George Washington’s America: A Biography through his Maps

Picture1Barnet Schecter, Walker & Co., New York, 2010, hardcover, 13-1/4” x 10-1/4”, ISBN 978-0-8027-1748-1, List $67.50, Amazon $33

The title says exactly what this book is – a biography, very detailed, through the Revolutionary War and Washington’s later life. Washington acquired some 43 maps which were, after his death, bound into an atlas, eventually purchased by Yale University. The maps are catalogued in an appendix. Some are also sumptuously shown on full colored double pages. The book is printed in China, so the resolution is quite good. Portions of each map are then shown and referred to throughout the text, often pages after the map.
The author is clearly a historian, not a map person. It is a little disconcerting to have the cartographers referred to as “artists”. The map media is referred to as “pink, green and light yellow watercolors”—no mention of copper plate engraving.

For the purposes of this book, maps are used to locate sites where action may have taken place rather than in explaining how the action may have unfolded. The important Lewis Evans map included is a 1775 Jeffreys’ reissue. It is noted that Washington had a 1755 Evans original, but it is not in the Yale Atlas.

The Chesapeake Bay map included is similar to the famous Wm Faden map but lacks the drama of the French fleet being deployed around the York Peninsula to cut off Cornwallis’ retreat.

To his credit, the author does include several early hand drawn Washington maps and maps of his surveys of Mt. Vernon.

On the plus side, this is a handsome book with color on almost every page. There are portraits of all the famous people he know and many handsome views, however often without attribution.

There are notes with abbreviated attributions and an index.

If you are a scholar of George Washington and the Revolutionary War you will find this book quite satisfying. From the standpoint of learning about his personal map collection, or how maps influenced his decisions, it leaves something to be desired.

Reviewed by Bill Warren
From the Society’s March 2011 Newsletter