Maps for Mariners
Charts for Marylanders
Chartmaking I
Chartmaking II
The Language of Charts

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Map Collections
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Charting the Chesapeake:  1590- 1990

Compass Rose
Cartographers of the Chesapeake

The cartographers of the Chesapeake were artists, explorers, businessmen, sea captains, and scientists. Whatever their backgrounds, however, their work combined the art of interpreting the bay's physical features and the science of plotting the exact location of those features.
Indians broiling fish over a fire
 "The broiling of their fish over the flame."
  Engraving by Theodore de Bry after John White.
   from an original in the collection of the Calvert Marine Museum.
John White

John White, an Englishman, was an artist and member of the 1585 expedition to establish the Roanoke colony, off the coast of present-day North Carolina. He and Thomas Harriot, philosopher, naturalist, and mathematician, were employed to gather information about the New World. White's drawings of Eastern Woodland Algonquain Indian life were used with Harriot's notes in A Brief and True Report of the Newfound Land of Virginia. White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was the first child born of English parents in the New World.

What did John White look like? We do not have a clue since no sketch of the artist himself has survived. Yet because of John White's drawings that were published in addition to his map, we have a glimpse of Indian life in the Chesapeake region four 
hundred years ago.

America Pars, Nunc Virginia Dicta...  John White, 1590, MSA 1399-1-207
America Pars, Nunc Virginia Dicta...
John White
Frankfurt, Germany, 1590
Huntingfield Corp. Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-207

John White's map was the first to identify the bay by its present name. (You can find the words "Chesepiooc Sinus" in the middle right side of the map.) White's map shows only the mouth of the bay, since the remainder had not been explored by his expedition. The decorative touches in White's map reflect his training as an artist and contrast with the scientific approach employed in modern chartmaking.

Augustine Herrman

Augustine Herrman was born in Prague, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) in 1605. His family eventually settled in Amsterdam, a leading center of commerce and trade at that time. By 1644, Herrman was an agent for a large shipping company in New Amsterdam (New York). He then established his own trading company and also engaged in farming, fur-trading, and land speculation. By the mid-1650s he was one of the leading merchants and citizens of New Amsterdam.

In 1659 Herrman applied to become a resident of the territory of Maryland. Lord Baltimore approved the request and in 1662 Herrman received the first of several extensive grants of land, which totaled between twenty and twenty-five thousand acres. Herrman established his residence, called Bohemia Manor, on a 6,000 acre tract located on both sides of the Elk River in present day Cecil County. First surveyed in August 1661, it was granted to Herrman by patent of June 19, 1662, in exchange for his promise to make a map of the territory.

Herrman conducted surveys for his map from 1659 to 1670 and spent the next several years plotting, drafting, and ornamenting the map, He sent his finished manuscript to London, where William Faithorne engraved it in 1673.

The Herrman map was copied and adapted by mapmakers for more than a century after its publication. It was especially important in helping to solve the boundary disputes between Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

map of Virginia and Maryland in 1670
Virginia and Maryland as it is Planted and Inhabited this Present Year 1670, Surveyed and Exactly Drawne by the Only Labour & Endeavour of Augustim Herrman Bohemiensis
Augustine Herrman
London, 1673 [1970]
Reproduction of facsimile from the Huntingfield Corporation Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-679

Herrman's map was the prototype for charts of the Chesapeake for over sixty years. Based on his own surveying and sources, it had more information for the navigator than anything else publicly available. Its navigational use, however, was hindered by its four-sheet format.

Portrait of Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, MSA SC 1399-1-757
Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler
from a painting by Wm. G. Williams, c. 1835
MSA SC 1399-1-757
Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler

Ferdinand Hassler was a Swiss mathematician who had extensive surveying experience. When the U.S. Congress authorized an official Survey of the Coast in 1807, Hassler, who was between teaching appointments in Philadelphia, became interested in the enterprise. After Hassler was appointed to the post in 1811 he immediately set off to Europe where he had special instruments made to do the survey work.

Hassler was the first superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey and insisted on an unprecedented level of scientific accuracy. His surveyors carried out their triangulation -- fixing the relative positions of different locations of the earth's surface by use of a network of triangles -- according to strict geodetic principles. This careful approach delayed the production of charts and thus brought criticism from individuals within the government. Yet Hassler's legacy was in the sound scientific base of the bureau's work. While it was expensive and time consuming, U.S. charts became the standard for the world.

Portrait of Edmund Blunt
Edmund Blunt
Courtesy of the Mystic Seaport Museum 
Edmund Blunt

Edmund March Blunt was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1770. He became America's most notable early hydrographic with the publication in 1796 of the American Coast Pilot, the first book of sailing directions compiled and printed in the United States. Blunt continued to publish updated volumes of the American Coast Pilot, describing all coasts of the United States.

Blunt's sons, Edmund and George, devoted their lives to charting and the sea as well. Edmund was hired by the U.S. Coast Survey for whom he worked on triangulation of the bay, among other duties. George Blunt became a publisher of charts and nautical books in New York. He revised the American Coast Pilot several times and was a major force behind causing the federal government to organize the Lighthouse Board. After the death of the elder Blunt in 1862 and Edmund Blunt, Jr., in 1867, George sold the copyright for American Coast Pilot to the U.S. Coast Survey.

The Bay of Chesapeake from its Entrance to Baltimore, Edmund Blunt, MSA SC 1399-1-191 The Bay of Chesapeake from its Entrance to Baltimore
Edmund M. Blunt
Newburyport, Massachusetts
Huntingfield Corp. Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-191

This chart was among the first prepared and published in the United States. It showed both true and magnetic north, a new feature for charts of the bay. (You can see true and magnetic north marked beneath the work "Bay" in the center of the chart.) It was also one of the earliest charts to show navigational aids. (See Cape Henry Lighthouse in the lower left of the chart.)

Cartographers for the National Ocean Service

Cartographers for the National Ocean Service (NOS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) compile and construct charts for about 2.5 million square nautical miles of the nation's coastal waters, the Great Lakes, and connecting waterways. They work with data from surveys and other sources in constructing and revising charts.

The work of modern-day cartographers is varied. Some participate in surveys or assist with hydrographic observations aboard ships of the National Ocean Survey fleet. Others evaluate survey data to ensure it accuracy. Cartographers today use aerials photographs to plan extensive field surveys and to map shore detail. They also operate special survey instruments and process data through computers to determine exact positions of data. In addition, they compute direction information obtained from orbiting satellites. Experience cartographers engage in research and development to devise improved cartographic methods and portrayal techniques.

Cartographers today typically have advanced degrees and experience in fields such as mathematics, astronomy, cartography, engineering science or drafting, geodesy, geography, geology, geophysics, meteorology, navigation, oceanography, physics, and surveying.

United States-East Coast, Virginia: Chesapeake Bay Entrance, NOAA, 1986, MSA SC 1399-1-747 United States-East Coast, Virginia: Chesapeake Bay Entrance
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 
Washington, DC 1986
Huntingfield Corp. Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-747

This experimental chart was produced by the National Ocean Service (NOS) of NOAA to examine possible improvements in traditional charts. Among the changes proposed were to highlight fish havens and disposal areas and to subdue road designations and compass roses. It was submitted to the International Hydrographic Organization conference in 1987. The National Ocean Service surveyed user organizations for their reactions to the changes, some of which were adopted while others were rejected. This experimental chart was part of a continuing effort to achieve worldwide standardization of nautical charts and to improve chart usefulness.

A Draught of Virginia from the Capes of York in York River and to Kuiquotan or Hampton in James River,  Mark Tiddeman, 1729, MSA SC 1399-1-29 A Draught of Virginia from the Capes of York in York River and to Kuiquotan or Hampton in James River
Mark Tiddeman
London, 1729
Huntingfield Corp. Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-29

Tiddeman was master of the British vessel Tartar from 1724 to 1728. While patrolling the mouth of the bay, he made extensive soundings which were published in The English Pilot. The soundings were the most complete available for the area at that time.

Plan of the Peninsula of Chesopeak Bay, John Hills, 1781 Plan of the Peninsula of Chesopeak Bay
John Hills
Unpublished manuscript, 1781
Copy of detail courtesy of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

John Hill's manuscript was the first surviving chart to feature profile views of the shoreline. Such views were helpful for coast piloting -- navigating within sight of land -- and were widely used for seventy-five years. Hills did his manuscript in pen and tinted it with water colors. It was probably used by the British during the Revolutionary War.

N. 11 Reconnoitering the Chesapeake Bay 1818, U.S. Topographical Bureau MSA SC 1399-1-334
N. 11 Reconnoitering the Chesapeake Bay 1818
U.S. Topographical Bureau
Unpublished manuscript chart, 1818
Huntingfield Corp. Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-334

The War of 1812 called attention to the inadequacy of charts furnished to the U.S. Navy. As a result, the government organized surveys of the Chesapeake Bay and its harbors. The survey included extensive soundings like those shown here, crisscrossing the St. Mary's River.

Today teams of specialist rely on sophisticated instruments for measuring and analyzing the physical characteristics of bodies of water. Their forerunners were not so specialized, nor did they have the benefit of such highly accurate instruments. Early charts were based on data collected by explorers, navigators, sea captains, or military men. Their instruments often served two purposes: one for obtaining data to record on the chart and the other for navigating in conjunction with a chart.
Photograph of a backstaff
                      Backstaff, or Davis' quadrant.
                      From John Seller's Practical 
                     Navigation, first printed in 1669.
                     Reproduced from The Story 
                     of Maps by Lloyd A. Brown, 1949.

Early mariners used the backstaff to determine their latitude by measuring the altitude of the sun at noon. Introduced by John Davis of London in 1594, the backstaff was so named because, unlike the cross-staff which it replaced, the user had the sun behind him when taking an observation. The backstaff was also known as Davis' quadrant.

Diagram of a cross-staff in use
Reproduced from The Story 
of Maps by Lloyd A. Brown, 1949.

The cross-staff, forerunner of the backstaff, was used by mariners to determine latitude at sea by measuring the altitude of the sun at noon. Its chief drawback was that it forced the user to look directly at the sun to take a reading. From John Seller's Practical Navigation, first printed in 1669.

Photograph of an astrolabe

Diagram of an astrolabe in use

Mariner's Astrolabe

The mariner's astrolabe was the forerunner of the backstaff, quadrant, octant, and modern sextant developed to measure the altitude of the sun or stars. A mariner could determine his latitude by means of these instruments.

The astrolabe consists of a graduated ring of brass fitted with a sighting rule, pivoted at the center of the ring. The astrolabe is suspended by the thumb or by means of a thread from a shackle at the top of the ring so that it hangs vertically. The sighting rule is then turned about its axis so that the sun or star can be sighted along it and the altitude read off on the ring.

The astrolabe was used from the late fifteenth century until the end of the seventeenth century. It was of little use for observations from the heaving deck of a ship at sea but was of considerable use in charting the approximate latitudes of new discoveries where observations were made on shore.

Photograph of an octant

The octant uses an eyepiece and mirror to measure the altitude of heavenly bodies. It has an arc of one-eighth of a circle, but its design permits the measurement of altitude up to 90 degrees. Octants remained in use by navigators until 1800 when they were replaced by sextants.

Photograph of a sextant

Using a small telescope and an arrangement of mirrors, the sextant allows the sailor to measure the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon. Invented in the 18th century by John Hadley, the sextant is used to determine a ship's latitude.


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