Boston Chorographies Overview

The Boston chorographies stand out in their combination of both British and colonial artists and their variety of viewpoints over the course of the 18th century. The early set of views which include our lens into the collection, John Carwitham’s view of Boston, are notable for their use of manipulated space. Burgis’s first view attempts to observe Boston from Noodles Island, but his second work quickly pivots to the elevated southeastern view that typifies these early maps. John Smibert in his 1738 painting manipulated the foreground to the extreme by adding an elevated island from which to view Boston and its harbor. He also includes two Native American figures and a colonist observing the scene. Manipulated space seems to overlap with the manipulation of peoples as well, in terms of location and lifestyle. James Turner illustrates this with his view of Boston containing Native Americans hunting and gathering on an elevated island in the foreground, complete with abundant fruits and a palm tree. A portion of the later chorographies are noted for their departure from the traditional southeastern vantage point. A number of these are compiled into Des Barres’ Atlantic Neptune such as “A view of Boston from Dorchester Neck” (1775) and “ View of Boston” (1779). These works fall more into the category of traditional landscapes than the elevated views previously seen. Other perspectives that depart from this southeastern view include from Breed Hill in Charlestown depicted in the 1791 piece and also landscapes looking out from the Shawmut Peninsula such as the ones from Fort Hill and Beacon Hill. Finally, a similarly dated set of maps show the influence of the Revolutionary War on the content of the chorographies. Paul Revere’s early engravings of British troops landing in Boston subvert the traditional southeastern view by depicting and labeling British ships anchoring in Boston Harbor. For depictions of the actual war, both Robert Aitken and John Lodge focus on the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown. These events shift the focus from Boston to Charlestown itself, which is viewable from both Boston Harbor and the shore along the back bay. These categories present a method of viewing the rather large collection of chorographies whose narratives are explored more in depth here.