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50 Years Ago in American Heritage

Rediscovering Hand-Drawn Maps from the Revolution and the Duke Who Collected Them

October 2019

A team from American Heritage helped document some of the most important maps of the Revolution — still stored in the medieval English castle where scenes from Harry Potter were later filmed  

Alnwick Castle near the Scottish border in Northumberland, England, houses one of the greatest collection of maps of the American Revolution.
Alnwick Castle near the Scottish border in Northumberland, England, houses one of the greatest collection of maps of the American Revolution. Phil Thomas.

Alnwick (pronounced "Ań-nick) is now best known as the castle where Harry Potter movies were filmed, where Hogwarts students learned to fly broomsticks and play Quidditch among its high castellated towers. 

click hereBegun in 1096 in the far Northeast corner of England, Alnwick Castle helped guard the frontier against incursions by Scottish clans. Today, some 800,000 visitors each year come to enjoy jousting, archery contests, and court jesters, as well as various Harry Potter-themed events and games including lessons in broomstick riding. Other visitors, more inclined to fine and decorative arts, can view one of the most important private collections in the U.K., with paintings by such artists as Titian, Van Dyck, and Canaletto, and ceramics by Meissen, Sèvres, and Minton. The gardens on the grounds are also considered some of the finest in England.

But for Americans, the real treasures at Alnwick are its one-of-a-kind maps of the American Revolution, drawn by hand during or just after important battles such as Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Long Island, and Fort Washington. 

The 11th Duke of Northumberland invited American Heritage to help catalogue his priceless collection of hand-drawn maps of the Revolution.
The 10th Duke of Northumberland invited American Heritage to help catalogue his priceless collection of hand-drawn maps of the Revolution.

In 1969, the 10th Duke of Northumberland, the owner of Alnwick, invited a team of researchers from American Heritage, Elizabeth and William Cummings, to help him catalogue his maps, which had lain largely forgotten in an old metal box. Some of the most important maps they found were published for the first time in our August 1969 issue.

See the entire original article Treasures of Alnwick Castle, by Elizabeth and Matthew Cumming

 

Hugh Percy, joined the British Army as a teenager and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General by the time he joined the forces occupying Boston in 1775.
Hugh Percy joined the British Army as a teenager and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General by the time he joined the forces occupying Boston in 1775. When Percy returned to England a few years later, he took his collection of maps with him. Many were drawn by various Army officers during or right after key battles such as Concord and Long Island.

His son, Hugh Percy (1742–1817), joined the British Army as a teenager and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General by the time he commanded some of the forces occupying Boston in 1775. Later a British peer and the 2nd Duke of Northumberland, he fought at the battles of Lexington, Concord, Long Island, and Fort Washington during the Revolution. Gen. Percy is widely credited with saving the British forces who were ambushed by the Americans at Concord by rushing reinforcements to the battle.

Percy wrote that, "During the whole affair, the rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into a regular body. Indeed they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken. They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about, having been employed as rangers against the Indians and Canadians, and this country being very much covered with wood, and hilly, is very advantageous for their method of fighting."

"The rebels attacked us ... with perseverance and resolution," wrote Percy. "Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken."

Percy later fought at Long Island and Fort Washington. A Whig who sympathized with the Colonists to a degree, he resigned his command in 1777 due to disagreements with his superior, General William Howe. Percy returned to England with his priceless collection of maps of the battles in which he had fought. They still remain in the family.

James Smithson, whose bequest founded the Smithsonian, was the illegitimate brother of the first Duke of Northumberland.
James Smithson (left), whose bequest founded the Smithsonian, was the illegitimate son of Hugh Percy, the first Duke of Northumberland (right).

There's another curious connection between the U.S. and the Percy family. A famous but "illegitimate" member of the family was James Smithson, whose bequest founded the Smithsonian Institution. The first Duke of Northumberland was Hugh Percy (1714–1786), an English peer, landowner, and art patron. Percy was actually born Hugh Smithson, the son of Langdale Smithson of Langdale, Yorkshire. After he married Lady Elizabeth Seymour, the Baroness Percy, he changed his name to Percy. James Smithson was the duke’s illegitimate son, the issue of an affair between Percy and Elizabeth Hungerford Macie.  (For an intriguing story of how Smithson's grave was robbed by Alexander Graham Bell and his remains brought to the U.S. for proper recognition, see "Digging up James Smithson" in the Summer 2012 issue of American Heritage.

The researchers were stunned when the Duke handed them a map of Virginia from 1751. They instantly realized it was one of only three copies in existence of the most famous map of Virigina, surveyed and drawn by Roger Fry and Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson. A later edition of the map (above) is held by the Library of Congress.
The American Heritage researchers were stunned when the Duke handed them his map of Virginia from 1751. They instantly realized it was one of only three copies in existence of the famous map of Viriginia surveyed and drawn by Roger Fry and Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson. A later edition of the map (above) is held by the Library of Congress.