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A Map of New England

A Map of New England Woodcut
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[ This description is from the project: Witness to America's Past ]

The history of the mapping of New England in New England begins with a controversy. The first map known to have been published in the English colonies of North America, and probably the first map published in the Western Hemisphere, has been attributed to John Foster, who printed William Hubbard's Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in which A Map of New England appeared. Foster is thought to have been the only man in Boston to have made woodcuts during that period. The difficulty arises because another version of the map, possibly also cut in Boston by Foster, was inserted in the London edition of Hubbard's work, retitled The Present State of New-England, that was published within a few months of the Boston edition.1

The two versions of the map have perplexed bibliographers for more than a century. The American edition of Hubbard's Narrative contains the version known as the "White Hills" map; in the other version, the White Hills of New Hampshire are identified as the "Wine Hills." The problem for historians of printing and map collectors has been to determine the order in which the maps were printed, and if they were cut by the same engraver-John Foster. After more than a century of examination these questions are not entirely settled; what is known is that the Historical Society's copy of the "White Hills" map is unique, as it contains a symbol for an unnamed town that appears on no other surviving copy of this version.2

Both versions are among the Massachusetts Historical Society's holdings of more than 5,000 historical maps and charts, zoo atlases that contain separately printed maps, and large collection of early printed books illustrated with maps.

John Foster's rough woodblock map of New England cannot be fairly judged against the standard of European engraved portraiture and mapmaking of the late seventeenth century. However, it is not without rough charm. Fine arts were slow to develop in New England with its small, largely rural population. Self-taught in several fields, John Foster made considerable achievements during his brief career. His woodcut map, as copied, proved satisfactory for the English edition of the work it illustrated.

1. Richard B. Holman. ”John Foster’s Woodcut Map of New England.” Printing and Graphic Arts 8 (1960) pp.53-96; D. Woodward. “The Foster Woodcut Map Controversy: A Further Examination of the Evidence.” Imago Mundi 21 (1967), pp.52-61.

2. James Clements Wheat and Christian F. Brun. Maps and Charts, Published in America before 1800. New Haven, 1969, p.144.


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