Mapping the Piscataqua Region: From John Smith to Google Maps, May 1- Oct 31


Mapping the Piscataqua Region

The Portsmouth Historical Society is pleased to announce the 2014 exhibition for the John Paul Jones House, Mapping the Piscataqua Region: John Smith to Google Maps. An opening reception will be held at the John Paul Jones House from 5-7 PM on May 9. It is free for members of the Portsmouth Historical Society and $5 for others. Reservations are not required. The exhibition will run through November 3, 2014. The John Paul Jones House, 43 Middle St Portsmouth is open everyday May1 through November 3 from 11 AM to 5 PM.

While there are earlier European and Native American representations of the Pisacataqua region, the map drawn by John Smith in 1614 named the whole area New England and in the Description of New England that accompanied the map’s publication encouraged settlement and fishing ventures. The rarely modest Smith named what we now know as the Isles of Shoals, Smith’s Isles. This exhibition begins with Smith’s map and examines mapping in the Portsmouth area through the present day. From Native American descriptive names to the pin-point accuracy of a Google map, it examines both the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of mapping. You will see maps from four centuries and the tools used to make them—from simple wooden compasses to a small drone.

Maps and charts have served many purposes through the ages. John Smith intended his map and accompanying book as a guide for settlers and an encouragement for the fishing industry. He had worked with members of indigenous tribes and initially used their names for places but replaced these with English names to curry favor with King James. Although it served to delineate ownership for the English, Smith’s map was used largely as a promotional tool, rather than for way finding. Later 17th century maps, such as the William Hack map and the “IS” map of the Piscataqua c1660-70, show English settlements. These are also promotional pieces advertising New England.

By the early 18th century, England needed to document and defend its new empire. Cyprian Southack, Captain of the Massachusetts Province Galley, created charts for the territory from Canso, Nova Scotia to New York that were published as the New England Coasting Pilot, sometime between 1718 and 1734. With the end of the French and Indian Wars, the British had even more territory to accurately record. Joseph F. W. Des Barres surveyed Nova Scotia and was responsible for compiling and publishing the Atlantic Neptune, an atlas of charts and views of the east coast. Samuel Holland was headquartered in Portsmouth to head up the surveying effort. James Grant, his assistant, issued a map of Portsmouth harbor in 1774.

Laying out property to define individual ownership and town boundaries had been a primary job for surveyors since the beginning of the colony. However, a new nation required accurate maps. In New Hampshire this effort produced the 1816 Carrigain map.

While Smith’s map and other early examples could get you to New England, they were not of much use for day-to-day travel. Not until land travel increased during the 19th century were detailed road maps required. The 1813 Portsmouth map, in addition to street names and routes, provides detail of the city as it was being rebuilt after the fires of 1802 and 1806. In the mid-nineteenth century town directories and accompanying maps became common. Rockingham County, like many others, published a detailed map showing roads, railroads, businesses and residences. The automobile defined travel in the 20th century—the state, Federal government and towns created more and better roads as cities promoted both business possibilities and tourism. Portsmouth, a city trying to define itself through increased visitation to historic sites, published a new promotional map or brochure almost every year.
How different it was to set off from England with just a compass and back staff and perhaps John Smith’s map, and expect to get to New England when compared to our capability to check the traffic for traffic jams and adjust course accordingly—when our electronic devices are blessed (or cursed) with “location awareness.”

Where: John Paul Jones House
When: May 1 – Oct 31
Hours: 11am – 5pm
Open Daily