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An Exact Prospect of Charles Town…

Roberts, Bishop ||Toms, William Henry __Engraver
Place Made:
London Great Britain
Date Made:
ink on paper
HOA: 20 1/2; WOA: 7 1/4 (plate size)
Accession Number:
Charleston grew rapidly during the Colonial period, becoming the wealthiest city in British America on the eve of the American Revolution. This print was published in the London Magazine, according to date on accompanying page, in June 1762. The print accompanied an article entitled, “An Account of the CITY OF CHARLES TOWN, Metropolis of the Province of SOUTH-CAROLINA, with an exact and beautiful PROSPECT thereof.”

The article noted that Charleston’s “trade is far from being inconsiderable, for it deals near 1000 miles into the continent…” and that “The town itself is regularly built, and strongly fortified by nature and art… The situation of Charles-town is very inviting, and the country about it agreeable and fruitful. The highways are extremely delightful, especially that called Broad-way which for three or four miles makes a road or walk so charmingly green, that so art could make so pleasing a sight for the whole year. The streets are well laid out, the houses large, some of brick, but more of timber and generally spacious, let at excessive rents and executed in a very elegant taste… The Church is spacious. There are meetinghouses for the several denominations of dissenters; among which the French protestants have a church in the main street… There the rich people have handsome equipages; the merchants are opulent and well bred; the people are thriving and extensive, in dress and life; so that everything conspires to make this town the politest, as it is one of the richest in America.”

This prospect depicts Charleston as seen from the east across the Cooper River. It is based on a watercolor view painted by Bishop Roberts sometime between 1735 and 1739. Robert’s painting, now in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection (acc. 1956-103), was sent to London where it was engraved on four sheets by W.H. Toms. The print was available in Charleston by 1740 when Robert’s widow, Mary Roberts, advertised that those who had subscribed to her husbands print should pick them up so that she could settle his estate.

The Roberts-Toms view of Charleston would become the lens through which eighteenth century Europeans came to know Charleston. Reduced from four-feet to a more manageable size on a single sheet, it was reproduced many times, including in the London Magazine. It was not supplanted until Thomas Leitch produced his View of Charleston in 1776.

ARTIST: Bishop Roberts first advertised in Charles Town on May 17, 1735: “this is to give notice to all Gentlemen & others, that Portrait-painting and Engraving, Heraldry and House painting are undertaken and performed expeditiously in a good manner, and at [sic] the lowest rates, by B. Roberts.” In 1736 Roberts advertised that “…Children will be diligently attended on their Dancing-days, at Mr. Holt’s School, and carefully instructed in the Art of Drawing by B. Roberts.” On July 23, 1737 he advertised that “Gentlemen may be supplied with Landshapes [sic] for Chimney-pieces of all Sizes: Likewise draughts of their Houses in Colours or India Ink, by B. Roberts,” this last suggesting the type of work seen in this view of the city. At present, other than the watercolor view of Charles Town, no other work by Roberts is known. He apparently did engraving and printing of bills for the Province of South Carolina. His burial is recorded October 18, 1739: “Then was buried Bishop Roberts.” Subscriptions for engravings of watercolors had apparently been ordered by people of Charles Town before Roberts’ death since his widow advertised in February 1740 that those who had subscribed should pay for and pick up their copies because she desired to settle her husband’s estate.

RELATED OBJECTS: Bishop Roberts, W.H. Toms, and the surveyor George Hunter, also produced “The Ichnography of Charles-Town at High Water” (MESDA Acc. 2226) the same year. The single sheet edition of the Roberts-Toms view serves as a kind of elevation to the plan depicted in the Ichnography.
Mary Roberts, Bishop’s wife, was the first professional portrait miniature painter in America. MESDA owns her portrait of Mary Jones Keating Broughton (MESDA acc. 5494).

DESCRIPTION: Line engraving on a copper plate, ink on paper. This view is based on the Bishop Roberts-Toms view published in 1739. The minor details, such as the direction of the flow of smoke have been altered, however.

Published in the London Magazine in June 1762 to accompany an article entitled, “An Account of the City of Charles Town…”
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph P. Hanes