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GUADELOUPE – Basse-Terre. Plan of the Town of Basse Terre, the Capital of Guadaloupe from an Authentic Survey.



Thomas Jefferys’ scarce plan of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, published at the height of the Seven Years’ War.

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This fine map depicts Basse-Terre, the capital of French Guadeloupe (located on the southwest corner of the island), the bastion of Fort-Royal above (to the south), and the nearby town of Saint-François (labelled here as ‘St. Francis’, to the north).  The depiction is meticulously detailed, showing every street, building block and carefully labelling the town’s numerous military installations defences, making it by far the best printed map of the town available to British eyes at the time.  It was published by Thomas Jefferys at the height of the Seven Years’ War, and only a year or so after the British successfully conquered Guadeloupe from France (1759).  Jefferys based this plan on an original manuscript map made by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Rycaut, a British officer who participated in the invasion of the island.


Historical Context


The present map of Basse-Terre was prepared by Thomas Jefferys to depict the town that had dominated newspaper headlines for some months in 1759, although it does not itself portray any military action.  The British Invasion of Guadeloupe (January to May 1759) was critically important event during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), a global conflict between Great Britain and her allies versus France (latterly joined by Spain).  While Guadeloupe is considered today to be a scenic, but low profile, tropical outpost of France in the Caribbean, during the 18th Century, Guadeloupe was of the upmost importance, as it (and its nearby sister island of Martinique) generated astounding revenues in sugar for France.  In fact, these small islands were considered to be far more financially valuable than any of France’s or Britain’s mainland North American colonies.


While the opening couple of years of the war went well for France, the ascension of the aggressive and daring William Pitt to lead the British war effort in 1757 caused the tide to turn.  In late 1758, Pitt dispatched a combined naval-army force of 9,000 men from Portsmouth, England to invade Martinique and Guadeloupe, under the overall command of Major-General Peregrine Hopson, the former Governor of Nova Scotia.  The naval contingent was commanded by Commodore John Moore.  The force first descended upon Martinique on January 16, 1759, but was repulsed. 


The British next turned their energies towards the invasion of Guadeloupe, with the British fleet arriving off of Basse-Terre on January 22, 1759.  The British vessels proceeded to relentlessly pummel Basse-Terre, Saint-François and Fort-Royal with heavy ordnance.  The French tried to disrupt the assault by destroying a few British ships.  Nevertheless, on January 24 the British landed their armed forces on land, just to the north of Saint-François, and then encamped at point a little inland.


It was at this point that the British became bogged down in the tropical, densely forested and mountainous terrain.  The French troops, who were better acclimatised to the environment and more knowledgeable of the terrain mounted a guerrilla war that kept the British pinned down.  The British began to fall from tropical diseases.  By mid-February, over 1,500 men were immobilised, with Hopson succumbing to the illness on February 27, leaving the overall command to Brigadier John Barrington.  While Barrington tried to rally his forces, disease continued to decimate the British camp, and by April it seemed that the British invasion was not long for this world.


The British realised that their only hope was to mount a swift and daring action.  Commodore Moore heavily bombarded Fort-Royal, while Barrington attacked from three sides.  The operation shocked the French governor, Nadau du Treil, who surrendered Guadeloupe to Britain on May 1, 1759.


The seizure of Guadeloupe was greeted with horror in Paris, although it would be the first of several French defeats that would occur during the ‘Annus Horibilis’ of 1759-60.  The French would essentially loose Canada to Britain following the seizure of Quebec in the fall of 1759, while French fortunes in India would be destroyed following the Battle of Wandiwash in January 1760.  The Seven Years’ War proved to be an unmitigated disaster for France.


In 1763, at the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, Guadeloupe (along with Martinique, which the British captured 1762) were returned to France in exchange for Britain gaining title to Canada and certain other French Caribbean islands.


Lieutenant-Colonel Rycaut maps Basse-Terre


The present printed map is based on a manuscript drafted by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Rycaut (fl. 1755-63), a Royal Marine officer who participated in the British invasion of Guadeloupe.  He was the son of Captain James Rycaut of the Royal Navy (d. 1758) and was among the officers who volunteered at Plymouth early in 1755 to fight overseas, subsequently participating in a number of actions in the West Indies. 


Importantly, the present map should not be confused for another Jefferys-Rycaut production, Plan of the Attack against Basseterre on the Island of Guadeloupe by a Squadron of his Majesty’s ships of war commanded by Commodore Moore on ye 22d Jan. 1759 (London, dated 1760, but perhaps printed a little later).  This larger map likewise depicts Basse-Terre on Rycaut’s same template as employed for the present map, however, it notably adds a detailed portrayal of the military action of the British invasion of 1759.


In addition to his mapping of Basse-Terre, Rycaut also produced the antecedent for Jefferys’ map of the other main British action on Guadeloupe, Plan of the attack against Fort Louis now Fort George, at Point à Pitre on the island of Guadaloupe By a Squadron of his Majesty’s Ships of War detached from Commodore Moore, & Commanded by Capt. Wm. Harman, on the 14 February 1759. Drawn on the spot by Lieut. Col. Rycaut of the Marines, (London, 1760).  Rycaut obviously had advanced formal training in military cartography, although the details remain an enigma.  He served for a time as the Governor of the British colony of Roatten Island, Honduras, in 1761.  He was subsequently wounded in action, and died in London on July 8, 1763.


Thomas Jefferys: The British Empire’s Leading Mapmaker


Thomas Jefferys (1719-1771) was by far and away the most important and innovative mapmaker in Britain during the critical period leading up to, during and following the Seven Years’ War.  More than any other individual, Jefferys was responsible for London’s rise to becoming the World’s leading map-publishing centre, a role it would hold at least until World War I.


While Jefferys made many important contributions to the mapping of Metropolitan Britain, such as sponsoring magnificent county surveys, his greatest achievements were the maps he published of Britain’s overseas colonies and her military operations during the Seven Years’ War.  His prominence led to his appointment as the Geographer to the Prince of Wales (later King George III) and he maintained a privileged relationship with the Board of Trade, the Crown body that governed Britain’s American colonies, as well as the Admiralty and the Army’s Ordnance Board, so giving him unpanelled access to fresh, ground-breaking manuscript maps and original surveys.  Jefferys notably published epic regional maps of America, including the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia (1753), the Braddock Mead map of New England (1755) and William Gerard de Brahm’s map of South Carolina and Georgia (1757). 


Jefferys became quite wealthy upon being the first to publish high quality maps of the theatres and sites of action of the Seven Years’ War, of which the present plan is a fine example.  Even to this day, Jefferys’ maps are considered to be the authoritative geographical and logistical records of the conflict.


In spite of the outstanding quality and popularity of his publications, Jefferys went bankrupt in 1766, felled by the phenomenal costs of his English county surveys.  He was henceforth sponsored by his friend Robert Sayer, although Jefferys never regained the same commercial success.


The present map appeared in only a single state, but was seemingly issued in three distinct ways.  It first appeared within Jefferys’ excellent (and today scarce) book, The Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions in North and South America, giving a particular account of the climate, soil, minerals, animals, vegetables, manufactures, trade, commerce, and languages … Illustrated by maps and plans of the principal places, collected from the best authorities (London, 1760), placed in Part 2, opposite page 107 (the present example is from this source).  The map then seems to have been issued separately, before finally appearing as part of Jefferys fantastic, but financially ruinous, atlas of maps of North American and West Indies entitled A General Topography of North America and the West Indies. Being a collection of all the maps, charts, plans, and particular surveys, that have been published of that part of the world, either in Europe or America (London: Robert Sayer, 1768). 


The present plan of Basse-Terre is scarce and only very seldom appears on the market.


References: Phillips, Maps of America, p. 136; David Rumsey Map Collection: 4796.013.

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