Thomas Hutchins

Hutchins was undoubtedly one of the most talented and intriguing figures of his time. Born in 1730 in New Jersey he joined the British military at a young age and fought in the French/Indian war.  During this time trained as a surveyor and during the conflict for Fort Pitt in 1763 he distinguished himself as a soldier and as a surveyor when he laid out the plans for the new fortifications, and afterwards executed them for General Bouquet. He later surveyed the upper Ohio Valley, resulting in a map of the country on the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. Hutchins was part of a survey expedition of the Mississippi river from Manchac to the Yazoo River in 1774. The expedition was led by George Gauld, along with Dr. John Lorimer and Captain Thomas Davey, Captain of HMS Sloop Diligence. He was possible responsible for the proposed canal cut at Manchac which was intended to win the River Iberville with the Mississippi. Hutchins' 1784 book, "Historical, Narrative and Topographical Description of Louisiana and West Florida" was based upon the  data collected on this expedition.

Once Hutchins had completed his seminal map 'A New Map of the Western Parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina' (see Heritage Charts A507) in 1778, He travelled to London in order to have his manuscript engraved and published. Whilst in London it seems he became involved in the political intrigue that was gripping both sides of the Atlantic. During this period of his life he aligned himself with the American cause and, despite arrest, even went as far as visiting Benjamin Franklin who, at the time, was serving as the American ambassador in Paris. All of this despite still being a serving British officer. Perhaps it is no surprise as Hutchins, above most, would have identified with the American dream.

As a mark of how much both American Government valued his skills as a cartographer, upon his return to America after the end of the War in 1782, Hutchins was appointed as the first 'Geographer of the United States', a post never awarded to anyone since. As part of this role he was instrumental in establishing a systematic division of the western lands including the development of cadastral squares (townships), amongst other things. As a result of this style of mapping Hutchins may well be considered as the very instigator of the opening-up of the American West. He died in 1789 whilst in the field on assignment.