March 20, 2000 Library of Congress Receives Gift of Revolutionary War Maps Drawn by Lafayette's Cartographer
Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
The Library of Congress has recently acquired six rare manuscript maps that were drawn by Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy, the skilled cartographer who served as the Marquis de Lafayette's aide-de-camp during the American Revolutionary War. They are accompanied by a brief handwritten text describing the 1781 Virginia Campaign.
The purchase of the maps was made possible by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. H.F. Lenfest, who are members of the Library's private sector support group, the James Madison Council. Funding of this acquisition is their contribution to the "Gifts to the Nation" program, which is a project in celebration of the Library of Congress's Bicentennial. A major aspect of the program is to obtain private sector resources for development of the collections, including the purchase of historically significant items that build on the Library's strengths, fill in gaps, and ensure the overall depth and diversity of the research collections.
As a group, the maps document major aspects of Lafayette's activities while serving as a volunteer in the Continental Army directly under George Washington's command. Generals Lafayette and Washington eventually brought the fight for independence to a successful conclusion with the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19 at Yorktown.
Idealistic and just 19 years old when he arrived in America in 1777 to assist his hero George Washington in the battle for liberty, Lafayette was accompanied by the talented Capitaine who served as his aide-de-camp. Today, Capitaine is recognized as one of the finest cartographers of his time. Only 18 original Capitaine manuscript maps are known to exist: the six that have been purchased by the Library of Congress; six maps held by five different institutions in the United States; and six additional copies in Europe. The Library of Congress now has the single largest collection of Capitaine manuscript maps.
Beautifully drawn, hand colored, and in pristine condition, the Library's collection includes a detailed map of the Virginia Campaign, dated 1781; two plans of the 1778 military activities in and around Newport, Rhode Island; a plan of the retreat from Barren Hill in Pennsylvania, 1778; a map of the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, 1778; and a map showing troop movements between the battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga in New York, ca. 1777.
The large map of Virginia is considered to be one of the most important examples of Revolutionary War cartography. It documents the many skirmishes and military engagements that took place in 1781 on the long road to victory at Yorktown. Washington directed Lafayette to go to Virginia after the Battle of Monmouth. Capitaine accompanied Lafayette southward, thoroughly documenting sites of engagements in Virginia. He also provided an abundance of economic and social information, including the locations of mills, ferries, plantations and places of worship.
These maps until now have been restricted in their use to scholars of 18th century America because they were in private hands. The New York firm of Richard B. Arkway Inc. located the maps at the request of the Library's Geography and Map Division and facilitated their purchase from a private collector.
The Library's Revolutionary War map collection contains the work of many famous cartographers of the time, but it did not previously include a personal cartographic record of Lafayette's enormous contributions to the American struggle for independence. These historic works document this "missing link," and their acquisition greatly enhances related materials that can be found in the Library's map collection as well as other Lafayette-related collections throughout the institution. Thousands of maps from the Library's collections can now be viewed on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov.