"Too Wise To Be Counselled by Simple American Fishermen": Benjamin Franklin's Gulf Stream Maps and the Cost of British Arragance

Nero, Andrea N.
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Throughout the Revolutionary era, Benjamin Franklin was preoccupied with uncovering why a ship's voyage from England to New York took several weeks longer than one to Rhode Island. His cousin, a whaler, informed him of a strong air current in the Atlantic which was responsible for the lag. In the middle of the American Revolution, the two set sail to chart this 'Gulph Stream,' as Franklin named it. Although he did not discover the air current, he did create the first map displaying which routes to avoid, offering seafarers a valuable resource. However, his maps were not put into use until decades later. The publishing of Franklin's research revealed leftover enmity from the British loss of the American colonies. As a result, the British withheld his findings, despite the fact that they would have provided them with faster and cheaper shipping. Years later, the British even went as far as to claim Franklin's research as their own by publishing it under the name of an English scholar. Due to their hostility, Franklin chose to work on his maps alongside the French, rather than the English. Historians are aware of Franklin's work, but no one has examined why the British minimized and ignored his achievement or how this fits into the context of the transatlantic shipping industry upon which these maps sought to improve.

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Benjamin Franklin, Gulf Stream, Cartography, Science, Revolutionary America, Atlantic Economies