Colonial Williamsburg Acquires Rare 1780 Map

Posted in museums by Editor on May 8, 2019

Press release (7 May 2019) from Colonial Williamsburg:

A Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia…, published by William Faden (1750–1836) after William Gerard De Brahm (1718–ca. 1799) after Thomas Jeffreys (ca. 1710–1771), London, 1780; black and white line engraving with period hand color on laid paper, in two sheets: top sheet 28 × 48 inches, bottom sheet 28 × 48 inches (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Museum Purchase, 2019-59, A&B).

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has recently acquired a very rare copy of A Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia published in 1780 by William Faden based on a 1757 version made by the cartographers William Gerard De Brahm and published by Thomas Jefferys. Although other copies are known to exist, this example, which is in pristine condition with vibrant original color, is the first known to have become available in several decades. The large-scale map (about 4½ feet tall by 4 feet wide) is a significantly revised version of the 1757 document by De Brahm, and when paired with this earlier version of the map (a copy already exists in the Colonial Williamsburg collection) the two maps tell a compelling story. Together they show a visual comparison about the extent to which the South Carolinians and Georgians settled the western frontiers of their colonies during the period between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

“Colonial Williamsburg collects objects such as the Faden map not only for their inherent beauty, but for their intrinsic value as documents of past peoples, places, and events,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator and Vice President for Collections, Conservation, and Museums. “Remarkably well preserved, the Faden map will be used with other cartographic documents and three-dimensional objects to illustrate the movement of cultural groups from the seacoast to the southern backcountry on the eve of the Revolution.”

To best understand why this map is so extraordinary beyond its scarcity, one needs to first understand who made it, how it was originally intended for use and how it came to be revised over time, beginning with the original 1757 version. The story begins with the map’s cartographer, William Gerard De Brahm (1717–1798). Born in southern Germany, he served as a military engineer in the Bavarian army until 1748 and thereafter was expelled from Bavaria for renouncing his Catholic faith in favor of Protestantism. With the encouragement of the Bishop of Augsburg, Samuel Urlsperger, he led a group of 156 German Protestants to settle in the Salzberger community of Ebenezer, Georgia, in 1751. Shortly after his arrival, his skills as a trained surveyor and engineer were recognized in both Georgia and South Carolina, and by 1752 De Brahm was selected by Governor James Glen of South Carolina to design and construct a system of fortifications for Charleston. Two years later, De Brahm was appointed Surveyor General of South Carolina. Realizing that there would be a war with France, the British Board of Trade requested that each colony supply maps of their topographical surveys, the resulting map depicted geography that was vastly superior to any previous map of the region.

De Brahm used his training as an engineer to create a map that aimed to assist colonists in settling the vast wilderness of the region. He meticulously and scientifically represented details, such as settlements, land quality, climate, coastlines, waterways, and the suitability of soil for agricultural growth. The map delineates plantation landscapes belonging to European settlers, while the cartouche depicts the enslaved Africans who would be forced to work the land. Native Americans’ lands in the interior of the Colonies are mentioned sporadically, but much of the map was left blank, suggesting endless possibilities for European settlement. Once all the information was compiled, De Brahm sent the map to the Board of Trade in England, which then approved it and commissioned cartographer, engraver, and map seller Thomas Jeffreys, who served as Geographer to King George III, to publish it. The resulting map, published in London on October 20, 1757 (during the French and Indian War), illustrates the progress as well as the potential of the area.

The second version of the map was published at the height of the Revolution. By 1778, the British had taken Savannah, and in April 1780, once Charleston fell to the British, the focus of the war shifted to the Southern Colonies. Given the contemporary interest in the region, Thomas Jeffreys’s successor, William Faden, altered the 1757 copperplates with updated information on the region, publishing it in June 1780. The revisions were so major that some scholars consider the result to be virtually a new map. This new version included county names, roadways, new place names, and settlements across the entire map, revealing the amount of new information that was gathered over a span of less than 20 years during a time when Britain was focused on expanding and populating its empire in North America and the backcountry of South Carolina was opened up for English settlement. The alterations were largely based on the surveys gathered by John Stuart, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District from the 1760s to his death in 1779. Stuart frequently complained to royal officials in Britain that he lacked accurate maps of the backcountry to conduct his work, which frequently involved boundary disputes between Native Americans and settlers. He provided his findings to the Board of Trade, who, in turn, hired Faden to publish the updated version. The 1780 edition of the map reflects the westward movement of the population.

“De Brahm’s map of South Carolina and Georgia was viewed in the period, as it is today, as a remarkable achievement of eighteenth-century cartography,” said Katie McKinney, Colonial Williamsburg’s assistant curator of maps and prints. “The blank space on the 1757 map is one of its most striking features, which never aimed to detail the backcountry landscape. It makes sense that when looking to publish a map on the region that Faden would use De Brahm’s map as a template to incorporate new information about these Southern colonies. Compared to the earlier version, this map will allow us to better interpret the westward movement of people and objects in the region throughout the eighteenth century.”

The Georgetown Precinct reflects the extensive revisions made to the 1757 map on the 1780 map. The original map primarily illustrated topography and land use as evidenced by the detail, whereas the 1780 map focused on roadways, waterways, landowners and settlement. The 1780 map shows the intricate rivers and streams that made up the Pee Dee River. Georgetown Precinct thrived financially in the eighteenth century as home to some of the wealthiest indigo and rice planting operations in the low country, which relied on the work of enslaved laborers.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg remain open during construction of an entirely donor-funded $41.7 million expansion. Additional information about the Art Museums and Colonial Williamsburg is available online.

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