Thomas Holme

Thomas Holme (1624-1695) was an Irish/English cartographer, surveyor, soldier and merchant.   A captain in Cromwell’s New Model Army, he seems to have learned surveying during his military service.  He was granted land in Ireland by Cromwell.  As a merchant, he carried on trade in Europe, New England and Barbados.

Holme was converted to Quakerism in Ireland, probably by George Fox.  During his time there, because he was a Friend, he was jailed, fined and beaten.  In 1682 he was invited by William Penn to become the first Surveyor General of Pennsylvania.  He laid out the plan of Philadelphia and created the first detailed map of Pennsylvania.  His “A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia” (1683) is the earliest map of Pennsylvania and the first town plan in the British colonies.  Holme was appointed by Penn to the first Assembly of the Province and to the Provincial Council.  In the mid-1680’s he was also acting Governor.

Holme’s maps were hugely influential in town planning in the British colonies.  They helped Philadelphia develop into the largest city in colonial America.  Prompted by Penn’s goal for Philadelphia to become “a greene countrie town”, they also represented the first effort at a sustainable American city.  The maps were drawn originally on sheepskin, from which plates were engraved by John Thornton in England.

Thomas Holme and his maps were representative of the Quaker dedication to the crafts.  The crafts substituted for art among Friends in our founding period. 

Please note: this Thomas Holme should not be confused with Thomas Holme (c. 1626-1666), who was known as the Apostle of Quakerism to Wales.

Below is a detail of A mapp of ye improved part of Pensilvania in America (1687) by Thomas Holme, showing a plan of Philadelphia. At the center of the map, in Centre Square, is Centre Square Friends Meeting House, built 1685-1687 and demolished in 1702.

Gary Sandman

December 2023

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