George Washington and His Maps

In his journey from surveyor to soldier to leader, our first president used cartography to get a feel for the young nation

Many of George Washington's decisions during his long career were made only after careful readings of the existing cartographical materials. (The Granger Collection, New York)

Map 5: An Authentic Plan of the River St. Laurence… with the Operations of the Siege of Quebec

Plan of the River St Laurence and siege of Quebec
(Yale University Library)

This map shows the famous 1759 Battle of Quebec, in which the British general Wolfe defeated the French general Montcalm. Why was it in Washington’s collection? “He dispatched [Benedict] Arnold to take Quebec in 1775,” Schecter says. “So this map plus letters from Arnold were his ‘intel.’ This is how he followed the campaign back in Cambridge.”

No doubt while reading this map, Washington also noted the area marked “Landing Place” by the village of Sillery, just west of the city. Here, a young British officer led a group of volunteers up the palisades along the river—the spearhead of a flanking movement that proved to be the decisive point of the battle. That young colonel was the same man that Washington now faced 16 years later: British Army general William Howe.


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