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Moll's Buccaneer's Map of the West Indies

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Moll's Buccaneer's Map of the West Indies

Date of publication:

Printed Measurement:
59.5 x 102 cm


  • Herman Moll
  • John Bowles
  • John King
  • Thomas Bowles
  • Colour:


  • Herman Moll
  • A Pirates Map for Thee

    This map of the West Indies was created circa 1715, towards the end of the ‘golden age’ of piracy, and published by Moll in his large atlas, ‘The World Described’. It was compiled with the assistance of Moll’s old friend, the naturalist, navigator and buccaneer William Dampier, and it’s not unreasonable to think that there was input from other former privateers of his acquaintance, such as Woodes Rogers (rescuer of the marooned Alexander Selkirk).

    Dampier’s proficiency as a buccaneer is what matters here: the map has been described as a ‘buccaneer’s manual’ or even a ‘treasure map’. The Caribbean was no longer a ‘Spanish lake’ and Moll’s map highlights the intrusion of Spain’s northern European challengers.

    The colour-coding of the map is reinforced by engraved text detailing what was claimed by the French, Dutch and – of course – the English. The inset plans, though, are Spanish rather than English possessions: stopping points for Spanish treasure ships with their soundings and defences clearly marked. In case this proved too subtle, Moll made the opportunities for plunder even more explicit, tracking the regular course of the annual Spanish treasure fleet, the ‘Flota de Indias,’ as it gathered along the coast (annotated with further helpful information wherever possible: ‘at Cartagena the Gallions usually stay 60 days...’) culminating in the Florida Strait, ‘the best Passage of all the Islands’, where the entire Spanish fleet had rendezvoused – and might be vulnerable before crossing the Atlantic: ‘The Gallions and Flota usualy Joyning at the Havana, the whole Armada sails for Spain thro this Gulf’.


    Herman Moll (c. 1654-1732) was both map engraver and publisher, one of the most prolific and significant map-makers working in England in the late 17th and early 18th-centuries. He is now known to have been of German (rather than Dutch) origin, and he came to London at some point in the 1670s, initially working with established figures such as Moses Pitt. The dedicatee William Paterson (whose involvement in the region was as one of the principal exponents of Scotland’s disastrous Darien venture) died in 1719. Our example of the map carries the imprints of Moll and John King, and Thomas and John Bowles, with the latter’s ‘Black Horse, Cornhill’ address which he occupied from 1730.

    Condition & Materials 

    Copper engraving, 59.5 x 102 cm, original hand colour in outline, some restoration to folds, a couple of creases top left, blank verso. Published in London.


    Matthew Restall’s contribution to Dym and Offen’s ‘Mapping Latin America’, 2011, pp. 79-83)