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Bernard Romans (bapt. 6 July 1741, Delft[1] - 1784, at sea) was a Dutch-born American navigator, surveyor, cartographer, naturalist, engineer, soldier, promoter and writer. His best known work, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, published in 1775, is a valuable source of information about the Floridas during the period of British control. His maps and charts are considered better than any produced before, and often for many years after, their publication.


Romans was born Barend Romans in Delft, son of Pieter Barendsz Romans and Margareta van der Linden.[1][2] He was raised and educated there, but emigrated to the United Kingdom as a youth or young man, and then to British North America around 1757, during the Seven Years' War (known as the French and Indian War in British North America).

"Bernard Romans was born in the Netherlands about 1720 and was probably educated as an engineer in England. He was sent to America about 1757 and served as a surveyor in Georgia. Romans was appointed Deputy Surveyor of Georgia in 1766 and a short time later went to East Florida to survey the property of Lord Egmont, and associate of Oglethorpe in founding Georgia... The Surveyorer General for the southern District, William Gerard deBrahm, promoted Romans to the post of Deputy Surveyor for the district. In 1773...he was made a member of the New York Marine Society and the American Philosophical Society; and a letter dated 1773 at Pensacola on an improved mariner's compass was published in the American Philosophical Society Proceedings."[3]

On March 3, 1761, Romans married Maria Wendel (born 1739) at the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, New York. A son, Peter Milo Romans, was born in Albany on January 16, 1762, who would marry in 1785 in Albany and have 10 children himself.[2] There is no further record of Maria Wendel Romans, who may have died young (Romans remarried in 1779).

By his own account, in about 1761, Bernard Romans entered into the King's service as a commodore, "sometimes at the head of a large body of men in the woods, and at the worst of times ... master of a merchantman, fitted out in a warlike manner." After the war ended, Romans continued to go to sea. He sailed widely as both as a privateer during the war and as a merchant, reaching points as far north as Labrador, and as far south as Curaçao, Cartagena and Panama.

Travels in the Floridas

In 1766-67, he commanded the sloop Mary. On his first voyage, the ship went aground on the Dry Tortugas, but he was able to get the ship off and reach port. On his second voyage, the ship was lost near Cape Florida (Key Biscayne). Having lost much of his personal wealth with the wreck of the Mary, Romans turned to surveying. He obtained employment as deputy surveyor of Georgia. He also accepted private commissions to survey land grants in East Florida, which had come under British control at the end of the French and Indian War.

In 1768, Romans became principal deputy surveyor for the Southern District (the British Colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, East Florida and West Florida). Starting in 1769, Romans surveyed the coastal waters of East Florida. Later that year, his boat sank in the Manatee River near Tampa Bay. Romans walked overland from there to St. Augustine. Well aware of the historical significance of where he walked, he later wrote that he had been "on Ferdinando Soto's tract". He outfitted another boat at his own expense, and resumed surveying the coast in September 1770. He reached Pensacola, Florida in August 1771, having recorded depth soundings, good harbors and sources of fresh water, and drafted coastal charts, for much of the East Florida coast.

Upon reaching Pensacola, Romans was hired to survey the western part of West Florida and the lands of the Choctaws and Chickasaws. The survey was not without its dangers; the Choctaws and the Creeks were at war. Rumors even reached Mobile that Romans and his party had been killed by Creeks. Roman's survey work in West Florida continued into 1772. In Pensacola, a Dr. John Lorimer recruited Romans to explore for new plant specimens. Romans soon discovered what he believed to be true jalap, which was much in demand in Europe as a cathartic. Jalap had previously been available only from Mexico, and the prospect of a supply under British control pleased many in West Florida. It was later realized that Roman's jalap was not the Mexican jalap, but a relative in the Convolvulaceae family, probably Solanum jamesii. This "wild jalap" or "wild potato" was in the Pharmacopoeia of the United States from 1820 until 1863. Romans pursued his botanizing enthusiastically, collecting many plant specimens and seeds, and began seeking support for a plan to establish a botanical garden in West Florida.

Publishing A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida

In early 1773, Romans left West Florida to travel to the northern colonies. He wanted to publish his nautical charts and navigational instructions, along with material on the natural history of the Floridas that he had gathered in his surveys. He also took rare seeds and plant specimens he had collected. His ship was "over-set at sea", and the seeds and plant specimens were lost or ruined. His navigational charts and the manuscript of the book he was writing on the natural history of the Floridas were saved.

Romans was now planning an ambitious book of some 300 pages with copper plate engravings and two large maps of the Floridas and the Caribbean. He needed to find financial backers and sign up subscribers to meet the costs of publishing the book. This effort led him into many new contacts. In August 1773, Romans was admitted into the Marine Society of the City of New York. In January 1774, he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. A paper by Romans on an improved sea compass was published in the society's Transactions, and he presented descriptions of new plants he found in Florida to the society. Although no longer resident in West Florida, Romans had also been appointed botanist for West Florida.

During this time, Romans proposed to William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies and President of the Board of Trade and Foreign Plantations, an expedition to the northeastern parts of Asia. Romans gave more details of his scheme to Dr. Hugh Williamson, a fellow member of the American Philosophical Society. To Dr. Williamson, Romans expounded his plan for an expedition to explore the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes, then moving westward to the Pacific coast. From there, the expedition would cross the Pacific Ocean to Asia, and travel through Russia, eventually reaching Great Britain. This was thirty years before President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and almost twenty years before Alexander MacKenzie's crossing of the Canadian Arctic.

Romans continued to work to get his book published. Romans had originally conceived his book as a guide to mariners, and one-quarter of his subscribers were involved in shipping. But Romans also was receiving questions from people who were interested in moving to the Floridas, and Romans expanded his book to accommodate them. From the originally planned 300 pages, the book grew to about 800 pages, and had to be split into two volumes. Romans promised his subscribers that the second volume would be forwarded to them at no additional charge (the first volume had to be printed and sent off before the presses could be set up for the second volume). Romans placed ads in many newspapers, and traveled extensively seeking subscribers to the book. Romans had selected James Rivington, publisher of Rivington's New-York Gazetteer, to be his printer, and engaged Paul Revere to engrave most of the plates for the book. Romans also collaborated with Paul Revere on other projects, including the map that accompanied Rivington's printing of John Hawkesworth's book on the voyages of James Cook.

The first volume of A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida was finally ready for delivery in late April 1775. Romans announced in Rivington's New-York Gazetteer that his subscribers should tell him where to deliver the books. Romans's announcement was published eight days after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. A second printing of the volume was required in 1776 to fulfill all subscriptions.

Revolutionary War activities

Romans' sympathies with the Revolution had developed before his book was published. He had appeared before the Boston Marine Society on December 1, 1773, and was in the city when the Boston Tea Party occurred. In his book, Romans described tea as a despicable weed, and of late attempted to be made a dirty conduit, to lead a stream of oppressions into these happy regions. In early April 1775, Romans was appointed a captain by the Connecticut Committee of Safety, with a charge to take Fort Ticonderoga and nearby British fortifications. He was given £100 with which to raise troops. Within a few days, Romans had over 200 men with him. While Benedict Arnold and Nathanael Greene took command of the large body of troops headed for Fort Ticonderoga, Romans' company was sent to capture Fort George on Lake George, a neglected post which surrendered without a fight. Romans went on to Ticonderoga, where he helped assess the ammunition that had been captured. Benedict Arnold reported favorably on Romans as an engineer after this service.

Romans soon returned to Connecticut. It is not known if Romans was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill, but he published an illustration of it, An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17, 1775. Romans also published a map of the area around Boston, The Seat of Civil War in America, and dedicated it to John Hancock. Romans' earlier work was also used by the British in their maps, particularly in A General Map of the Southern British Colonies, which was included in the American Military Pocket Atlas, intended for the use of mounted British officers.

In New York, James Rivington had proved to be too neutral in his coverage of the growing conflict between the colonies and Britain, and, in November 1775, a mob of patriots destroyed his print shop. The second volume of Romans' book was in production at the time and was lost.

Later, in 1775, the Continental Congress recommended Romans to the New York Commissioners for Fortifications in the Highlands to oversee the construction of a fort at Martelaer's Rock, across the Hudson River from West Point. Romans set to work surveying the river and designing fortifications. When the commissioners inspected the site, they were unhappy both with Romans' plans and with the site, which was exposed to the superior positions available across the river on West Point. Romans went to New York City and presented his plans to the Committee of Safety without mentioning the doubts expressed by the Commissioners. the Committee of Safety forwarded Romans' plan and expenses to the Continental Congress and, according to Romans, promised him that he would be appointed principal engineer for New York with the rank and pay of a Colonel.

A struggle ensued for control of the project between Romans and the Commissioners for Fortifications in the Highlands. Romans proceeded with much of the work, but eventually went to Philadelphia to report and seek support. While Romans appeared to win approval from the congress, it was generally recognized that his work had not been very fruitful. In George Washington's words, Romans's fortifications were "very neat" and "very picturesque" but "upon the whole, Mr. Romans has displayed his genius at a very great expense and to very little publick advantage."

Romans was next given a commission of captain of the First Pennsylvania Company of Artillery, which soon joined the campaign against Quebec. After the Americans were defeated in Quebec, Romans's company was reassigned, in July 1776, to Fort Ticonderoga. Shortly after, General Horatio Gates sent Romans to investigate the preparations being made under the direction of Major General Philip Schuyler to defend Lake Champlain against the expected British invasion. Romans was shocked by the sight of the vessels being prepared for the lake fleet, but was unable to do anything. This fleet was soon defeated at the Battle of Valcour Island. Fortunately for the Americans, the battle had also been costly for the British, and they delayed their invasion southwards.

In November 1776, the Pennsylvania Council of Safety appointed Romans Engineer and ordered that he be furnished with the means to conduct an experiment in "destroying distant objects by fire." Unfortunately, there is no further record of this experiment. Romans also continued to produce maps, including two of Connecticut, one centered on Philadelphia, including most of New Jersey and Delaware, and portions of Maryland and Pennsylvania, showing the location of the Grand American Winter Camp 1778 at Valley Forge, and a map of the Northern Department of North America (this was the first map to use the name Vermont).

"On February 8, 1776, Romans was commissioned a Captain of the 1st Pennsylvania Company of Artillery. He was in "Sorrell" on May 15, 1776, a member of the retreating forces from the unsuccessful Quebec venture, when he wrote a letter relating to an appointment in his company. On July 24, 1776 a court of inquiry was convened under General Gates because of a disagreement between Romans and a brother officer. Romans' military career ended by resignation on June 1, 1778. In the following year on January 28, Romans married Elizabeth Whitney of Weathersfield, Connecticut. A son, Hubertus Romans, was born on October 23. Later Romans joined the southern Army and was captured in 1780, a short time after writing a character reference for Captain Thomas Machin to James Clinton."[3] Romans resigned his commission on June 1, 1778. He continued working on a history of the oppression of the Netherlands by the British. By the end of 1778, he had finished the two-volume Annals of the Troubles in the Netherlands, and the first volume was in the bookstores in January 1779. The second volume did not appear until 1782.

On January 28, 1779, Romans married Elizabeth Whiting of Wethersfield, Connecticut, who was just 19 years old. A son, Hubertus Romans, was born on October 23, 1779.

Romans joined the Southern Campaign in 1780. It is not clear what Romans's assignment was to be, but an application for a pension filed by Elizabeth Romans in 1848 states that Romans "was ordered to go to the State of South Carolina, there to join the Southern Army". The ship on which Romans was traveling from New London, Connecticut to Charleston, South Carolina was captured by the Royal Navy. Romans was held prisoner until the war ended. He died aboard ship while returning home. Both his widow, Elizabeth Whiting, and at least one early historian believed that Romans had been murdered on the voyage.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Delft Genealogical Database
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Denise Knapp, Bernard Romans in "The Genealogy of Denise Lemon and Bruce Knapp"
  3. 3.0 3.1 Guthorn, Peter J. 1966. American Maps and Map Makers of the Revolution. Monmouth Beach, NJ: Philip Freneau Press. Page 30.
  4. | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | Romans }} }} "Author Query for 'Romans'". International Plant Names Index.{{#strreplace: | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | Romans }} }}. 


  • Romans, Bernard. 1700. Bernard Romans map of Florida, 1774. Washington, D.C.: Reproduced by the Columbia Planograph Co. Relief shown by hachures. Depths shown by soundings. "To the Marine Society of the city of New York in the Province of New York in North America this chart is humbly inscribed ..." Includes sailing directions, navigational notes, notes on some shipwrecks, "View of the entrance of St. Mary's River," and "View of Fort St. Marks, at Apalache seen from the southward ..."
  • Romans, Bernard. 1775. A concise natural history of East and West Florida containing an account of the natural produce of all the southern part of British America, in the three kingdoms of nature, particularly the animal and vegetable. Likewise, the artificial produce now raised, or possible to be raised, and manufactured there, with some commercial and political observations in that part of the world; and a chorographical account of the same. To which is added, by way of appendix, plain and easy directions to navigators over the bank of Bahama, the coast of the two Floridas, the north of Cuba, and the dangerous Gulph Passage. Noting also, the hitherto unknown watering places in that part of America, intended principally for the use of such vessels as may be so unfortunate as to be distresed by weather in that difficult part of the world. The numbers 176-177 are omitted in paging. One of the 12 plates mentioned in the title (the "map of the country of the savage nations, intended to be put, facing page 72") was reserved for publication with a second volume, which was, apparently never published, although the author states in the "Advertisement" at end of v. 1 that v. 2 "is now in the press." The "two whole sheet maps" were published separately, with date 1774. For a description of this chart of the coast of East and West Florida, see A list of maps of America in the Library of Congress, 1901, p. 281.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1991. Bernard Romans, "A chorographical map of the northern department of North-America" (Amsterdam, 1780). Burlington, VT: Friends of Special Collections.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1773. Philadelphia, August 5, 1773. Proposals for printing by subscription, three very elegant and large maps of the navigation, to, and in, the new ceded countries. ... By Bernard Romans. Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford. The prospectus calls for the maps to be published in New York, together with "A book containing very plain and easy directions to navigators to that part of the world, and a concise natural history of the said countries." The accompanying text subsequently appeared as "A concise history of East and West Florida." "The curious may at any time see the originals, and a specimen of the engraver's abilities, by applying to Messrs. William and Thomas Bradford." The Bradfords were among those accepting subscriptions in Philadelphia.
  • Romans, Bernard, John Gerar William De Brahm, Capt Hester, robert Bishop, and Archibald Dalzel. 1789. The complete pilot for the gulf passage; or, Directions for sailing through the Gulf of Florida Named also new Bahama channel, and the neighbouring parts. By Capt. Bernard Romans, Capt. W. Gerrard de Brahm, surveyor-general for the southern district of North America; George Gauld, Esq. surveyor of the Florida coasts; Capt. Bishop, Capt. Hester, Capt. Archibald Dalzel, and several other gentlemen experienced in the navigation of that passage. London: Printed for Robert Sayer, Fleet-street.
  • Romans, Bernard, and John Hancock. 1775. To the Hone. Jno. Hancock, Esqre. president of ye Continental Congress, this map of the seat of civil war in America, is respectfully inscribed by his most obedient humble servant, B. Romans. Hand colored. Relief shown pictorially. Indexed for points of interest. Insets with indexes: Plan of Boston and its environs, 1775.--A view of the lines thrown up on Boston Neck; by the ministerial army.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1794. Romans' Gulf and Windward pilot, with a new large book of sailing directions. London: Robert Laurie and James Whittle. The coast of North America, from Port-Royal entrance to Matanza Inlet, exhibiting the coast of Georgia—A Mercator chart of the Gulf passage, from Cape Antonio in the Island of Cuba, to the 30th degree of North Latitude, including the old Channel of Bahama—The Windward passage from Jamaica, with the several passages, Northward of Hispaniola—A new chart of the West Indies.
  • Romans, Bernard, and Albert S. Gatschet. 1900. [Tombigbee, Oocooloo, and Yazoo Rivers]. Notation identifies this as a copy of manuscript map drawn by Romans in 1772 and owned by Dr. Albert S. Gatschet of Washington, DC, who copied the original Romans map and inserted the names and boundaries of several counties in Mississippi.
  • Romans, Bernard, and Robert Sayer. 1788. Plan of the harbour of Pensacola. London: Printed for R. Sayer. Depths shown by soundings. Appears in Thomas Jefferys' The West-India atlas. 1794.
  • Romans, Bernard, and Robert Sayer. 1788. A plan of Mobile Bar. London: Printed for R. Sayer. "The soundings are in feet." Shows "Isle Dauphine," "Mobile Point," "Pelican Id.," and other islands. Plate no. "33." From Thomas Jefferys' The West-India atlas. 1794.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1778. A chorographical map of the country round Philadelphia. S.l: s.n. Relief shown pictorially. Indicates location of Valley Forge grand American winter camp, Jan. 1778, General Howe's track from Elke River to Philadelphia, and General Washington's track.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1773. A map of the middle part of East Florida, and the Grand Bahama Bank. S.l: s.n. Latitude 26°25' North and 28°45' North. 84°55' to 75° West longitude from London. On verso: "No. 80. F." Manuscript map; in ink and colors on 3 sheets joined. drawn for the private use of [blank] as taken from the original journals and field-words of B. Romans.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1900. A general map of the southern British colonies in America: comprehending North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, with the neighboring Indian countries, from the modern surveys of Engineer de Brahm, Capt. Collet, Mouzon, & others, and from the large hydrographical survey of the coasts of East and West Florida. United States?: s.n. Relief shown pictorially. Originally published: London : Printed for R. Sayer and J. Bennett, map, chart, and printsellers, 1776. Prime meridian: London. Xerographic copy. Title in decorative cartouche. Insets: Plan of Charlestown—Plan of St. Augustine.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1775. [Sketch of the fortifications of West Point]. Photograph of original in the collection of United States Military Academy Library. Shows vicinity of West Point with notations regarding sites for fortifications and armament.
  • Romans, Bernard. 1786. "Extract of a Letter from Bernard Romans, of Pensacola, Dated August 20, 1773, on an Improved Sea-Compass". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 2: 396-397.
  • Romans, Bernard. n.d. Papers of Bernard Romans. Library of Congress.


  • Bonar, William, and Bernard Romans. 1757. A draught of the upper Creek nation, taken in May 1757. Shows upper Creek villages near Fort Toulouse, particularly along the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. Gives number of fighting men and towns. Similar to "A draught of the Creek nation by William Bonar, May 1757" in the British Colonial Office. Map possibly drawn by Bernard Romans.
  • Braund, Kathryn E. Holland (1999), Bernard Romans: His Life and Times, in Romans, Bernard (1999). A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, Modernized reprint of 1775 edition, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and London: The University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-0876-8.
  • Guthorn, Peter J. 1966. American Maps and Map Makers of the Revolution. Monmouth Beach, NJ: Philip Freneau Press.

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