On October 20, 1757, De Brahm’s fortunes rose with the publication of his cartographic opus, “A Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia.” The elegant and precedent-setting map brought De Brahm to the attention of Europe.
Military engineer, surveyor, cartographer. De Brahm was born in Koblenz, Germany, on August 20, 1718, the son of Johann Phillip von Brahm, a court musician to the elector of Triers. As a member of the lesser nobility De Brahm received an excellent early education. After a successful career as a military engineer in the Bavarian army, De Brahm married and renounced the Roman Catholic religion. Forced to resign his commission, he was befriended by a Lutheran Church leader who was the only non-English trustee administering the colony of Georgia. De Brahm was placed in charge of a contingent of 156 German-speaking emigrants bound for Ebenezer, a German settlement near Savannah.
On arrival in Georgia in 1751, De Brahm was quickly recognized in both Georgia and South Carolina for his talents as a surveyor and an engineer. In the spring of 1752 De Brahm was selected by Governor James Glen of South Carolina to design and construct a system of fortifications for Charleston. At this time De Brahm dropped the prefix “von” and adopted the more fashionable “De,” which he used throughout his remaining life.
De Brahm submitted an artistic “Plan of a Project to Fortifie Charlestown,” with an estimated cost of some £294,140 sterling. This was deemed far too expensive, and a greatly simplified plan was undertaken in 1755. While De Brahm was supervising the construction of Charleston’s works, in 1755 Governor Glen appointed him South Carolina’s interim surveyor general of lands and inspector and controller of quitrents.
In a peace treaty with the Cherokee Indians signed in May 1755, Governor Glen promised to construct a fort deep in the Indian country. De Brahm was charged with the design and construction of the works later named Fort Loudon. Once construction began in what is now eastern Tennessee, De Brahm and the commander of the military force had a serious falling-out. In 1757 De Brahm returned to Georgia, where he worked to improve that colony’s fortifications.
On October 20, 1757, De Brahm’s fortunes rose with the publication of his cartographic opus, “A Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia.” The elegant and precedent-setting map brought De Brahm to the attention of Europe. It was employed as evidence by both South Carolina and Georgia in a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case concerning their boundary in the lower Savannah River. In 1764 De Brahm received a royal commission as surveyor general for the Southern District of North America. In addition, he was appointed as the surveyor general of lands for the new colony of East Florida. De Brahm soon took up residence in St. Augustine, where he engaged in surveys and map preparation for the next six years.
In 1771 De Brahm was ordered to London to answer charges that had grown from a feud with East Florida’s royal governor. While there, his book on Florida sailing instructions entered print as The Atlantic Pilot, which included the first published map of the Gulf Stream. Exonerated of all charges, De Brahm was given the use of an armed sloop to continue his surveys. He arrived in Charleston in 1775, just in time to experience the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. His vessel was commandeered, and De Brahm, loyal to his king, became a prisoner at large in Charleston. De Brahm remained in Charleston until June 27, 1777, when he was allowed to sail back to England. Unsuccessful at regaining his royal offices, he left London in 1791 to take up residence in Philadelphia. He died on June 6, 1799, and was buried in the Friends burying ground in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
De Brahm, William Gerhard. The Atlantic Pilot. Edited by Louis De Vorsey. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1974.
–––. De Brahm’s Report of the General Survey in the Southern District of North America. Edited by Louis De Vorsey. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1971.
De Vorsey, Louis. “De Brahm’s East Florida on the Eve of Revolution: The Materials for Its Recreation.” In Eighteenth Century Florida and Its Borderlands, edited by Samuel Proctor. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1975.
–––. “William Gerhard De Brahm 1718–1799.” Geographers Bibliographic Studies 10 (1986): 41–47.