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The North American Atlas: Mapping the American Revolutionary War

Maps depicting the varied arenas and battles of the American Revolutionary War are plentiful and diverse, appearing in English, French, and German, and published in Philadelphia, London, and numerous major European centers. The war has been labeled as one of history's most literate, referring not only to textual but also to cartographic outputs:[1][J. B. Harley, Barbara Bartz Petchenik, and Lawrence W. Towner, Mapping the American Revolutionary War (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 1. Lynn Montross, Rag, Tag, and Bobtail: The Story of the Continental Army 1775-1783 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952), 5-6.]

The era of the American Revolution has held a perennial attraction for historical writers, beginning with that very generation, in such large measure that the events of those years and the historical problems evoked have been documented in greater detail than for any other period of early American history.[2][Lester J. Capon, Barbara Bartz Petchenik, and John Hamilton Long, Atlas of Early American History: The Revolutionary Era 1760-1790 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), xv.]

The general classification of these varied maps of the American Revolution is complex, and an extensive literature discusses the subject.[3][Harley et al., Mapping the American Revolutionary War, 1-187. Capon et al., 1-157. Kenneth Nebenzahl, A Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans of the American Revolution 1775-1795 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975), 1-159. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, The American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies 1750-1789 (2000), http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/armhtml/armhome.html. There is a hardcover bibliography with the same title which served as precedent for the website. That book was compiled by John R. Sellers and Patricia Molen van Ee, published in 1981 by the Library of Congress. National Maritime Museum Collections Online (not dated). Atlantic Neptune Charts. Accessible online at http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/index.cfm/category/90437. These charts and bibliographic citations represent the entire Henry Newton Stevens collection. Also see Justin Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of the United States of America, Vol. VI (The United States of America Part I) (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1887).] All this considered, a few major works stand out among the British atlases of the times, including: Thomas Jeffery's The American Atlas first published in 1776, Joseph F. W. Des Barres's The Atlantic Neptune first published between 1777 and 1781, and William Faden's The North American Atlas first published in 1777. (These dates reflect the publication of the volumes, not the dates shown on the individual maps, which may be earlier.) These publications were used by all combatants–British, American, and French–during the Revolutionary War era. Map use was not necessarily for military reasons alone: these visual documents served to feed widespread public demands for news of the conflict.

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