• Edward Crisp


    Map: South Carolina as Development Dream This map is one of only four in existence. Published in 1711 by Edward Crisp, it shows three views of the Province of Carolina that originally sprawled from Virginia to the Florida cape and west to the Pacific. Insets show the walled city of Charles Town and a cartouche honors leaders and the True and Absolute Lords Proprietors who ruled under a 1663 charter from King Charles II. The distortions were a convention of the period to give emphasis to important features. photograph courtesy of the Charleston Library Society 

    By Tom Robinson- The Charleston Mercury Published:Tuesday, April 19, 2011 4:49 PM EDT The 300 year-old South Carolina captured on the so-called 1711 Crisp Map was a mighty different place. Indeed, the Atlantic seacoast from Virginia to Florida appeared — like that iconic 1976 New Yorker cover map showing Manhattan from Ninth Avenue westward to Japan — well, distorted. No wonder. There were no satellite images from outer space or GPSs to catalogue the rivers, islands, land masses and fortified cities of the Province of Carolina that stretched from the Lord Ashley River to the great Mississippi. Cartographers of the day depended on more rudimentary bearings, with equally inaccurate results.

    Yet according to noted historian and archive expert Nic Butler at the Charleston County Library, the Crisp map is not so much a poor rendition as it is a piece of propaganda. He likens the distortions to medieval paintings in which the more important parts of the subject were exaggerated. The map surveyors and the subsequent publishers of same sought to draw attention to what they thought worthy of consideration. What we have here is essentially a primitive brochure, whetting appetites for the investment opportunities across the pond. 

    Copies of this map were sold at the Carolina Coffee House in Birchen (sic, Birchin) Lane, London. This was the poste restante or postal exchange for mail arriving from the New World and heading to it. Those downing their coffees there were likely the Donald Trumps of the early 18th century, drooling over the future real estate development sites, including an enormous, bucolic island the size of Iceland called Hilton Head — and the ever-so-well-gated community of Charles Town. 

    The 1711 map is actually three maps with the world’s longest name: “A Compleat Description of the Province of Carolina in 3 Parts. 1ly. The Improved Part from the Surveys of Maurice Mathews & Mr. John Love. 2ly. The West Part by Capt. Tho. Nairn. 3ly: A Chart of the Coast from Virginia to Cape Florida. Published by Edwd. Crisp.” The important takeaways for businessmen at the coffee house: lots and lots of land; not only claimed for, but occupied by Britain; and safe from the Spanish and French who likewise laid claim to the Americas. From 1702-1713, Queen Anne’s War pitted England against France in European and American theaters.

    The dominant feature is that of what you would recognize as the Lowcountry of modern South Carolina. The other features are the expanded view westward to the Mississippi and the coastline from Virginia to the Caribbean. In a cartouche, Mr. Crisp dedicated his chart to William, Earl of Craven, Palatine; the most honorable Henry, Duke of Beaufort; the right honorable John, Lord Carteret; the honorable Maurice Ashley, Esq.; Sir John Colleton Baronet; John Danson, Esq.; and the rest of the “True and Absolute Proprietors of the Province of South Carolina.” King Charles II had rewarded eight noblemen in March 1663 for their faithful support of his efforts to regain the throne of England. He granted the eight, called Lords Proprietors, the land called Carolina, named in honor of Charles I, his father. According to the charter, Carolina stretched from the Virginia border south to what is now Daytona Beach and west all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

    For all its seeming shortcomings, the 1711 Crisp Map is a national treasure. There are only four known copies. One is at our very own Charleston Library Society (CLS) on King Street. The other extant copies are at the Library of Congress, the University of South Carolina and the John Carter Brown Library in Providence. The maps are hand tinted, so each is unique. A version of the map was created James Akin of Philadelphia and published in David Ramsay’s History of South Carolina in 1809. It bears the title “A Plan of Charles Town from a survey of Edwd. Crisp in 1704.” Butler laments, “For nearly 200 years now readers have admired this map and assumed Edward Crisp created it from his own survey of the town in 1704, but that’s just not true.”

    The faulty “1704” map depicts a solitary walled city. This is a significant asset to 18th century observers, who would interpret what are called “regular fortifications” as a sign of the area’s settlers having established a real hold on their claim of ownership. But there is no context. The true 1711 Crisp map tells a much more complete story. “Charleston is the center of a vital and expanding colony, which is at the center of an increasingly important southeastern Atlantic coast,” says the CLS’s Robert Salvo. He notes that plantations and settlements dot the coast from Bulls Bay to the Savannah River. Other colonies in the region, from the friendly British settlements of North Carolina and the Bahamas to the hostile Spanish Florida and Cuba are included, too. Even the printing information — the text stating the map’s use in the Carolina Coffee House, London — illustrates the drive to bring more settlers into the young colony. Like Butler, Salvo sees the map as a window into the period. “The 1711 map opens your eyes to an early Charleston that was not a sealed, solitary fortress, but a living, growing port city, driving the settlement of a region.”

    The map was given to the Library Society as part of the William Godber Hinson collection. Recently the Young Professionals Board of the CLS hosted a special dinner with Dr. Julie Flavel, author of When London Was Capital of America, to raise funds to conserve the map. “Through the map conservation project, we are commemorating the 300th anniversary of the publication of this important work,” says Trisha Kometer, the society’s archivist. “As CLS joins all of Charleston in reflection upon the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we feel this map, and the piece of history it represents, helps to provide a broader context through which to view the long and storied past of South Carolina.”

    The Library Society is a gem in itself. Under the leadership of Anne Cleveland, CLS has been experiencing a renaissance. An expanded program schedule now boasts lectures, concerts, film screenings and “toddler time” story hours, among other social events. Although technically a non-profit membership organization, many of the programs are nonetheless open to the public, 

    Check out the CLS at Charleston Library Society