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Book Review: Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence

8/7/2015 • American History Reviews, Reviews

Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783,
by Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen, W.W. Norton

Some of the most valuable artifacts of U.S. history are maps—specifically, hand-drawn manuscript maps showing how the nation evolved before, during and after the American Revolution. This impressive collection of 60 maps shows territorial claims and military campaigns starting with the French and Indian War (1755-63), by which the British solidified their hold on North America, to the Revolutionary War, by which they lost that prize possession and America gained its independence 20 years later.

Produced on both sides of the Atlantic, many of these maps were the chief means by which people followed the wars. The authors selected maps from a variety of sources, including the Library of Congress, the King George III Collection at the British Library and the Lord Percy Collection at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, as well as maps owned by British general William Clinton (now at the University of Michigan) and by the Marquis de Lafayette.

The book opens with A New and Accurate Map of the English Empire in North America, produced in 1755 for the Society of Anti-Gallicans (a British group opposed to French interests). At a time when French and English cartographers claimed large overlapping territories on the continent, this “masterpiece of propaganda,” write Brown and Cohen, “had no match in its effectiveness to draw Britain and France into war.” John Mitchell’s A Map of the British Colonies in North America, “the template map of America” from 1755 to 1785, is also in the oversize book, which concludes with a map of the Battle of Yorktown produced by American military engineer Major Sebastian Bauman. Accompanying essays offer historical context and details on the mapmakers. Write Brown and Cohen: “Most historians seek out maps to illustrate and support their narratives. Our narratives support the maps.” Early America has a rich cartographic heritage, and much of it can be seen in this book.

 

Originally published in the October 2015 issue of American History magazine.

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