Object of the Month

"To fill up time I have begun a Survey of Charlestown": Henry Pelham's map of 1775 Boston

A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs, including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin [sic], Cambridge, Medford, Charlestown, Parts of Malden and Chelsea, with the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775 and 1776 Facsimile map

A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs, including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin [sic], Cambridge, Medford, Charlestown, Parts of Malden and Chelsea, with the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775 and 1776

Image 1 of 1

[ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

The map shown here is a 1907 facsimile of one drawn by Henry Pelham in 1775 and published in England in 1777 depicting Boston and its surrounding areas in the early days of the American Revolution. The original map was one of the earliest gifts to the MHS, presented in 1791 by William Tudor.

A Loyalist in Revolutionary Boston

In 1914, the Massachusetts Historical Society published a remarkable cache of letters between Henry Pelham, his step-brother artist John Singleton Copley and sister-in-law Susanna Copley in London, and others in their circle of friends. The letters not only provide insight into the artistic careers of both Copley and Pelham, but provide an insider’s look at life in Revolutionary Boston from the Loyalist perspective. Letters between the brothers crisscrossed the Atlantic, detailing the escalating conflict between the colonies and their mother country (at least until Pelham figured out his mail was being opened and read). Pelham and others in his circle were staunch Loyalists, a stance that would eventually jeopardize his livelihood and force him to abandon his birthplace. In a 1774 letter, Pelham describes stopping at a tavern in Springfield, Mass., where he and his friends were outed as Tories

We had not been long at the Tavern where we put up at for the night, when a party of four and twenty who had been out that day shooting Squerels, mett there to divide their booty, which raised a quarrel among them. This with the plenty of Liquer they had made them noisy and Rioutous … Coll. Worthington and Mr. Bliss, two Friends of Government, coming out of our Room and passing th[r]o theirs, drew all this Resentment against us. They said He [the tavern keeper] had a damn’d pack of Torys in his House and they would have us out. Resistance on our part increased the tumult on theirs. They loaded and fired their muskets … which continued near two hours. At length one more peaceably disposed than the Rest perswaded them to disperse for the night, and in the morn’g insist upon our mak’g an Acknowledgment of our offences, and recant our principles.

Pelham and his party decamped before their attackers arose the next morning, and although he states that the situation “afforded me some amusement,” it was almost certainly only funny in hindsight.

Back in Boston, Pelham soon found that his Loyalist leanings led directly to a lack of commissions, complaining to Copley in May 1775 that “People in the Country have made it a Rule for a long time Past to brand every one with the Name of Tory and consider them as Inimical to the Liberties of America who are not will’g to go every length with them in their Scheems however mad.” In July, Pelham wrote that his business had entirely dried up, adding:

To fill up time I have begun a Survey of Charlestown, for which I have permission from Gen’l Gage and Gen’l Howe, who were polite eno to grant me a general Pass directed to all Officers commanding Guards for going to and returning from Charlestown. Gen’l Howe, to assist me in the laborious part of Measuring, has kindly put a Sarjant and his Men under my Command. This Plan when finished will give a good Idea of the late battle … I have often passed Doct [Joseph] Warren’s Grave. I felt a disagreeable Sensation, thus to see a Townsman an old Acquaintance led by unbounded Ambition to an untimely death and thus early to realise that Ruin which a lust of Power and Dominion has brought upon himself and partly through his means upon this unhappy Country. I would wish to forget his principles to Lament his Fate.

This plan of Charlestown would later be incorporated into the larger map of Boston and its surroundings. It displays Pelham’s intimate knowledge of the area, detailing the locations not only of military installations like forts, powder magazines, and redoubts, but also of churches, wharves, the State House, Faneuil Hall, Harvard College, and the locations of the homes of prominent Loyalists along Brattle Street in Cambridge. At the top left is a copy of the pass issued to Pelham by the British authorities to cross enemy lines unmolested to “take a plan of the towns of Boston & Charlestown and of the Rebel works round those places.” Soon after surveying the countryside, Pelham left to join his family in England, where his map was published in 1777.

An earlier battle with a patriot

Five years before Henry Pelham drew this map of Boston, he waged his own battle with none other than Paul Revere. In the days following the Boston Massacre, Pelham produced an image of the fray, entitling it “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power.” Featuring the familiar line of British soldiers firing upon unarmed townsfolk, Pelham’s engraving apparently so captured Revere’s imagination that he could not help pirating it (with slight changes) and— much to Pelham’s chagrin—bringing it to market before Pelham could even advertise his own print for sale. Indignant, Pelham wrote to Revere, outlining his grievances in no uncertain terms:

Thursday Morng. Boston, March 29, 1770. Sir, When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you copied it from mine and as I thought I had entrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of honour and justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you. But I find I was mistaken and after being at the great Trouble and Expence of making a design paying for paper, printing &c. find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expence I have been at, as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway. If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect upon and consider of one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty of.

It is unclear what—if any—response Revere made to Pelham. Regardless, it is Revere’s image we see when we think of the Boston Massacre, no doubt adding to Pelham’s distaste for the Revolution and its adherents.

Who was Henry Pelham?

Henry Pelham was born in Boston in 1749 to the mezzotint artist Peter Pelham and his third wife, Mary Singleton Copley, mother of painter John Singleton Copley. Henry attended Boston Latin School and established himself as a portraitist and miniature painter prior to the Revolution. Pelham left Boston in 1776, joining Copley and other members of his family in England. He later removed to Ireland where he continued his artistic career and married Catherine Butler, who died after giving birth to twin sons. Pelham died in 1806 when his boat capsized in the Kenmare River in Ireland, as he was supervising the construction of a tower.

For further reading

Letters & Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, 1739-1776 Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1914, reprinted New York: Kennedy Graphics Inc. and Da Capo Press, 1970.

Pelham’s and Revere’s competing Boston Massacre engravings, along with other examples, are available to view at the MHS website Perspectives on the Boston Massacre.