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J. F. W. Des Barres' 'Great Folly'

Image 5. LOC L690. G3804.N4S3 1776 .M4 Manuscript map of British and American troop positions in the New York City region at the time of the Battle of Long Island (Aug.-Sept. 1776)


I should like to acknowledge a number of people who have assisted and supported me in the writing of this paper. Firstly, there is Frank Licameli (Lt. Colonel, ret.) who many years ago sought me out after a short interview I gave, about one of the plans featured in this paper, which was published in New York’s DNA News. Frank’s expertise and knowledge of Revolutionary War New York has been a veritable blessing to an Englishman such as I. Further, I would like to acknowledge all of the helpful and knowledgeable archive staff I have worked with over the years, both in the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, and the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Thanks also go to Mary Sponberg Pedley of UMCL for her timely, helpful and encouraging remarks along with my sister Muriel Adamson who has been a constant source of expertise, especially in matters relating to Intellectual Property. Last but not least a very special ‘thank you’ goes to my wonderful partner Cindy Wrenn for her astute insights and, not least, for living with me, my maps, books, computer and interminable video making.

Copyright and Permissions

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including  photography, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for purposes of research and education.


Please cite as follows: Adamson, A.J.W. Des Barres’ Great Folly. An examination of Des Barres’ first and last major foray into the realm of political mapping and the little known Plans he created to that end. Heritage Charts. 2023.

Glossary of Terms

Each of the following terms may be found in this paper. Each have varying (specific) definitions and possibly even meanings, in the context of the modern world. What is important is to acknowledge that the definitions which appear below are related to the works at the center of this investigation, which were created over 250 years ago. For the purposes of this paper they are defined as follows:


The science and art of making maps.


Hydrography (Hydrographical)     

Features of an underwater area, the ‘sounding’ or measuring for depth, tides, shoals, rocks and other underwater obstacles.  


Topographic (topographical)           

A topographic survey or map which relates or shows the natural physical features of an area of land, for example; hillsvalleys, and rivers. This may be extended to include roads, settlements and permanent structures such as houses, bridges and fortifications.



Where information and detail has been simplified so that only vital information remains and unnecessary detail has been removed.



A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. A map is generally drawn to a large scale and may not be geographically accurate. It does not need to be drawn to scale.



A plan depicts detail of the working of a design or scheme to achieve a specific goal. In the instance of a military plan it details the position of military units and other significant or specific topological features relative to the success of the operation. A plan needs to be accurate.



A survey is an accurate depiction of a site (property, area of land, defined boundary) which is scaled and detailed to show all the natural and man-made features.



A work which has not been officially printed, reproduced or published for public consumption. Manuscripts are always unpublished works. The Latin 'manuscriptus' means written by hand, but it may today include something which has been typed, so long as it refers to an author's originally produced work sent to a publisher.


Engraved Plate        

A printing plate made of copper which was hammered flat, engraved or scratched to accommodate ink upon which paper was pressed to create a print.


Finished Copy Drawing       

The completed drawing, taken from the original survey surveys. Drawn to scale, ready to be copied, enlarged or reduced          

in scale for purposes of printing, publishing or distribution.



The relationship (or ratio) between distance on a map and the corresponding distance on the ground. 



A rough drawing or sketch

About the Plans

The three plans in question are currently in the care of two institutions: The Unite