Object of the Month

Moses Greenleaf's Map of West Point, 1779

Manuscript plan of West Point, 1779 Pen and ink and watercolor

Manuscript plan of West Point, 1779

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Benjamin Johnson
Manuscript and Special Materials Cataloger

This manuscript map belonged to Captain Moses Greenleaf of the 11th Massachusetts Regiment while he was stationed at West Point. The detailed map shows the locations of fortifications, Fort Putnam, redoubts, buildings, and paths of the area in and around West Point. Also visible is the great chain, a sixty-ton linked chain stretching from Fort Putnam to Constitution Island created by Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciusko as a barrier for British ships.

Who Was Moses Greenleaf?

Moses Greenleaf was born 19 May 1755 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the second son of the Hon. Jonathan and Mary (Presbury) Greenleaf. His father was a merchant shipbuilder and served on the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety, and was a delegate to the Provincial Congress held in Cambridge in 1775. In September of 1776, Moses married Lydia Parsons, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Jonathan Parsons, minister of the Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, with whom he had five children. At the outset of the Revolution, Greenleaf enlisted in a company for the defense of the seacoast and was later commissioned as lieutenant of a company in Ebenezer Francis's 11th Massachusetts Regiment. He served at Fort Miller, West Point, Albany and Saratoga (New York), Valley Forge (Pennsylvania), and Bennington (Vermont), among other places, and rose to the rank of captain before resigning from the Continental Army in 1780. At the end of the Revolution, Greenleaf commenced a shipbuilding business. In 1790 he retired to a farm in New Gloucester, Maine, where he died 18 December 1812.

West Point

West Point is a Federal military base located in the town of Highland Falls, New York, forty-five miles north of New York City. It is the home to the United States Military Academy, which was established in 1802 in order to educate and train officers to serve in the United States Army. During the Revolutionary War, West Point was a military fort held by the Americans from 1778 to 1783 and considered the lynchpin that kept New England connected with the rest of the colonies. Situated on the western side of the Hudson River on a high bluff, overlooking the almost ninety-degree bend the river makes around the point, its strategic location is obvious. Any sailing ship that passed would be at a severe disadvantage. At the time this map was created in 1779, the focal point of the war had shifted from the northern theater to the middle and southern colonies, but the Americans were still wary about cutting off New England. If West Point fell into the hands of the British, they would be able to control the Hudson Valley, including parts of western Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 1780, General Benedict Arnold's plot to turn over West Point--the key to America--to the British was one of the darkest moments of the Revolution.

Manuscript Maps

Manuscript maps are unique records that often include detailed graphic information about events and places that otherwise would be lost to history. Manuscript maps provide the earliest information about unexplored territories; plans of attack during wartime; the bounds of colonial provinces and towns; travel information about rivers and highways; and the mundane matters of everyday life (many are surveys of the boundaries of personal landholdings). Upwards of two hundred manuscript maps are currently described in the MHS online catalog ABIGAIL and new descriptions are added when we acquire manuscript maps as part of collections or re-catalog collections. The bulk of the MHS collection of manuscript maps ranges in date from the mid-seventeenth century to the close of the nineteenth century. The geographical scope is equally wide-ranging, but is strongest for Massachusetts and New England.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Ambrose, Stephen. Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Diamant, Lincoln. Chaining the Hudson: the Fight for the River in the American Revolution. New York: Fordham University Press, 2004.

Randall, Willard Sterne. Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor. New York, NY.: Dorset Press, 2001.