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Paterson was gazetted an ensign in the 30th (Cambridgeshire) Regiment of Foot on 13 December 1765, promoted to a lieutenant on 8 May 1772, and to a captaincy on 11 July 1783. He became a major in the army on 1 March 1794, and a lieutenant-colonel on 1 January 1798.
In 1771 Paterson published the first edition of his "Road Book". The work was dedicated to George Morrison, the Quartermaster-General to the Forces, and became well known in the British Army, for its official distances of military marches. The second edition was called Paterson's British Itinerary: being a new and accurate Delineation and Description of the Roads of Great Britain, 1776,; the third edition reverted to the original title.
Detail from a Paterson road map of 1785. Main road west of London in the area of Kew Bridge.
Edward Mogg brought out a 16th edition of Paterson's "Roads" under the impression that the author was dead, in 1822. The 18th and last edition came out in 1829. Paterson also wrote:
A Travelling Dictionary, or Alphabetical Tables of the Distances of all the Cities, Boroughs, Market Towns, and Seaports in Great Britain from each other, 1772, 2 vols.; 5th edit. 1787.
Topographical Description of the Island of Grenada, 1780.
A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in Scotland, 5th edit. 1781.
^A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in Great Britain, containing: i. An Alphabetical List of all the Cities, Boroughs, Market and Sea-port Towns in England and Wales; ii. The Direct Roads from London to all the Cities, Towns, and Remarkable Villages in England and Wales; iii. The Cross Roads of England and Wales; iv. The Principal Direct and Cross Roads of Scotland; v. The Circuits of the Judges.