By the age of 30, the remarkable Thomas Hutchins (1730?-1789) was an experienced frontiersman, a veteran of the French and Indian War, and a skilled Indian agent. He was best known, however, as a formidable surveyor, cartographer, and geographer. A native of New Jersey, the particular combination of skills made Hutchins the perfect candidate for surveying the vast western regions of the British North American empire. In 1766, he was officially assigned to duty as an engineer in the British army, gradually becoming the most respected surveyor and map maker in the colonies. From 1764 through 1768, he took part in expeditions spanning the west from the northern reaches of the Mississippi Valley to New Orleans, and in 1770, was transferred from the Illinois territory to Pensacola, where he was charged with reorganizing the provincial defenses and mapping.
As Bernard Romans was engaged in mapping West Florida, Hutchins compiled maps, charts, and intelligence reports to create a comprehensive picture of the physical geography of the entire region, even offering a plan to take New Orleans, should the opportunity arise. With the outbreak of the war in 1776, he may have thought his chance had come. Having speculated in southern lands for years, he now angled to instill himself as the chief engineering officer in the Gulf south, but in 1779, just as his plans seemed to be bearing fruit, letters to Hutchins from an expatriate American associate, Samuel Wharton, were intercepted by British agents and interpreted as treasonous. Hutchins was imprisoned for seven weeks, and even after being acquitted, his military career was ended.
|Preface of Thomas Hutchin's Historical Narrative |
(click to see page 2)
In some desperation, Hutchins acted "out the treason with which he had been slandered. Approaching Benjamin Franklin, he took an oath of loyalty to the United States and in May, 1781, accepted the post of Geographer of the United States, assigned to duty in the south. In hopes of raising funds, he published a version of the reports he had prepared for the British ten years before, issuing it as An Historical Narrative and Topographical Description of Louisiana, and West-Florida
In 1788, Hutchins became immersed in one of the several late eighteenth century cabals seeking to wrest control of Louisiana
. Hoping to revitalize the colony for Spain, he was prepared to renounce his citizenship to become surveyor general, however he died before his plans came to fruition.
The APS owns three copies of Hutchins' Historical Narrative, one of which was presented to the Society by the author in 1784.