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Tour: We are One

We are One: Mapping the Road to American Independence

May to October 2015 – Boston Public Library
2016 – Colonial Williamsburg
2017 – New-York Historical Society


In the spring of 2015 the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center will present an exhibition that commemorates the 250th anniversary of Britain’s 1765 Stamp Act. This pivotal moment sparked American opposition to Britain’s restrictive colonial policies, particularly taxation without representation, which was established to help pay for troops stationed in the colonies during the French and Indian War (1756-1763). Protestors in Boston hung one of the tax collectors in effigy on an elm tree near the Boston Common. The tree became known as the Liberty Tree, and the loose organization of protestors were known as the Sons of Liberty. This early opposition throughout the colonies to British imperial control set the stage for growing opposition to British rule during the next ten years, resulting in the American Revolutionary War.

(Right: Detail from cartouche on Jean de Beaurain’s 1776 map of Boston Harbor showing rebel soldier holding a Liberty Pole and Flag, iconic representations of Boston’s Liberty Tree.)

Employing geographic and cartographic perspectives, the exhibition will tell the story of how thirteen separate colonies found a common cause, fought a bloody war for independence, and finally came together as a new, united nation. The exhibition will feature a selection of approximately 60 maps supplemented by 40 related graphic documents, paintings, and three dimensional objects documenting British North America’s volatile and rapidly changing political and economic landscape during the last half of the 18th century.

During this period, when photography was nonexistent and art was romantic and stylized, maps and views provided the most accurate pictorial representation of the North American colonies. The images recorded the colonial topography, its towns, cities and coasts. They also showed the marches, sieges and battles of the French and Indian War and American Revolution that ultimately led to the establishment of an independent nation. A rich trove of maps and views exists in leading research libraries in the United States, Canada and Europe as well as in private collections. But, most of the rare and historically significant material has been seen only by a small group of scholars. Our goal is to bring important printed and manuscript maps and views to the public in a highly curated exhibition, drawing on the extensive collections of the Leventhal Map Center, as well as selected treasures from other institutions worldwide.

(Left: Three dimensional objects and other graphic documentation, such as this 1779 portrait of Benjamin Franklin by the French portrait artist Joseph Silfrede Duplessis, will help tell the story. Among his many contributions, Franklin served as the U.S. Minister to France from 1778-1785, and secured French military assistance for the colonial army.)

Although the geographic scope of the exhibition encompasses the entire British Empire in North America, the primary emphasis will be the thirteen colonies that became the United States. Major themes to be addressed include the diverse economic, political, geographic and demographic patterns within the thirteen colonies, placing them in the wider context of the British Empire in North America.

The time frame of the exhibition’s story line is the last half of the 18th century. However, the narrative will focus more directly on maps and events dating from the beginning of the French and Indian War in 1756, to the Revolutionary War, and into the last two decades of the century when the new nation took form. The exhibition will be divided into three chronological periods:

Maps Serving the Empire

The first section will examine the geographic diversity of the thirteen colonies, as well as the dissatisfaction that was fermenting in the colonies in the period from the French and Indian War to the eve of the Revolution. By the middle of the 18th century, these disparate British outposts had developed into thirteen separate colonies, each with its own economic system and urban and rural settlement patterns. In order to better administer these colonies, the British government commissioned new wall maps, based on original surveys of the eastern part of the continent and the individual colonies.

(Right: John Mitchell’s large, eight sheet wall map, A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America, was first published in 1755, but served as the definitive map of eastern part of the North American continent until the end of the Revolutionary War, when a later edition was used at the Paris Peace Treaty in 1783 to draw the boundary lines of the new nation. The decorative cartouche portrays the British colonies as a land inhabited by Indians and rich with resources ready to be transported in the British ships moored in the harbor to European markets.)

Following their victory in the French and Indian War, the British levied new taxes and economic restrictions on the colonies. The colonial discontent with these new legislative actions led to increased communication between the colonies, fostering greater co-operation and a sense of common cause. The discontent was expressed in public demonstrations and riots including the 1765 Stamp Act protests and the 1770 Boston Massacre. The latter incident was illustrated on a rough sketch map by Paul Revere, which is one of the Boston Public Library’s great treasures.







Mapping the Rebellion

The second section will examine the war years featuring maps depicting battles and campaigns starting with the first battles of the Revolution in the Boston area. The display will demonstrate how the rebellion and the battles expanded southward through the other colonies and culminated at Yorktown, Virginia, with Cornwallis’ surrender.

A few of the key items relating to the military activity in Boston include a powder horn inscribed with a map of Boston; and a manuscript map with six surrounding views, emphasizing the strategic importance of Dorchester Neck, occupied by the Americans, in relation to British occupied Boston. This unique item will be borrowed from the British Library.

(Left: Owned by a British soldier in occupied Boston, this powder horn dated 1775 displays a finely engraved outline map of Boston, and bears a warning to the American rebels, “A pox on rebels in their crimes.”)




(Above: Prepared by a British soldier, this beautifully colored manuscript features six views illustrating islands and fortifications in the Boston Harbor, as well as the view of Boston from Dorchester Neck.)
(Courtesy of the British Library, Kings Topographical Collection, CXX, no. 34)

After the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776, the rebellion continued for another five years, with military activity focusing on a number of theaters of war, including Newport, New York City, Saratoga, Philadelphia, Charleston, and the Chesapeake. These campaigns will be illustrated with a variety of maps such as detailed manuscript drawings showing defenses associated with the British occupation of Philadelphia, or a 1781 French map depicting the French naval blockade of the British fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

(Left: Pierre Nicole’s manuscript Survey of the City of Philadelphia, showing several fortifications constructed under the command of Sir William Howe during British occupation of the city which began in 1777.)

(Courtesy of the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress).




(Above: Published in 1781 by the French firm of Esnauts and Rapilly, Carte de la partie de la Virginia, uses pictorial symbols to demonstrate the French blockade of the British fleet at the mouth of Chesapeake, an action which helped to bring the Revolutionary war to a close.)
(Courtesy Richard H. Brown Collection).


Maps Serving a New Nation

The final section will focus on the last two decades of the 18th century, emphasizing the geography and cartography of the new nation. With their victory, the thirteen rebellious colonies needed to become a cohesive nation-state by gaining the recognition of European powers and consolidating their interests and political ambitions. They defined and mapped the boundaries of the new nation and the individual states, and established a new national capital. This new nationalism was enhanced by the development of national icons, many of which were displayed on maps and other graphics published in the new nation declaring their independent identity.


(Above: Published in 1792 shortly after the site for the nation’s new capital was selected and surveyed, Andrew Ellicott’s Plan of the City of Washington, delineates the grand pattern of streets and squares that was envisioned for the new city laid out on lands ceded by Maryland and Virginia.)

(Right: The cartouche displays two angels on either side of a shield adorned with stars and stripes. One angel holds a horn, proclaiming the news of a new nation and its capital, and the other holds a liberty pole, signifying the nation’s foundation in a struggle that symbolically had it roots in Boston 25 years earlier.)

(Courtesy of Richard H. Brown Collection).








Programming to Highlight We are One: Mapping the Road from Revolution to Independence at the Library and on the Web

The exhibition will include interactive components and a tour available through a QR code. A virtual tour will be available on our website maps.bpl.org.

The Leventhal Map Center in collaboration with the Boston Public Library will complement the exhibition with public programs and activities for a range of visitors. The Library will present a concurrent exhibition on the Colonial period from 1630 to the French and Indian War.

Educational Programs for K-12 students will include interactive tours of the exhibition and curriculum materials, based on national standards for elementary, middle and high school students and will be available free for download on the Map Center’s website. A Gallery Guide will provide an overview of the exhibition’s themes and list all programs, including public outreach activities, a two-week teachers’ institute, Lowell Lecture Series with noted authors, and a two-day symposium intended for a more academic audience.

The Map Center’s new central cartographic web portal of Revolutionary War era maps will be a resource that complements the exhibition by providing access to more than 2,000 significant digital images from collections in the Library of Congress, British Library, John Carter Brown Library, William L. Clements Library, American Antiquarian Society, Harvard Map Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society, Osher Map Library and others.

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center (http://maps.bpl.org)