An American Revolutionary War Rarity
Rare Revolutionary War Chart showing the American defenses at Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery, on the eve of the Battle of Fort Montgomery.
This is the right section of Des Barres chart, with the left section including a general chart of the Hudson River, from Stony Point to to New Windsor and Newburgh, not present.
On October 6, 1777, the British Army, led by Henry Clinton, attacked Forts Montgomery and Clinton, supported by cannon fire from British ships on the Hudson River. By the end of the day, both forts had fallen to the British, who burned the forts and tore down the stonework buildings. However, the battle was a pyrrhic victory for the British. The campaign against the forts caused delays in reinforcing General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, where Americans forced the British surrender ten days later at the Battle of Saratoga before Clinton's forces could arrive.
The present map, which depicts the Forts and the River defenses prior to the battle, is from The Atlantic Neptune, the finest large scale sea atlas of the United States and Canadian Atlantic coastline ever produced. The maps in the atlas were produced over a seven-year period (1775-82), and are well known for their accurate portrayal of various sounds, bays, bars, harbors as well as navigational hazards. This atlas was used extensively by the Royal Navy during the American Revolution.
Fort Clinton & Fort Montgomery
Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery were a pair of American Revolutionary War fortifications located at the confluence of the Popolopen Creek and the Hudson River.
Fort Clinton stood on the south side of Popolopen Gorge, and its companion fort, Fort Montgomery, stood on the north side. The forts defended a Hudson River Chain that stretched from Fort Montgomery on the west side of the Hudson River to Anthony's Nose on the east side. The sites of both forts are in present-day Highlands, Orange County, New York.
Fort Clinton's garrison of 300 soldiers was smaller than Fort Montgomery's, but it was built on higher ground, and its defenses were more complete. The fort was commanded by General James Clinton, for whom it was probably named.
On October 6, 1777, Forts Clinton and Montgomery were attacked by the British 63rd Regiment led by Sir Henry Clinton. The Battle of Forts Clinton and Montgomery was intense but brief: Both forts were overrun within an hour, and the wounded General James Clinton retreated with his men through Popolopen Gorge. Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery were razed by the British, and the iron chain they defended was dismantled.
Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824) was born in Switzerland where his Huguenot ancestors had fled following the repeal of the Edict of Nantes. He studied under the great mathematician, Daniel Bernoulli, at the University of Basel, before immigrating to Britain where he trained at the Royal Military College, Woolwich. Upon the outbreak of hostilities with France in 1756, he joined the British Royal American Regiment as a military engineer. He came to the attention of General James Wolfe, who appointed him to join his personal detail. During this period he also worked with the legendary future explorer, James Cook, on a monumental chart of the St. Lawrence River.
Upon the conclusion of the Seven Years War, Britain's empire in North America was greatly expanded, and this required the creation of a master atlas featuring new and accurate sea charts for use by the Royal Navy. Des Barres was enlisted to survey the coastlines of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. With these extremely accurate surveys in hand, Des Barres returned to London in 1774, where the Royal Navy charged him with the Herculean task of producing the atlas. He was gradually forwarded the manuscripts of numerous advanced surveys conducted by British cartographers in the American Colonies, Jamaica, and Cuba, conducted in the 1760s.
The result of Des Barres's travels along the Atlantic seaboard was The Atlantic Neptune, which became the most celebrated sea atlas of its era, containing the first systematic survey of the east coast of North America. Des Barres's synergy of great empirical accuracy with the peerless artistic virtue of his aquatint views, created a work that "has been described as the most splendid collection of charts, plates and views ever published" (National Maritime Museum Catalogue).
The Neptune eventually consisted of four volumes and Des Barres's dedication to the project was so strong that often at his own expense he continually updated and added new charts and views to various editions up until 1784, producing over 250 charts and views, many appearing in several variations. All of these charts were immensely detailed, featuring both hydrographical and topographical information, such that in many cases they remained the most authoritative maps of the regions covered for several decades.
The atlas is of the utmost rarity; the last example sold at auction made $779,000 in 2009.
Des Barres After the Atlantic Neptune
After the Revolution, United Empire Loyalists were resettled throughout Canada. As part of this process, a new colony was created by separating Cape Breton from Nova Scotia. Des Barres served as lieutenant governor of Cape Breton Island from 1784 to 1787. He later served as governor of Prince Edward Island from 1804-1812.
He lived an exceptionally long life, even by today's standards, finally dying at age 102-years-old. Des Barre' funeral was held at St. George's Round Church in 1824. He was buried beside his wife Martha in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Des Barres was survived by his mistress Mary Cannon and their four children.