A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection

Mapmaking requires the successful merging of science with art—skills that might seem mutually exclusive, but which, when combined, produce works of both beauty and utility. The men who created maps hailed from a wide range of disciplines—trained military engineers, artists, adventurers—and had interesting careers before and after they created the works that made them famous as mapmakers.

Learn more about four of these men.

Henry Pelham

Five years before Henry Pelham drew his map of Boston and surrounding towns during the first years of the Revolution, he waged his own battle with none other than patriot-in-waiting Paul Revere...

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Thomas Pownall

In December 1777, Thomas Pownall declared before Parliament: “I now tell this House and government that the Americans never will return to their subjection to the government of this country . . . ” How did this mapmaker end up in Parliament defending the American cause, no less?

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Richard Gridley

“I never drew my sword but in the cause of justice and such I consider my country’s to be.” Long before Richard Gridley gave this reply to the British query as to which side he would support in the Revolution, he had given years of service to the British as a military officer and engineer.

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La Pérouse

Although not a mapmaker in his own right, Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse undertook an expedition that would chart previously unknown waters and provide the basis for future voyages of discovery. Unfortunately, he and his crew never returned.

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