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A Map of the British Empire in North America

Samuel Dunn
London, 1774

Samuel Dunn, A Map of the British Empire in North America, London: Laurie & Whittle, 1774, Map #93733, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

A respected teacher, publisher, and astronomer, British cartographer Samuel Dunn published this map in the first edition of his New Atlas of the Mundane System; or, Of Geography and Cosmography, describing the Heavens and the Earth just before the onset of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).[1] The map details British colonial holdings in North America and shows the boundaries established by the Proclamation of 1763. The Crown intended the Proclamation to keep British settlers from encroaching upon indigenous territory. Still, it notably did not exclude the possibility that colonial expansion would eventually continue at the Crown’s pleasure.[2]

Dunn’s map reflects British control of the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida, as well as the Bahama (“Lucayos”) Islands. A chart in the upper-left corner lists the empire’s territories in present-day Canada and the United States. New England appears as a cohesive territory rather than four separate colonies as referenced in the chart, and the familiar present-day boundaries of other colonies are not yet established. A line just west of the Appalachian Mountains marks the boundary of legal settlement for British subjects and the beginning of the “Indian Reserve,” beyond which are numerous American Indian lands and tribes. Dunn notes varying climates and existing roads in the map’s northern and northwestern territories.

[left] A list in the map’s upper-left corner names the British possessions in North America. [right] New England appears as a singular entity despite being comprised of four distinct colonies.
West of the Appalachian Mountains, “Reserved Lands” stretch across the continent.

British control of eastern North America was not absolute, however. This is apparent in Florida, a political battleground between Spain and Britain that appears divided into east and west at the “Apalachicola” or “Chatahooche” River under terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris (although the map’s previously-mentioned chart lists both as part of the British Empire). At the time, Spain sought to enforce control of its western territories and maintain access to the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Britain was determined to bring the peninsula and the lucrative sugar-producing Caribbean islands under its jurisdiction.[3] As of this map’s printing, surveyors had not yet accurately charted Florida’s peninsula, though later editions included corrected information.[4]

Compared to the eastern British holdings, knowledge of the land west of the Mississippi, labeled Louisiana, is comparatively sparse. Numerous rivers and lakes appear from the Gulf Coast to Canada, but the map lacks topographical detail. Dunn illustrates little of present-day Texas, though he does identify rivers — including the Rio Colorado (Red River) — as well as Indigenous settlements marked “Cenis” and “Adayes,” and St. Bernard’s Bay (likely Matagorda Bay).[5]

Reflecting imperial conflict between Britain and Spain, the map divides Florida into east and west territories. The Bahamas appear off Florida’s coast.
The map includes little information on present-day Texas. Nearby is the town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, as well as New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Though Dunn was a British subject, he remained involved in the United States’ affairs after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. He maintained a friendship with Benjamin Franklin and was a member of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. The publisher Laurie & Whittle continued to update his New Atlas through the end of the eighteenth century.[6]

This map was donated to the GLO by Katherine Staat in memory of Herbert Christian Merillat.

  1. Ben W. Huseman, Enlightenment Mapmakers and the Southwest Borderlands: Treasures from the Virginia Garrett Cartographic Library, Arlington, TX: The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, 2016, 42–43.
  2. “Proclamation of 1763,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 December 2020, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/event/Proclamation-of-1763.
  3. S. M. Edelson, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America Before Independence, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017, 250.
  4. “A Map of the British Empire in North America . . . 1774,” Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc., accessed June 17, 2020, https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/16975/a-map-of-the-british-empire-in-north-america-1774-dunn)
  5. William C. Foster, Historic Native Peoples of Texas, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009, 226. Google Books, accessed June 18, 2020, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Historic_Native_Peoples_of_Texas/AJQfRkcKeD0C?hl=en&gbpv=0.
  6. Huseman, Enlightment Mapmakers and teh Southwest Borderlands, 42–43.

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