The American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750-1789
The American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750-1789 represents an important historical record of the mapping of North America and the Caribbean. The maps and charts in this online collection number well over two thousand different items, with easily as many or more unnumbered duplicates, many with distance colorations and annotations. Almost six hundred maps are original manuscript drawings from famous mapmakers of the period, three of the best eighteenth-century map publishers in London, and other personal collections.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Colonial Settlement, 1492-1763
- The American Revolution, 1763-1783
Related Collections and Exhibits
These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.
- An American Time Capsule
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, 1774-1873
- Continental Congress and Constitutional Conventions, 1774-1789
- George Washington Papers, 1741-1799
- Map Collections, 1500-2003
- Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1827
- Words & Deeds in American History
Recommended additional sources of information.
There are currently no other resources for this collection
Specific guidance for searching this collection.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
The American Revolution and Its Era represents an important historical record of the mapping of North America and the Caribbean. The collection includes more than 2,000 different maps and charts (plus many duplicates). Many of the maps were produced by the most famous cartographers and map publishers of the time. The special feature Mapping the American Revolution and Its Era provides useful background on the events that provides useful background on the events that created a demand for maps in the 18th century, as well as the technological advances that contributed to improvements in the accuracy of maps.
The American Revolution and Its Era comprises historical maps which provide teachers and students with primary sources with which they are likely to have had little experience. As such, the collection's maps provide new windows through which to view — and to better understand — the late colonial period and the revolutionary period in U.S. history. Grappling with these maps can increase interest in and comprehension of various topics in the historical eras represented in the collections.
Topics related to colonial America that can be explored using the collection include European claims in North America, the location of Native American tribes, and the stationing of British troops in the colonies. A number of Revolutionary War battles are particularly well documented in the collection's maps; these include battles at Bunker Hill, White Plains, Trenton and Princeton, Philadelphia, Saratoga, and Yorktown. The terms of the Peace of Paris can also be explored via maps in The American Revolution and Its Era.
Colonial Claims by European Nations
Before the mid-18th century, the poor quality of available maps concerning North America and the Caribbean regions naturally reflected the equally poor state of Europeans' geographical knowledge of these areas. Contemporary cartographers created most maps at a small scale (i.e., they showed a large area) so only major features such as towns, rivers, harbors, and some roads could be shown. Many, if not most, physical features such as rivers and mountains had not yet been explored, surveyed, or charted by Europeans; their locations or courses were therefore not well represented on early maps of the region.
By the 1750s, the need for new and better maps was growing. Imagine that you were a shipmaster involved in trans-Atlantic trade. What kinds of maps would you need? Or consider the needs of a British or French official trying to regulate colonies in North America and the West Indies. What kinds of maps would you need to do your work effectively? What if you were a French or British military leader involved in a war for empire? What could happen if the maps available to you were inaccurate?
The needs of all of these groups are reflected in the maps produced in the 1750s. Shipmasters and merchants involved in the growing commerce across the Atlantic needed better navigation charts and maps to reduce the risk of losing their ships and cargoes. In addition, British and French officials, charged with regulating their respective colonies and imperial trade, needed better maps. The increasing competition between the imperial powers, especially Great Britain and France, in North America and the West Indies led to a number of wars for empire, which created an even greater demand for new and better maps of many different kinds. This was especially the case with the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War), 1754-1763.
Given some of the impetus to create maps in the mid-1750s, it should come as no surprise that many maps were produced to locate (and to assert claims to) territorial possessions. For example, in 1755, John Mitchell produced a relatively small-scale map (i.e., "a big picture" map) titled "A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America." Mitchell created this map for the British Lords Commissioners for Trade & Plantations, the governing body for the British colonies in North America. It was printed in London in 1755. At the end of the American Revolution, British and American negotiators consulted this map to fix the boundaries of the new nation and other nations' territories in North America. This map, according to Library of Congress Senior Manuscript Specialist John R. Sellers, "is considered one of the most important documents in American history."
Many people in many places reproduced Mitchell's map for their own uses. For example, the French produced the map at the right, printed in Paris in 1756.
Compare the two maps:
- What uses would these maps serve?
- What details are shown on the maps?
- Were any changes made to the map before being published by the French?
- How accurately are physical features portrayed on the maps? What areas are the most accurate? Why do you think that is the case?
- What are the implications for accuracy of the practice of copying another person's map?
Maps of the time often contained a great deal of text. The map at the right, created by John Lodge in the 1750s, illustrates this point.
The detail to the far right (from the lower right side of the map) presents a timeline (and assertion) of British claims to territorial possessions in North America. (Other details of this map are equally interesting and can be viewed using MrSid technology.)
- According to John Lodge, what is the English claim to North America founded on?
- What is the general topic of the text? Why do you think he goes through the establishment of English colonies one by one?
- What does this text suggest about Lodge's purpose in preparing this map?
- Look at some current maps of North America. Do any of them have as much text as the Lodge map? Why do you think most current maps have less text? Can you find any contemporary maps with large amounts of text? In what other ways are they similar to Lodge's map?
The titles given 18th-century maps were often quite long and descriptive, as the title of the map created by William Herbert in 1755 (right) demonstrates.
- What conclusions can you draw about William Herbert based on the language used in the title?
- What do you think a "Society of Anti-Gallicans" means?
- Looking more closely at the details of the map (using MrSID), where are the French encroachments to which the title refers?
- According to the map, where are various Indian tribes located?
The map to the right, produced in 1758, is noteworthy because of its detail concerning Native American tribes, their lands, and the cessions of territory they purportedly made to the British. The map also details what was known at the time about a number of physical features.
The details of this map are interesting and informative concerning British-Indian relations. The first detail below describes the tribal make-up of the Iroquois, or the Six Nations. The second detail recounts some of the land cessions made by these tribes to the British.
If you view sections of the map using MrSID, you will find many other details like those shown on the right.
You have looked at a number of maps drawn during the 1750s. Think about all of these maps as you consider the following questions:
- What is the common content theme of these maps?
- How are the maps different?
- Think about what you know of events of the 1750s. Why would maps like the ones you have studied be needed or useful in the midst of these events?
- Search the collection for a map that shows the results of the Treaty of 1763
- How did the Treaty affect the North American claims of France and Great Britain?
The Colonists' Grievances
A map from the 1760s (drafted in 1766 and amended in 1767) provides information about some of the issues that prompted unrest among the colonists.
Use MrSID to look closely at the map.
- What does cantonment in the title of the map mean?
- Where were the cantonments most concentrated?
- Why might the cantonment of British troops have caused unrest in the colonies?
- The Proclamation of 1763 said colonists could not move into the country west of the Appalachian Mountains. According to this map, what was the land west of the mountains to be used for?
- Why might this ban on settling western lands have caused unrest in the colonies?
Britain had large war debts following the end of the French and Indian War. Throughout the 1760s and early 1770s, Parliament passed various acts (Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townsend Acts, Tea Act) to raise money from the colonies in order to pay this debt. The colonists, who had enjoyed considerable self-governance up to that point, were unhappy.
When the text of this 1769 map of Boston is examined closely using MrSID, one can find evidence of self-governance, as well as other aspects of Boston's development prior to the Revolutionary War.
- What does the map tell you about self-governance in Boston in the 1760s?
- What information does the map provide about British rule in Boston?
- What economic activities can you identify from the map?
- What information about culture (e.g., education, religion) can you find on the map?
- Using information from the map, write a paragraph describing life in Boston in 1769. Can you make any inferences about why Boston became one of the centers of colonial rebellion?
The American Revolution and the Peace of Paris
The American Revolution and Its Era contains numerous military maps from the American Revolution, beginning with the encounter between British troops and local militia at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 and continuing to the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Below is a list of maps related to several key battles in the American Revolution.
- Lexington and Concord, April 1775
- Battle of Bunker Hill (Map 1), June 1775
- Battle of Bunker Hill (Map 2), June 1775
- Battle of White Plains, New York, October 1776
- Battles of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, winter 1776-1777
- British Offensive on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August-September 1777
- Battle of Saratoga, New York, September 1777
- Siege of Yorktown, Fall 1781
Choose one of the maps. Examine it carefully, using MrSID to see details like the one below. Answer the following questions:
- From what perspective (British or colonial) was the map drawn? Why do you think so?
- How did the geography of the area affect the battle or siege?
- Note information about the positions of the British and colonial troops. Which position do you think was more advantageous? Why? Also look for evidence of troop movements. Can you make any inferences about military strategy from the information available on the map?
- Compare information from the map with information available in your textbook or other sources. What information does the map provide that the text does not provide? What information does the map not provide? Based on your analysis, what are the strengths and weaknesses of historical maps as primary sources?
It is interesting to note that once the major fighting in the Revolutionary War turned to the south after 1778, there are no maps in this collection showing the engagements between British and American forces in that region. Perhaps one explanation is that Continental Army General Nathanael Greene (who replaced General Horatio Gates after his disastrous battle at Camden, South Carolina, in the late summer of 1780), often chose to divide his forces and engaged in hit-and-run tactics against the British. Moreover, the "battle front" kept changing over a very wide area of South Carolina, North Carolina, and eventually Virginia. As a consequence, there was probably little time or inclination to make maps since the military campaigns in the south were so helter-skelter.
The formal end to the American Revolution, the Peace of Paris, required new map-making. John Wallis was one of the first cartographers to show the new territory of the United States and surrounding territories as defined by that treaty (on the left below). A second map (on the right), created by William Faden in 1783, also depicts the results of the American Revolution.
Use MrSID technology to examine the details of the two maps and think about the following:
- How are the details of the two maps above similar or different?
- From the contents of these maps, where do you think conflicts with foreign powers would be most likely to occur in the years after the Revolution?
- Compare these maps with the description of the boundaries of the United States as described in the official treaty of peace from the Journals of the Continental Congress. Do the maps help you make sense of the textual descriptions of the boundaries of the recently recognized United States? Why or why not?
Chronological Thinking: Examining Change over Time Using Maps
To grapple with the concept of change over time, compare an older map with a newer one of the same region (even if the maps are not rendered at exactly the same scale). For example, compare the following two maps.
The first is a 1777 map titled "The British Colonies in North America." The second is a 1785 map titled "The United States of North America, with the British and Spanish territories according to the treaty of 1784."
- What do the two maps show?
- What are the major differences between these two maps?
- What differences can you see in the details presented in the maps?
- How do these changes reflect differences between 1777 and 1785?
- How do these changes reflect the objectives and results of the Revolutionary War?
While the changes reflected in the maps above resulted from political events, other differences between maps reflect the changing knowledge of the areas mapped. Examine the two maps below.
On a contemporary map of the United States, outline the area shown in each of the maps above. Use a different line symbol (dashed, dotted, wavy, etc.) to represent each map.
- What geographic features are shown on both maps? According to our current knowledge, which map shows these features more accurately?
- Which map shows more geographic features? Think of at least two possible explanations for this fact.
- Which map shows relative distance more accurately? Use the distance between two geographic features to determine the relative accuracy.
- Do you think the map on the left was drawn before or after 1753? Explain your reasoning.
The map on the left was, in fact, produced in 1778 and reflects additional knowledge of the area gained during the ensuing 25 years.
Historical Comprehension: Making Inferences Based on Historical Maps
Compared to more recent wars, the War for Independence was fought at what seems now to be a rather leisurely pace. To explore this notion of the war's pace, examine the map of French General Rochambeau's march from Providence, Rhode Island, to Yorktown, Virginia.
- About how much distance did Rochambeau and his troops travel?
- How long did the march take? What would the march have been like for the soldiers? What would the daily routine of the soldiers have been like? What would they have seen, felt, and experienced along the way? Write a journal entry describing a day on the march with Rochambeau.
- What might have been a quicker way to reach Yorktown? Why do you think the French did not use this means of travel?
- What inferences can you make about the pace of the war on the basis of this map?
- Search The American Revolution and Its Era for maps of Revolutionary War battles. Find maps of at least five different battles. How do these maps confirm or dispute the inferences about the pace of the war that you drew above. (Hint: Look at the dates of the battles. When did most fighting occur? When did the two sides appear not to engage in battle? What campaign was an exception to the general rule of when battles were fought? How might the timing of that campaign have been significant?)
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Comparing Sources
The Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775, provides a good example of how maps in The American Revolution and Its Era collection can enhance student analysis and interpretation of historical events. The map at the left shows Boston harbor in 1775. The text that follows is a description of the action near Boston on June 17 taken from a letter written by General John Burgoyne to his nephew Lord Stanley (it is part of the detail at the bottom of the map).
"Boston is a peninsula, joined to the main land only by a narrow neck, which on the first troubles Gen. Gage fortified; arms of the sea, and the harbour, surround the rest: on the other side one of these arms, to the North, is Charles-Town (or rather was, for it is now rubbish), and over it a large hill, which is also, like Boston, a peninsula: to the South of the town is a still larger scope of ground, containing three hills, joining also to the main by a tongue of land, and called Dorchester Neck: the heights as above described, both North and South, (in the soldier's phrase) command the town, that is, give an opportunity of erecting batteries above any that you can make against them, and consequently are much more advantageous. It was absolutely necessary we should make ourselves masters of these heights, and we proposed to begin with Dorchester, because from particular situation of batteries and shipping (too long to describe, and unintelligible to you if I did) it would evidently be effected without any considerable loss: every thing was accordingly disposed; my two colleagues and myself (who by the bye, have never differed in one jot of military sentiment) had, in concert with Gen. Gage, formed the plan: Howe was to land the transports on one point, Clinton in the center, and I was to cannonade from the Causeway, or the Neck; each to take advantage of circumstances: the operations must have been very easy: this was to have been executed on the 18th. On the 17th, at dawn of day, we found the enemy had pushed intrenchments with great diligence, during the night, on the heights of Charles-Town, and we evidently saw that every hour gave them fresh strength; it therefore became necessary to alter our plan, and attack on that side. . . .
Howe's disposition was exceeding soldier-like; in my opinion it was perfect. As his first arm advanced up the hill, they met with a thousand impediments from strong fences, and were much exposed. They were also exceedingly hurt by musquetry from Charles-Town, though Clinton and I did not perceive it, till Howe sent us word by a boat, and desired us to set fire to the town, which was immediately done. We threw a parcel of shells, and the whole was instantly in flames. Our battery afterwards kept an incessant fire on the heights: it was seconded by a number of frigates, floating batteries, and one ship of the line.
And now ensued one of the greatest scenes of war that can be conceived: if we look to the height, Howe's corps ascending the hill in the face of entrenchments, and in a very disadvantageous ground, was much engaged; and to the left the enemy pouring in fresh troops by thousands, over the land; and in the arm of the sea our ships and floating batteries cannonading them; strait before us a large and noble town in one great blaze . . . the hills round the country covered with spectators; the enemy all anxious suspence; the roar of cannon, mortars, and musquetry . . . to fill the ear; the storm of redoubts . . . to fill the eye; and the reflection that perhaps a defeat was a final loss to the British empire in America, to fill the mind; made the whole a picture and a complication of horror and importance beyond any thing that ever came to my lot to be witness to. . . . the day ended with glory, and the success was most important, considering the ascendancy it gave the regular troops; but the loss was uncommon in officers for the numbers engaged. . . ."
From: A Plan of the battle, on Bunkers Hill fought on the 17th of June 1775, by an officer on the spot.
Drawing on both the map and the letter, do the following:
- Summarize the information contained on the map. Summarize the information gleaned from Burgoyne's letter.
- Compare what you learned from the map with Burgoyne's description of the battle. How does one source help you interpret the other?
- Compare both with the account of Bunker Hill in your textbook. How are these accounts similar or different?
- What are the advantages of the two primary sources? What are their disadvantages? What are the advantages of the secondary source? What are its disadvantages?
Historical Research Capabilities: Interrogating Historical Maps
While certain general questions can be useful in studying virtually every primary source (see, for example, the questions used in the lesson The Historian's Sources), analyzing historical maps can be made easier by keeping in mind the standard features of maps. Routinely examining these standard parts of a map can be a useful first step in analyzing a historical map:
- A title. According to the title, what is the map's purpose? Does the title tell you anything about for whom the map was drawn? Why might that be important?
- A date. When was the map drawn? What was happening at the time that might influence what is shown on the map?
- A compass rose or arrow. How is the map oriented?
- A key. What symbols are used on the map? What do they stand for? What do the symbols tell us about the value the map-maker placed on the information shown?
- A scale. How much distance in reality is represented by a particular segment on the map? Why was this scale chosen? (Think about the amount of area the map-maker wished to show versus the amount of detail.)
Choose any three maps from The Revolutionary War and Its Era. Use the questions above to begin your analysis of each map. Is it helpful to use your general knowledge of maps to structure your analysis of a specific map? Why or why not?
Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: The Siege of Boston, 1775-1776
Military strategy represents a series of historical decisions made, often with quite obvious consequences. Soon after the Battle of Bunker Hill, George Washington, recently appointed as Commander of the Continental Army, arrived in Boston. He immediately began siege operations against the British. Washington's siege operations were successful in forcing the British Army to evacuate Boston. The map to the left shows the location of the British and American troops in Boston. As usual, the detail of this map, viewed with MrSID, is arresting.
Examine the map and detail above. Then read the following letters written by George Washington in 1775 and 1776.
George Washington to John A. Washington, July 27, 1775, with Map of Boston
"I found a mixed multitude of People here, under very little discipline, order, or Government. I found the enemy in possession of a place called Bunker's Hill, on Charles Town Neck, strongly Intrenched, and Fortifying themselves; I found part of our Army on two Hills, (called Winter and Prospect Hills) about a Mile and a quarter from the enemy on Bunker's Hill, in a very insecure state; I found another part of the Army at this Village; and a third part at Roxbury, guarding the Entrance in and out of Boston. My whole time, since I came here, has been Imployed in throwing up Lines of Defence at these three several places; to secure, in the first Instance, our own Troops from any attempts of the Enemy; and, in the next, to cut off all Communication between their troops and the Country; For to do this, and to prevent them from penetrating into the Country with Fire and Sword, and to harass them if they do, is all that is expected of me; and if effected, must totally overthrow the designs of Administration, as the whole Force of Great Britain in the Town and Harbour of Boston can answer no other end, than to sink her under the disgrace and weight of the expense. Their Force, including Marines, Tories, &c., are computed, from the best accounts I can get, at about 12,000 Men27; ours, including Sick absent, &c., at about 16,000; but then we have a Cemi Circle of Eight or Nine Miles, to guard to every part of which we are obliged to be equally attentive; whilst they, situated as it were in the Center of the Cemicircle, can bend their whole Force (having the entire command of the Water), against any one part of it with equal facility; This renders our Situation not very agreeable, though necessary; however, by incessant labour (Sundays not excepted), we are in a much better posture of defence than when I first came. The Inclosed, though rough, will give you some small Idea of the Situation of Boston, and Bay on this side; as also of the Post they have Taken in Charles Town Neck, Bunker's Hill, and our Posts."
"I shall therefore pass them over, and inform you, that having received a small supply of Powder (very inadequate to our wants) I resolved to take possession of Dorchester point, laying East of Boston, looking directly into it, and commanding absolutely the Enemy's Lines on the Neck. To effect this (which I knew would force the Enemy to an engagement or make the Town too hot for them) it was necessary, in the first instance, to possess two heights [editor's note: those mentioned in General Burgoyne's Letter to Lord Stanley in his account of the Battle on Bunker's Hill] which had the entire command of this point the Ground being froze upwards of two feet deep and as impenetrable as a Rock, nothing could be attempted with Earth. We were obliged therefore to provide an amazing quantity of Chandeliers, Fascines &c. for the Work, and on the Night of the 4th., after a severe, and heavy Cannonade and bombardment of the Town, the three preceding Nights, to divert the Enemy's attention from our real object, we carried them on under cover of darkness and took full possession of those heights without the loss of a single Man. Upon their discovering of it next Morning, great preparations were made for attacking us; but not being ready before the afternoon, and the Weather getting very tempestuous much Blood was saved, and a very important blow (to one side or the other) prevented. That this remarkable interposition of Providence is for some wise purpose, I have no doubt; but as the principal design of the manoeuvre was to draw the Enemy to an engagement under disadvantages; as a premeditated Plan was laid for this purpose, and seemed to be succeeding to my utmost wish, and as no Men seemed better disposed to make the appeal than ours did upon that occasion, I can scarce forbear lamenting the disappointment. However, the Enemy, thinking (as we have since learnt) that we had got too formidably posted before the second Morning to be much hurt by them, and apprehending great annoyance from our Works, resolved upon a precipitate Retreat, and accordingly embarked in as much hurry, and as much confusion as ever Troops did, the 17th. Instant, not having got their Transports half fitted, and leaving King's property in Boston, to the Amount, as is supposed, of Thirty, or £40,000 in Provisions, Stores, &c. &c. Many pieces of Cannon, some Mortars, and a number of Shot, Shells, &c. &c. are also left; Their Baggage Waggons, Artillery Carts, &c. which they have been eighteen Months and more preparing, were destroyed; thrown into the Docks, and found drifted on every Shore. In short, Dunbar's destruction of Stores after General Braddock's Defeat, was but a faint resemblance of what we found here."
Think about the map and the letters as you answer the questions below:
- How did the geography of Boston and its harbor influence the decisions made by General Washington, on one side, and by British General Thomas Gage on the other?
- What do Washington's letters tell you about his decisions regarding the siege of Boston?
- Read some of Washington's July 1775 orders to the army or reports to the Continental Congress (find them in the American Memory Timeline segment on "Creating a Continental Army." How does the map help you interpret the documents?
- How do the documents help you make more sense of the map?
- Using information from all of the sources, write a paragraph about the decisions facing General Washington when he took command of the Continental Army in Boston in 1775.
Interpreting Historical Fiction
Read April Morning, a novel by Howard Fast. April Morning is a fictional account of the events in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, as observed by 15-year-old Adam Cooper, son of Moses Cooper, one of the leaders in the Committee of Safety in Lexington. Compare Adam Cooper's point of view with that of the creator of the following map detail (or others obtained from the original map using MrSID technology). Complete one of the following assignments:
- Write an essay comparing the two points of view.
- Create a map that depicts the experience of Adam Cooper.
- Write a brief descriptive account (similar to Adam Cooper's) of the incidents at Lexington and Concord from the mapmaker's point of view.
Maps as Art: Ornamentation in 18th-Century Maps
Historic maps were often ornamented with elaborate borders around the title or key, as well as drawings that conveyed additional information about the subject of the map. Sometimes, areas about which little was known were filled with drawings of what the mapmaker guessed might be there.
The map detail below shows a drawing that appeared on a map titled "A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia." Examine this image closely.
- What does the drawing convey about the area shown in the map?
- Does the drawing add to the map's visual appeal? Why or why not?
- Use the Title Index to find "A map of the most inhabited part of New England." How is the drawing on this map similar to or different from the drawing below?
- Find at least one additional map in The American Revolution and Its Era collection that you believe shows evidence that map-makers in the 18th century saw their work as an art. Explain why you think the map supports that view.
- Examine several modern atlases. Can you find any current maps that include drawings like the one below? What do you think accounts for the move away from adding such decorative details? Do modern maps provide any evidence that map-makers today are concerned about the artistic quality of their products?
- Select a map that you think is visually appealing and then redraft it, using ornamentation and drawings that a cartographer of the 1750s might have used to embellish the work.
Maps and Art: The Problem of Scale
Scale is an issue that must be dealt with in preparing any visual representation that bears some resemblance to reality. Scale is the relationship between the size of an object in reality and the size at which it is depicted in the visual representation.
In many art forms, scale can be distorted or exaggerated for effect. Think about political cartoons, for example. In cartoons, a physical feature is often exaggerated as a way to satirize the person depicted (think of Mikhail Gorbachev's birthmark, Jay Leno's jaw). In creating maps, architectural drawings, or engineering plans, however, precision in rendering the scale is important.
Selecting the scale to be used is an important step in beginning to draw a map. The scale on many maps is shown using an image that resembles a ruler. A certain measurement (often an inch) is shown, marked off to indicate the miles represented by each segment of an inch on the map. The scale can also be represented as a ratio, as in 1:50. The ratio means that 1 unit of measurement on the map (such as an inch) is equal to 50 of the same units in reality.
The way in which the scale of a map is referred to can be confusing. A small-scale map is one in which the scale ratio, if expressed as a fraction, is very small. Thus, the second number in a small-scale map's scale is large — and the area represented on the map is large. For example, a scale of 1:15,000,000 (or 1/15,000,000) would be a small-scale map. On a large-scale map, the scale expressed as a fraction is larger because each unit on the map represents less distance in reality. The second number in a large-scale map's scale is small — and the area represented in the map is small.
Looking at some actual maps from the collection may clear up the confusion.
- Examine the following maps, noting the scale of each as a fraction:
Bowles's new pocket map of North America
A map of the British and French dominions in North America
A chart of the harbour of Rhode Island and Narraganset Bay
A map of the Federal Territory from the western boundary of Pennsylvania to the Scioto River
Plan of the heights of Charles Town
- Use the fractions to arrange the maps in order from largest scale to smallest scale.
- Now look at the maps again and arrange the maps in order from the one showing the smallest area to the one showing the largest area. What do you notice about the two lists?
- Again, compare the maps. What are the advantages of large-scale maps? What are the advantages of small-scale maps?
- Write a paragraph describing when a mapmaker might choose to make a large-scale map and when he/she might choose to make a small-scale map. Give examples from The American Revolution and Its Era and from a contemporary map collection.
Languages of Empire
The languages used on the maps in The American Revolution and Its Era can be used as clues to the imperial powers that explored and claimed various sections of North America and the Caribbean.
Using the feature that allows you to browse the collection by Geographic Location, find at least three maps of each of the following areas: the Caribbean and West Indies, Florida, New England, the Middle Atlantic colonies, the Southern Atlantic colonies, Canada, and Louisiana and Texas.
- What languages are used on the maps of each area?
- What language is used on the largest number of maps for each area? What does this suggest about who colonized that area? Are these languages still spoken in the areas shown?
- What languages that were spoken in North America and the Caribbean are not reflected in the maps? What does this suggest about the mapped information available to us about this area? How might knowing this influence the way we interpret the maps available?
- Using a modern atlas, find place names in each area that reflect the languages used in the 18th-century maps.
- Write a paragraph summarizing your thoughts on how the languages of empire mark the maps of the present. Test your idea against another area that was colonized in the 18th or 19th century (South or Southeast Asia, Africa, South America). Does your idea seem to apply equally to the second area you analyzed? Why or why not?