“The Greatest of Early American Maps…a Masterpiece” – Corcoran
“This monumental work is without question the finest printed cartographic document relating to North America to be published to date.” (Burden). No other English American colony was mapped in the seventeenth century on such a large scale, and in such amazing detail.
HOLME, Thomas. [Across the Top]: A Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsilvania in America. Begun by Wil: Penn Proprietary and Governour thereof Anno 1681. [Decorative cartouche to right]: A Map of the Province of Pennsilvania. Containing the three Countyes of Chester, Philadelphia, & Bucks, as far as yet Surveyed and Laid out…. Sold by Rob: Greene at the Rose & Crowne in Budg. Row, and by John Thornton at the Platt in the Minories. F. Lamb, Sculp. London 1687. Copper-engraving on six sheets, joined to form one 33-1/2 x 55-1/2” map. Later color.
In 1681, William Penn was granted sole proprietorship to more than forty-five thousand square miles in a region that he named Pennsylvania. Through vigorous promotion more than a half-million acres were sold in the first year alone. Because each tract had to be laid out before it could be developed, Penn appointed Thomas Holme surveyor general of the colony in April 1682; he immediately began to survey the land and to lay out the future city of Philadelphia. His plan, entitled A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia was published in 1683. Penn then pressured Holme to produce a general map of the colony, complaining from London that “we want a map to the degree that I am ashamed here … all cry out, where is your map, what no map of the settlements!”
The completed manuscript was on its way to Penn in London by May 1687, and the finished map was advertised in January 1688. It illustrates the “improved”, or settled, area of the province along the western bank of the Delaware River, a tract of approximately fifty-five miles in length and thirty-three miles in width. On a scale of one mile to one inch, it locates the holdings of 670 settlers, and was the only map of any English colony to give such a detailed account of settlement. Holme’s 1683 plan of Philadelphia, the first published for any English American city, was included in reduced form as an inset in the upper right corner. The map’s great size made it unwieldy for general use, and very few copies must have been printed, most for official use. A reduced version was published by Philip Lea around 1690.
Philip Burden identifies two states of the map; this is state two. State one survives in a single example at the British Library, believed to be the copy given to William Penn. It is distinguished by having Neshaminy Creek flowing above the letters “KS COUN” in the name “Bucks County.”
Copies of this second state (altered to show the creek flowing below the letters “S C” in the county’s name) are in the collections of the following institution:
Historical Society of Pennsylvania,
American Philosophical Society,
Library Company of Philadelphia,
Library of Congress,
Biblioteca nacional de España (National Library of Spain),
Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France).
We have found no other copies recorded in private hands, and no sale records in the last several decades.
The sheets have been joined with thick tape, and the whole has been backed with conservation paper. There are some minor repaired tears and loss of original paper in a few places.
Provenance: Corporate collection, 1985, private collector 2012.
Burden, The Mapping of North America II, 628
Corcoran, Thomas Holme Surveyor General of Pennsylvania
Klinefelter, “Surveyor General Thomas Holme’s Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania,” Winterthur Portfolio, VI, p. 41.
Snyder, City of Independence, pp. 22-25