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Antigua in the West Indies America. Laid Down by actual Survey, and engraved by John Luffman, in the years 1787 and 1788. / To His Excellency Major General Sir Thomas Shirley Governor Bart. Captain General & Governor in Chief in and over all His Majestys Leeward Caribee Islands, in America. Chancellor, Vice Admiral & Ordinary of the same. This Map is Dedicated, by his obliged humble Servant, John Luffman.


John Luffman’s grand map of Antigua, one of the cartographic monuments of the 18th century British West Indies; predicated upon the goldsmith-cartographer’s reconnaissance of the island conducted when it was still one of the world’s leading sugar-slave economies, as well as hosting a major Royal Navy base (then commanded by the future Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson); the map served as the definitive geographic record of contemporary Antigua, granting a broadly accurate large-scale overview of the island’s topography, detailing the locations of hundreds of plantations (with their owners’ names and their sources of power), as well as delineating its road network (with milage markers), outlining settlements and locating rural churches, plus, featuring a detailed inset plan of the island’s capital, St. John’s; published in London by William Faden, it amazignly served as the autorotative map of Antigua for 59 years!


Copper engraving on 4 joined sheets (Good, several closed tears and cracks entering image but with no real loss, some surface abrasions along sheet joints, some light even toning and a light stain in lower right quadrant, some minor chips of filled loss to top neatline reinstated in facsimile, the entire map archivally mounted to a slightly larger sheet of japan for added stability; still a fine library example), 93.5 x 100.5 cm (37 x 39.5 inches).

1 in stock


Antigua was one of the first British colonies in the Caribbean, having been founded in 1632 by the great sugar baron Christopher Codrington, who brought setters over from St. Kitts.  By the 1670s, Antigua had formed a highly profitable sugar-slave economy.  The heyday of the island’s agrarian bounty came in the 1760s, when it was the fourth largest sugar producer in the British Empire (next to Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Kitts) and one of the wealthiest places in the world (at least as far as Antigua’s small white planter community was concerned).  Meanwhile, from the 1740s, Antigua was home to an important Royal Navy dockyard, at English Harbour.


In the run-up to the apogee of Antigua’s sugar-slave economy, its legislature, backed by its major plantation owners, commissioned the island’s surveyor-general, Robert Baker, to conduct the first serious survey of Antigua.  This resulted in a grand-format and incredibly beautiful work that was the first broadly accurate map of the island, A New and Exact Map of the Island of Antigua in America, according to an Actual and Accurate Survey made in the years 1746, 1747 & 1748 (London: T. & J. Bowles, 1749).


The map was the first to label all Antigua’s estates, noting the names of their proprietors, while depicting its infrastructure and general topography.


Please see a link to images of all 4 sheets of the Baker map, courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library:




Importantly, Baker’s mapping of Antigua was not precisely accurate, for it was not predicated upon systematic trigonometrical surveys.  Prior to the 1760s, such surveys were very unusual in Britain and throughout its empire, and even if one were to be endeavored in Antigua, it would have been prohibitively expensive, while many of the island’s landowners might not have wanted to have the bounds of their estates precisely demarcated, as the result might see them liable for higher taxes (a certain level of ambiguity in the size of plantations and their holdings allowed one to ‘fudge’ a bit on their financial obligations to the crown!).  As such, Baker employed a mélange of surveying methods, with certain key areas being a mapped by systematic plain table and chain surveys, while the itinerary surveys of the roads would have sufficed for the bulk of the island.  Indeed, most everybody an Antigua would have been happy with a broadly accurate rendering of their island, as an exact impression was seen as unnecessary, and even undesirable.


While sugar remained important and was the only crop that could be sustained upon a mass-scale in Antigua, as it was less fertile than the other great sugar islands, from 1770s onwards its soils gradually became depleted, such that its annual crops yields diminished.  However, the island’s excellent location, immediately along the main West Indies-Europe shipping routes, aided by the stellar nature of Saint John’s Harbour, supported a booming mercantile trade independent of the sugar industry, while the fixed naval establishment proved a reliable support to the economy.


The decades following the publication of the Baker map saw an unusually high turnover in the ownership of the plantations.  While some of this was natural (as proprietors passed away, leaving their estates to their heirs, who sometimes sold them on), the gradual decline in sugar yields caused many to sell their estates while the land was still very valuable.


On the positive side, both the capital, St. John’s, and the naval base at English Harbour, had experienced considerable growth from the 1740s to the 1780s, while infrastructure had been expanded and upgraded in various places.


Consequently, by the early 1780s, the Antigua legislative assembly, and the island’s major landowners, came to see the Baker survey, for all is majesty, to be outdated.  It decided to commission a new grand map of the island that updated the picture to the contemporary time.


Enter John Luffman


The man chosen to re-map Antigua was John Luffman (1751 – 1821), a native of The City of London.  Starting in 1766, Luffman apprenticed with the Goldsmith’s Company, qualifying in 1773.  As that trade was closely related to engraving, it is not so surprising that shortly thereafter Luffman was working as a map engraver, making important itinerary and country maps for the likes of Mostyn John Armstrong and son Andrew Armstrong, as well making maps for George Taylor & Andrew Skinner’s famous road atlas of Scotland (1776).  While not much is known about the matter, it seems that Luffman must have gained some training in surveying in the field, perhaps working with one of the cartographers for whom he engraved maps.  Luffman’s role in producing itinerary surveys is what likely brought him to the attention of Antigua’s agents in London and the island’s grandees in St. John’s.


Luffman moved to Antigua with his family to fulfill his cartographic mandate, residing there for almost three years, from 1786 to 1788.  There he developed an intense revulsion towards slavery and the ‘idle’ lifestyle of the plantation owners.  Upon his return to England, he pushed A Brief Account of the Island of Antigua together with the Customs and Manners of its Inhabitants, as well White as Black: as also an Accurate ctatement of the Food, Cloathing, Labor, and Punishment, of Slaves: in Letters to a Friend written in the years 1786, 1787, 1788 (London: T. Cadell, 1789), a well-written and insightful work that is today considered a seminal source on 18th century Antigua.


Luffman’s Antigua Map in Focus


Importantly, Luffman decided to use Baker’s map as the basis for his endeavour.  Baker’s work was of very high quality, even if it was not precisely accurate, while conducting a systematic trigonometric survey of the island was still not viable or desired (indeed no British West Indian island would be charted in this way until James Robertson’s mapping of Jamaica, published in 1804).


As such, Luffman’s task was not to completely re-survey Antigua, but to carefully reconnoiter the island, with particular attention to mapping the updated infrastructure, and to accurately record the current proprietors of the island’s plantations (whereupon major changes had occurred in the last 40 years).  Indeed, there was much to be done, while Luffman corrected a few errors made by Baker, aided by more modern surveying equipment.


The result of Luffman’s endeavours was the present elegant large format map, published in 1793, almost five years after Luffman’s return to England, by William Faden, the British Empire’s leading mapmaker.


The island proper occupies the pride of place in the centre of the composition, with it captured to the large scale of 3 inches to 2 miles.  With a high degree of accuracy, the map showcases the roughly oval shaped landmass, with its complex, heavily indented shorelines, noting offshore features (ex. many coral reefs and cays), while copious bathymetric soundings in fathoms chart the seabed.  While the map’s depiction of the coastlines and offshore features is taken verbatim from Baker, Luffman added a series of navigational sightlines for sailing around the island, likely gleaned from a local merchant captain, or, Royal Navy officer.


Antigua is shown divided into its six parishes, with a chart (lower left) giving the land areas for each, as well as the total land area for the island as being 108 ¼ miles (amazingly, an almost precisely accurate figure!).


The ‘Explanation’, in the lower right corner, provides the key for the pictorial symbols used throughout the map to locate Churches & Chapels; Houses (many being plantation ‘Great Houses); Windmills; Cattle Mills; Roads; points of distance in ‘Miles from St. John’s’; Rocks; Shoals; and Hills.  The topography is quite well depicted, based upon Baker’s template.


Notably, Luffman revised Baker’s depiction of the island’s infrastructure (namely roads), while, in some places, correcting the mileage measurements along the roads.  He also included updated (and is some aspects improved) depictions of the capital area, St. John’s (ex. adding the locations of the army barracks and the hospital, both to the east of town) and the English Harbour naval base (adding more facilities).  Interestingly, English Harbour was then commanded, from 1784 to 1787, by the future Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson (Luffman and Nelson were more than likely acquainted); today the site of the naval base is known as ‘Nelson’s Dockyard’.


Importantly, Luffman had meticulously updated the naming the owners of the island’s 350 plus plantations, many of which had changed since Baker’s time.  The list of ‘Subscribers’ to the map that runs along both sides of the composition is headed by the names of the governor (Sir Thomas Shirley, the dedicatee of the map) and the members of ‘His Majesty’s Council’ (essentially the ‘cabinet’ of the island’s government) and proceeds to list hundreds of names of major plantation owners and interested parties in London, who sponsored Luffman’s endeavour.


In a novel addition, not featured on the Baker map, in the top centre, Luffman includes a detailed inset map of Antigua’s capital, ‘The Town of Saint John’, executed to scale of 1 inch to about 550 feet.  The map shows the city laid out upon an even grid, with its harbour to the west and southwest, with all streets named, and with their widths given in feet.  A lettered key identifies the main buildings in the St. John’s, including a. The Court House; b. The Jail; c. The Cage; d. The Spring; e. The Public Pond; f. Methodists Meeting house; g. United Brethren house; h. Custom House; i. Free Masons Lodge; K. Lindsey’s Long Room; l. Smith’s Taverns; and m. Feard’s Tavern.


Luffman’s work was very highly regarded in its time and served as the authoritative map of Antigua for an amazing 59 years.  The enduring importance of the of the map is indicated by the fact that James Wyld, the ‘Geographer to the Queen (Victoria)’, Faden’s successor, re-issued Luffman’s map, using the original plates, in the 1840s (today known in only a couple of examples).


Luffman’s map would only be superseded upon the publication of William Musgrave Shervington’s magisterial To His Excellency Robert James Mackintosh Esquire, Governor in Chief in and over Her Majesty’s Leeward West India Islands &c.&c.&c. This Map of the Island of Antigua(London: J. & C. Walker, 1852).




Despite the high regard in which Luffman’s map was held, as was the case with many grand mapping endeavours, it proved financially disastrous for Luffman.  The costs of surveying, and for the engraving and distribution of the map exceeded his fees and the subscription revenues, while the very expensive sales price ensured that it was limited to a small market.


However, Luffman soon bounced back, and became a successful London map engraver, issuing many separate maps of events of the Napoleonic Wars.  He was also responsible for an unusually attractive atlas, Select Plans of the Principal Cities, Harbours, Forts &c. in the World (1799-1801) and several lovely plates for John Thomas Serres’s sea atlas, The Little Sea Torch: or, True Guide for Coasting Pilots (1801).


As for Antigua, its sugar economy continued to decline, as its soils were further depleted.  Fortunately, however, this was offset by an increase in maritime trade and naval activity, which allowed Antigua to remain relatively prosperous.


While the British crown proclaimed in 1833 that slavery was to be abolished across the empire through a gradual process lasting from 1834 to 1838 (such that the former slaves had to serve as ‘apprentices’ to their former masters for this four-year period), in 1834, the island’s governor ordered the immediate and total abolition of slavery in Antigua, with no provision for the intermediate regime.

Antigua’s reprieve from economic downturn was not to last.  The island was weakened by a succession of natural disasters, including an earthquake, in 1843, a hurricane, in 1848, and a draught, in 1849.  However, it was the British Parliament that grievously wounded Antigua, upon its passing of the Sugar Act (1846), an incredibly consequential piece of legislation which dealt a body blow to all the British Caribbean.  This bill removed the preferential tariff treatment for sugar that the British West Indies had long enjoyed, opening the British market to much cheaper imports from the East Indies and foreign Caribbean islands, such as Cuba.  While the effect of this act took some years to sink in, Antigua’s sugar industry became financially unviable and, as the island would not support any another anchor crops, the agrarian sector fell into freefall.  While the mercantile and naval establishments saved the island from total economic collapse, the island’s decline was sharp and inexorable.  Hundreds of people emigrated from Antigua each year, as businesses failed, plantations went bankrupt, and crown largesse became ever scarcer.

Antigua’s economy managed to recover in the 20th century, with the rise of tourism, which is today the anchor of its prosperity.

A Note on Rarity

Luffmam’s map of Antigua is very rare.  An expensive work in its day, it would have been issued in only a limited print run, while its large size would have ensured a low survival rate.


We can trace 7 institutional examples of map, held by the British Library; University of London Senate House Library; National Archives U.K. (2 examples, 1 of which one is in very poor condition); William Clements Library; Biblioteca Nacional de España; and the Nationaal Archief (The Hague).


As for trade information, examples of the map have appeared at auction a couple of times in the last decade, while an example has been offered by an American dealer.


Additionally, we are aware of 2 institutional examples of James Wyld’s 1840s re-issue of the Luffman map, held by the Royal Geographical Society and the American Antiquarian Society.


References: British Library: Maps K.Top.123.83.2 tab.; William Clements Library (University of Michigan): Atl2 1793 Lu; National Archives U.K. (2 examples): CO 700/ANTIGUA5 and WO 78/800; Biblioteca Nacional de España: MR/4/I SERIE 30/2; Nationaal Archief (The Hague): VEL569D; OCLC: 945090009, 35023862, 556381188, 1062010236; Kit S. KAPP, ‘The Printed Maps of Antigua, 1689-1899’, in in R.V. Tooley (ed.), The Map Collector’s Circle, no. 55 (1969), no. 46; P.A. PENFOLD, Map and Plans in the Public Record Office: 2. America and West Indies (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1974), no. 3049; B.W. HIGMAN, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834 (1995), p. 746; John SUGDEN, Nelson: A Dream of Glory (2011), p. 898; David WATTS, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change Since 1492 (1990), p. 571; Laurence WORMS & Ashley BAYNTON-WILLIAMS, British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and their Principal Employers to 1850 (2011), pp. 417-419.

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