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The first French attempt to produce detailed charts of North American waters at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War

Pilote Americain Septentrional Pour les Côtes de Labrador, N[ouve]lle Ecosse, N[ouve]lle Angleterre, New-York, Pensilvanie, Maryland, Virginie, les 2 Carolines et Florides Par Jefferys, Lane, Morris, Chevalier des Barres, Smith, Blaskowitz, Scull.
LE ROUGE, George Louis
Chez Le Rouge, Rue des G[ran]ds Augustins,
Publication place
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  • Description

    Folio (540 by 405mm), two parts in two volumes, consisting of 42 engraved maps and charts, mostly double-page or folding, a few single-page. Part 1: Engraved title above a scene copied from the left hand side of the title-page of Jefferys' 'West India Atlas', engraved contents table and 30 engraved map sheets, forming 21 maps. Part 2: Engraved divisional title, and contents leaf and 30 engraved mapsheets, forming 21 maps, contemporary red marbled paper over boards, title in manuscript on label, pasted to spine.

  • Notes

    Le Rouge, cartographer to Louis XVI and a military engineer, published his Pilote Americain Septentrional based, in the main, from British sources, especially Jefferys' 'American Atlas' and 'North American Pilot'.

    The charts cover the Atlantic Ocean, North American ports and the islands ranging from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean, and were intended for use by the French Navy and merchants during, and in the aftermath of, the American Revolutionary War.

    Le Rouge's pilot was, until the publication of the Dépôt de la Marine's 'Neptune Americo-septentrional', in 1780, the only comprehensive and up to date French survey available at the time. It is highly likely that, when the 16 French ships commanded by Charles-Henri comte d'Estaing arrived in Newport Harbour in late 1778, to help the fledging United States in their war against the British, the fleet had in their possession an example of the present work. Prior to the publication of the pilot, the French navy had to rely on the work of English surveyors by buying charts published in England. Further evidence that the pilot may have been in the possession of the French Navy by outbreak of war, is provided by a text panel pasted to the foot of the first volume's contents leaf. The text is an extract from a letter received by Le Rouge from the French naval base at Brest, dated 4th May 1778:

    "Recevez. Monsieur, les remerciments de Académie Royale de la Marine... Il est certainement très utile de faire connaître les bons Ouvrages de Étrangers; il en est même d' un genre particulier, comme ceux qui tiennent aux details locaux qui ne peuvent etre faits que par eux.Les anglais seuls, par exemple, peuvent aujourd'hui nous procurer Les meilleures Cartes de l' Amerique septentrionale dont ils frequentent les côtes plus que toute autre nation. Je suis De Marguery, Secretaire Enseigne de Vaisseaux".

    The letter thanks Le Rouge for the charts, noting, "It is certainly very useful to make known the good works of Foreigners" (i.e. the English), and goes on to state that the English have the best and most accurate maps and charts of North America.

    Although the work contains numerous interesting charts, such as the 'Plan de Boston', 'Entrée de la Riviere d'Hudson', and the large chart 'Riviere St Laurent', two charts are of particular note: 1) 'Baye de Chesapeake', a copy of Anthony Smith's work first published the previous year by Sayer and Bennett in The North American Pilot. The chart superseded Hoxton's work of 1735 and "filled an important niche for the British in planning military strategy" (Prichard) during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. 2) 'Port de Rhode Island et Narraganset Baye', on this large two sheet chart Le Rouge incorporates information from both the Des Barres and Faden charts, with an inset of the plan of Newport, taken from that published separately by Faden in 1777, and based on Blaskowitz's survey. A chart that must have proved invaluable to the comte d'Estaing.

    It is impressive just how quickly Le Rouge was able to bring the work to market, as many of the charts had only been published the previous year in London. This must be put down to three factors: his extensive links to the English (especially London) map trade; his contacts with American residence in Paris, such as Benjamin Franklin; and his fluent command of the English language. Such an advocate for learning a foreign language was Le Rouge, that in his introduction to, 'Parfait Aide de Camps... Paris, 1760', he recommends learning ones own language well, then English and German "so necessary in all wars"; the energy required for study would leave the young aide-de-camp with little for the seductive charms of "les amourettes", who brought nothing but destruction!

    We are unable to trace an example of the atlas for sale at auction in the past 30 years. The present example collates as per Shirley's description of the example held in the British Library. Shirley cites two further institutional examples, both incomplete: that in the National Maritime Museum and [NMM 247 (lacks map of St Vincent)] and Library of Congress [Philips Atlases, 1210 (lacks map of Atlantic)]. To this we can add examples in Paris (BnF), Bavaria (BVB) and Boston (John Adams Library), also incomplete.

    One reason for the works rarity can be put down to the fact that it was quickly superseded by the 'Neptune Americo-septentrional', a work sponsored by the Dépôt de la Marine, and published in 1780. Records note that in March 1780, 15 packets containing 17 maps from the Neptune were sent to the Comte Hector, director of the port of Brest. The more accurate state sponsored pilot, would soon come to dominate the market in France, and effectively end the production of Le Rouge's work.

  • Bibliography

    Cohen, E. 'Benjamin Franklin, George-Louis Le Rouge and the Franklin/Folger Chart of the Gulf Stream', in Imago Mundi. Vol. 52, 2000, pp.124-142; Pritchard & Taliaferro 48; Sponberg-Pedley, Mary, 'The Commerce of Cartography', University of Chicago, 2005, pp.145-152; c.f. Shirley, British Library,
    M.LER-1a and 2a; NMM 247.