinds of trees found in New Hampshire. Penfold (1974, no.2462) is a map of Pemaquid by Dunbar, Sep 1730, and no.2555 is a general map of southeastern New Hampshire by Dunbar, May 1730. See also Cobb (1981, no.16). 

The Summary and the Plan’s Publication

In the introduction to the second volume of the Summary, Douglass stated that he wanted to annex to his text some maps of the various British colonies. By doing so he would, he wrote, “render this History as compleat as may at present be expected.” He thought three maps would suffice, one each for New England, the middle colonies, and the Carolinas. For the middle colonies he intended to use Lewis Evans’s A Map of Pensilvania, New-Jersey, New-York, and the Three Delaware Counties (Philadelphia, 1749). For the Carolinas, Douglass wanted to use Edward Mosely’s A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina (London, 1733); he accepted that, at a time when there was still little inland settlement in that region, Mosely’s delineation of the interior was unavoidably “Random.”

Douglass did not, however, think that he could use any of the existing maps of New England for the third map. I have already quoted his very low opinion of the maps published by Cyprian Southack in Boston around 1720; Douglass also derided the map in Cotton Mather’s (1702) Magnalia Christi Americana as “silly” and as “a very erroneous antiquated Map” (quoted by Cumming 1974, 34). Nor was Douglass particularly impressed by the general charts of the American coast ~ none specifically of New England ~ in the Atlas maritimus et commercialis by (probably) John Harris, John Senex, and Henry Wilson (London, 1728; see Philips 1909-20, 3: no.3298). Douglass did not criticize any other maps of New England, but I find it hard to imagine that he could approve of the relatively low level of detail on any of the extensive Jansson-Visscher series of maps that had predominated during the seventeenth century (T. Campbell 1985; see Schmidt 1997).

Douglass accordingly proposed the use of his own map, on which he had been working since the 1720s. Douglass’s fortuitous appropriation of the map for the Summary should not divert attention away from his prior plans to publish the map on behalf of New England’s various town and colonial governments as a public “benefaction.” Nor should it be taken as presuming that the map was actually published in conjunction with the Summary. The certainty of his statement ~ “I have annexed some Maps” ~ might be taken to imply that he had annexed the maps to the manuscript he gave to the printers. It more probably points to the future and the prospect of a finished Summary, to which Douglass wanted such maps affixed. This is indicated by two points. First, in the note to this passage, Douglass wrote, “when this Plan is printed,” thereby placing the eventuality into the future. Second, Douglass would have annexed Mosely’s map of the Carolinas to the last section of the book, which he had yet to write. His past tense is thus rhetorically anticipatory; it makes sense only from the vantage of a complete, finished book. But Douglass died before completing that project. It is clear that Douglass and his printers n Boston did not get around to the actual incorporation of any of these maps into the Summary.

Some confusion has been created by the introduction of general maps of eastern North America into the two London editions of the Summary, in 1755 and 1760. Set opposite to the titlepage of the 1755 edition was a map that Jefferys had produced to show the relation of the English and French colonies to the territories between the Appalachians and the Mississippi: North America from the French of Mr. D’Anville improved with the Back Settlements of Virginia and Course of Ohio (London, 1755). Those territories were the focus of a dispute between the English and the French that was rapidly building up to another war. The reprinting of the Summary ~ one of the most comprehensive works then available on the colonies, with the added bonus of its highly partial, English perspective ~ was probably made to meet the demand for information occasioned by the dispute. The 1760 edition, by the firm of R. and J. Dodsley, was accompanied by John Huske’s Map of North America, also published in London in 1755. This map was originally made to accompany the second volume of Huske’s Present State of North-America (London, 1755), which Dodsley had planned to publish but which never saw the light of day; Wroth (1934, 132-42) convincingly argued that Dodsley used the opportunity of his reprinting of the Summary to use up his stock of the map.

The source of confusion seems to have been the binder’s instructions placed at the end of the table of contents in the 1755 edition, “Place the Map to Face the Title of Vol.1”; this does not specify which map was to be tipped into the Summary. It is perhaps natural to expect it to have been Douglass’s map of New England, especially given Douglass’s clear statement in the second volume that he had annexed three maps. Sabin certainly seems to have thought so when he wrote that “no copy” of the 1755 edition “has yet been found, in its original state, with the map” (Sabin 1868-1936, no.20727). But as Wroth (1934, 176-77) pointed out, several copies of both London editions have their respective general maps. This conclusion only reinforces the conviction that when published, Douglass’s map was not intended to accompany the Summary.

There is also some uncertainty about why Douglass’s executors went ahead and published the map. In their biography of Dr. John Mitchell, the Berkeleys cite a contemporary assessment of John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (London, 1755). Richard Jackson, in London, had acquired a copy of that famous map about three weeks before it was formally published and he had sent it to Jared Eliot in Connecticut, with a cover letter dated 16 February 1755. Jackson’s praise for that map, while effusive, was not total: “Yet you will not find it perhaps quite so perfect in New England as ye author wd. [i.e., would] have made it had he been able to have got a sight of Dr. Douglas’s [sic] Map of that Country; which ye Doctors Directions in his will preventing his seeing” (Quoted by Carrier 1921, 207; Berkeley & Berkeley 1974, 204). If Jackson was correct, then Douglass left instructions in his will for the map not to be published. That the executors then went ahead and published the map certainly calls for more research. Yet the indications are that Douglass died intestate (Tuttle 1877) and so Jackson’s reference to a will was incorrect.

The final point to be addressed is how Douglass’s map was superseded by the Jefferys-Green derivative. Cumming (1974, 91 n. 36) was uncertain whether Jefferys and Green had simply pirated the map, or whether they had somehow bought the rights to it. A few years later, however, he stated categorically that “the trustees of [Douglass’s] estate sold it to Thomas Jefferys.” Cumming did not provide any new evidence to explain this newfound certainty (Cumming 1980, 94; repeated by Benes 1981, 15-16). I am unsure just what the situation might have been. In a further letter to Eliot in August 1755, Jackson suggested that Douglass’s map was “ingraved in London and sent over to Boston” (quoted by Carrier 1921, 207). Jackson, who seems to have been somewhat knowledgeable about cartographic affairs, implies that the map was printed and circulated independently of any other cartographer.

On the other hand, the lack of a copyright statement is puzzling. Without one, the printer set up Douglass’s executors to be ripped off by any of the many London cartographers. A substantial part of the mid-eighteenth-century trade in small-scale maps comprised the production and sale of copies of other people’s maps. Maps made in America were particularly vulnerable. It is almost as if Douglass’s executors had made the map solely to be distributed in the colonies. Whatever the nature of the relationship, it cannot be denied that Douglass’s map was used by both John Green as the primary source for the Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England and by Lewis Evans and Thomas Pownell for the New England portions of their maps of the eastern seaboard. These points are addressed in a separate document on Green’s construction of his own map.

Douglass vs. Governor Shirley: A Contest over Mapping?

A tangential point, but one which potentially represents an intriguing cartographic episode in the colonial boundary disputes, is the explanation for Douglass’s hiatus from working on his Summary of just under a year, from May 1749 to April 1750. The cause of this hiatus was the absorption of Douglass’s energies in a conflict with William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts Bay. But what caused that conflict? Douglass refers to it several times in the second volume, but he does not explain it. At one point the printer has substituted a series of asterisks for a sentence whose context suggests that it would otherwise have contained a clear statement of the squabble.

Two reasons suggest themselves for the conflict. The first reason is based on the timing of Douglass’s break in writing ~ May 1749 ~ and the subject that he was narrating at the time, specifically the history of the ongoing war with the French. In picking up work again, almost the first thing that Douglass wrote about was the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (October 7, 1748) that had concluded the war. The treaty had been announced in Boston on May 10, 1749 (Douglass 1749-52, 2:2), just about the time when Douglass brought his first volume to a sudden close. Douglass was not particularly happy with the treaty. In fact he was highly critical of the prosecution of the war and of the treatment of the American colonies in previous Anglo-French peace treaties. One of his first biographers was quite incorrect about the substance of his opinions on these matters, but the biographer did record that Douglass had been very forceful in arguing against the government (Thacher 1828, 256-57).

The alternative, cartographic reason for Douglass’s squabble with Shirley is supported by uncensored comments in the Summary. Douglass segued from describing his plans for distributing his map into the governor’s opposition, certainly implying that Shirley’s opposition related to those same plans: “when this Plan is printed, the Author as a Benefaction gives gratis to every Township and District, a Copper Plate Copy; as the Writer of the Summary had impartially narrated the Management of the late G[overnor] which could not bear the Light; to check the Credit of the Author, the G[overnor] endeavoured (as shall be accounted for) to divert, impede, or defeat this publick generous spirited Amusement, but in vain.”

There is probably more to this apparent attempt at cartographic censorship than simple spite on Shirley’s part. Douglass later intimated that the squabble related to the issue of representation in the General Assembly of those towns divided by the province’s northern boundary with New Hampshire, as determined in 1741 (Douglass 1749-52, 2:74-75; S Green 1891, 20-21). Massachusetts Bay was only a reluctant partner in this determination and does not seem to have regarded it as being final. Douglass nonetheless described New Hampshire’s laying out of the boundary line as being both definitive and legitimate (Douglass 1749-52, 1:422-24), and he prominently delineated that boundary line in his map. It is feasible that Shirley would have objected to the public distribution of a map that looked ~ that was ~ so authoritative and original in its delineation of town and colony boundaries and that might be taken as legitimating the colony’s border with New Hampshire.

The solution to this puzzle, like so much else about Douglass’s geographical work, must await the unearthing and analysis of new materials, such as the papers of the administrator of Douglass’s estate, John Erving, and other relevant correspondence by Douglass.