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Visualizing George Washington’s Voyage to Barbados

by Erica Cavanaugh, Research Editor
August 3, 2017

In anticipation of the upcoming edition of the diary George Washington kept during his trip to Barbados, I worked with editors Lynn A. Price and Alicia K. Anderson to create an interactive map of Washington’s voyage. The map not only illustrates the ship’s progress and landing but also describes the weather encountered and the food eaten during the journey. Such details are revealed by selecting from the various elements included on the map. Users can customize the display by toggling the selection of these elements on the legend or by zooming in and out on the map.

Washington’s voyage began prior to September 28, 1751, in the Chesapeake Bay (indicated by a red circle on the map). From there, a green line maps the latitude and longitude as recorded in Washington’s ship log from September 28 to October 30. At the end of the journey’s first leg, 19-year-old George Washington’s calculations placed the ship to the east of Barbados by about 450 nautical miles, as illustrated on the map, but the ship was actually about 10 miles west of the island. An icon in the shape of a pineapple marks his final destination. When selected, a map of the island is displayed, indicating where Washington’s ship landed.

Along the green line are four ship icons that reference notable points of Washington’s passage. When clicked, each ship icon displays an excerpt from the diary, highlighting common themes of his voyage. For example, the entry from October 6, 1751, discusses the food consumed on the journey. Throughout the diary, Washington was interested in the various types of fish he saw, at times detailing how they were caught, brought aboard the ship, and dressed. Another entry, dated October 19, 1751, discusses the stormy weather and a nearby hurricane.

The map also includes illustrations of the Bermuda Triangle and the North Equatorial Current. While it is unlikely that Washington’s voyage took him through the Bermuda Triangle, his brother Lawrence probably sailed through it when he traveled from Barbados to Bermuda, searching for relief from his illness. It is likely, however, that the North Equatorial Current and trade winds (not illustrated) would have impacted the brothers’ journeys to and from Barbados.

Developed with help from the Center for Digital Editing, this interactive map was created using Leaflet, an open-source JavaScript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps, and MapBox, an open-source mapping tool for creating custom-designed maps. To plot the points from George Washington’s ship log, the latitude and longitude were converted from degrees, minutes, and seconds to decimal points. A map from the Department of Geography at Hunter College was referenced to plot the North Equatorial Current. Public domain images were used for the ship and pineapple icons. The map of Barbados is courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Map Collection.

You can view and explore the interactive map of Barbados here.