Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bellin's Boston (1756)

Cambridge, December 8, 2012

Think of Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772) as the Diderot and d'Alembert of cartography.  Yes, same generation, same encyclopedic attitude, and a sense of rigor that separates his maps from earlier, more illustrative mapmaking.  In the span of half a century, he produced an enormous collection maps, at all scales, from rivers oceans (he was a hydrographer) to cities.  And he covered a vast territory, from Bombay to the Mississippi.

Yes, you have to remember that at this point France still had a strong presence in the American continent (French Canada, Louisiana, etc.)  And Bellin produced a number of maps of North American cities, including New York, Philadelphia and Boston.  First published in 1756, Bellin's "Plan de la Ville de Boston" shows the original coastline of the Shawmut Peninsula, with a fairly dense fabric covering quite a bit of its almost 800 acres.  It's connected to the rest of the landmass at a very narrow point with a city gate ("defended by a ditch and two batteries") at the end of Orange Street, now Washington Street.  The map shows the bay of the harbor southeast of the city and another, inner bay, or... back bay, yes, the Back Bay before it was filled about a century later.  On the other side of the inner bay, the fabric of Charlestown, between the Charles (the one that hits the left edge) and Mystic rivers.

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