The Atlantic Neptune

Coastline Charts, 1774-1803

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin Mystic Seaport Staff

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

The Atlantic Neptune is a collection of charts considered one of the most magnificent atlases of its day. For Great Britain, it was an attempt to plot, chart and understand what had been acquired during the Seven Years' War . Published by Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres between 1774 and 1803, the charts are divided into four series: Nova Scotia, New England, the River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, and New York southward. These maps represent the first complete charting of the northeastern British colonies.  The scans above represent select images from the Atlantic Neptune, but not the collection in its entirety.

The mid-18th century proved to be a time of rapid expansion of the British Empire, leading the British Lords of Trade and Admiralty to engage a range of private and official resources in wide-ranging efforts to map its territories. The charts contain a degree of detail which was remarkable when one considers the basic tools the surveyors had at their disposal. The charts are interspersed with offset, lithographed, and hand painted watercolor images. These included town plans and drawings of various geographic features.

Interestingly, this particular volume, in the Rare Book Collection at Mystic Seaport, is hand-tooled, gold embossed leather and contains the bookplate of Eugène de Beauharnais, stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte (child of Josephine’s first marriage) while he was the Viceroy of Italy from 1810 to 1814.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Who would have been able to afford a book like this? Are those the same people that would need to use the book?
  2. Why do you think Great Britain wanted its newly acquired territories charted?
  3. What type of training would one need to be able to create charts like this?