Based largely on Osgood Carleton’s 1798 Chart from New York to Timber Island including Nantucket shoals, the present map adds local nautical knowledge that would have been critical to the safety of lives and cargoes at the time. The passage between Block and Long Island Sounds was one of the most highly trafficked, yet dangerous parts of the southern New England coast.
Perhaps the greatest risk are for ships entering Long Island Sound from the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound – a crucial route for coastwise traders to bring goods to New London, New Haven, other Connecticut shoreline cities, and eventually New York City via the East River. The waters of Long Island Sound meet the Atlantic in an area today known as “The Race” at the western end of Fisher’s Island. At certain times, the confluence of tides creates waves so intense and close together that they are said to look like a pack of galloping horses, providing its historic name, the “Horse Race.” Compounding navigational difficulties, it passes over the submerged, eponymous Race Rock. Even today, mariners under sail avoid this entrance to Long Island Sound.
In Watch Hill Passage, between the eastern end of Fisher’s Island and Watch Hill Point, the currents, though still perilous, are less violent. Though narrower, even today this is the preferred route for small sailing craft travelling from Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Newport, and Narragansett Bay. Then and now, vessels use this passage to head for the Connecticut coast—today to marinas and yacht clubs, but historically, to the “Whaling City” of New London, the fishing villages of Stonington, Noank, and Niantic, the shipbuilders of Mystic and Old Saybrook, or the economic centers of New Haven and New York.
There is no latitude scale, but longitude centering on 72° west is noted along the bottom edge. Additionally, soundings in fathoms (6 foot measures) are marked for coastal areas, arrows indicate prevailing currents, and “x” marks the location of shipwrecks in particularly treacherous spots.
While based on Carleton's chart, the present map shows considerable knowledge of the local waters, depicting shipwrecks, reefs and island not present in the earlier work. The cartographer in essence maintained the shoreline of the most up-to-date sea chart he could find — Carleton — and added more details.
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