J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ben Franklin’s Maps

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. It’s gearing up for a major exhibition of Civil War cartography next spring, as well as its move into a permanent display space in the library’s McKim Building.

Most of the maps the center’s staff had out on exhibit were from the Civil War, naturally. But one memorable item from the Revolutionary period was a bound volume containing just two engraved maps folded inside—probably why it had sat on the shelves unexamined for decades until curator Ronald Grim opened it.

The two maps in that volume turned out to have come from Benjamin Franklin. He acquired them during his years in Europe. and a descendant gave them to the library. One is, according to my notes, a map of New England from 1755 dedicated to British bureaucrat and Massachusetts royal governor Thomas Pownall. The other is a French map showing the Gulf Stream, probably made with Franklin’s help.

Because those maps are bound, I don’t think they can be flattened and scanned. (The image above is a detail of an earlier Gulf Stream map that Franklin created, used in a lesson module from Study of Place.) However, the Leventhal Center’s website has many other examples from its collection to explore online, including dozens of maps from the Revolutionary era.

TOMORROW: Benjamin Franklin’s shifting Gulf Stream.

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