By the time the United States was officially established with the Treaty of Paris in 1782, most of the country was known to at least a great extent.  From the original discovery of America to this point, there was a gradual process of both discovery and exploration, and political development as European settlements and colonies were established. 

Antique maps, from the period, show us what Europeans and Americans knew about of North America and graphically show us the settlement and then development of what became the U.S.

[ Period of Discovery | Establishing Colonies ]

Excluding the earlier Viking discoveries, North America was first seen by John Cabot in 1497.  For the next century or so, Europeans sent many expeditions to the continent, which slowly came into focus.  The maps of this period let us see the expanding knowledge of North America.

Abraham Ortelius.  “La Florida. Auctore Hieron. Chiaves.”/ “Peruviae Aurieferae Regionis Typus. Didaco Mendezio Auctore.”/ “Guastecan Reg.” From Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.  Antwerp, [1584]. 

This three part map by Ortelius shows those regions in the “New World” of particular interest to Europeans.  In the upper right is the first printed map of the American southeast, the entire region called “La Florida.”  This map was drawn by Chiaves based on actual information gathered during De Soto’s explorations of the area in the early 1540s, and it presents the first printed image of the interior of the American southeast, showing Indian settlements, mountains and waterways discovered by De Soto.

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Jodocus Hondius Southeastern USJodocus Hondius. “Virginiae Item et Floridae Americae Provinciarum, nova Descriptio.” Amsterdam: J. Hondius, [1606]-1630.

An important “mother map” of early American cartography. Showing the southeastern region of the present-day U.S., this was the prototype map of the area for over fifty years, and had an impact on the cartography of the region until the middle of the eighteenth century. In this map, Hondius combined the information from two important source maps, one of “Florida” by Jacques le Moyne in 1591, and one of old “Virginia” by John White in 1590.

The map shows information gained from early explorations to the region, though it includes a number of errors which were passed on in future maps, leading to confusion down the road.  These included a missing section of the coast between the Carolinas and Florida, and a moving of a lake in Florida to the interior parts of the Carolinas.  Decorative features are also wonderful on this map.

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Hondius VirginiaHenricus Hondius after John Smith.  “Nova Virginiae Tabula.”  Amsterdam: H. Hondius, 1647.

This is Henricus Hondius’ derivative of the famous John Smith map of Virginia, the first printed map to focus on the Chesapeake Bay.  John Smith was part of the first English settlement in North America.  Smith arrived in Jamestown in the spring of 1607 and went to work surveying the Chesapeake region in order to compile a map of the “New Virginia” colony.   His map was first published in 1612 and it became the standard map of the Chesapeake region for most of the rest of the seventeenth century, copied by most major publishers including Henricus Hondius.

Note that the orientation is to the west.  This presents the region as it would appear to someone coming to America by ship from Europe, with the coastline laid out left to right.  The vignettes are based on the English settlement in Virginia as first shown in De Bry’s account from the end of the sixteenth century.

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Ogilby's VirginiaJohn Smith.  “Nova Virginiae Tabula.”  From America.  London: J. Ogilby, 1671.

Another derivative of the Smith map of Virginia, this one slightly smaller and issued two decades later.  This map was issued by John Ogilby in his America.

John Ogilby (1600-1676), one of the more colorful figures associated with cartography, started life as a dancing master and finished as the King’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer.  In the course of an eventful life he built a theater in Dublin, became the Deputy Master of Revels in Ireland, translated various Greek and Latin works and built a book publishing business.  In the process he twice lost all he possessed, first in a shipwreck during the Civil Wars and then in the Great Fire of London.  Even this disaster he turned to advantage by being appointed to a Commission of Survey following the fire.

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Beginning in the sixteenth century, with Spanish colonies in the southern part of North America, then followed by French and English colonies early in the next century, European powers tried to establish control of the natural resources of the continent.  Contemporary maps shows these colonies as they were established and then developed.

Lord Baltimore map of MarylandJohn Ogilby.  “Nova Terrae-Mariae Tabulae.”  London: J. Ogilby, 1671. 

The Lord Baltimore Map of Maryland, the first obtainable map of the colony, issued in Ogilby’s America in 1671.  It is the second edition of the map, which was originally issued in a pamphlet issued in 1635 to promote the settling of Lord Baltimore’s colony.  Ogilby received his information for the map and for his text on Maryland directly from Lord Baltimore, whose coast of arms impressively appears in the upper right corner.

This edition contains some up-dating from the first, especially in its improved coastline and the depiction of the ten counties.  Ogilby’s direct contact with Lord Baltimore is evidenced by his inclusion of Cecil County in his text and on the map, for this county was only officially announced by Lord Baltimore in 1674.  Also of note is the movement of the 40th parallel to a more correct position north of where it was drawn on the first edition, a mistake used by the Penn family in their dispute with the Calvert family over the location of the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

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Ogilby CarolinaJames Moxon/John Ogilby.  “A New Discription of Carolina By Order of the Lords Proprietors.”  From John Ogilby’s America.  London: John Ogilby, 1673.

A fine example of the First Lords Proprietors Map of the English colony of Carolina.  Another important map by John Ogilby, this is the first, large scale map of the nascent colony, preceded only by three smaller and less detailed publications.  In 1663, Charles II granted the rights for a Province of Carolina to eight of the nobles who had assisted his restoration to the throne three years before; these were the Lords Proprietors of Carolina.  After a failed first attempt at colonization, the seeds of the colony of Carolina were firmly planted with the Charles Town settlement in 1670.  That year, John Ogilby was preparing to issue his illustrated volume, America, containing a history and description of the New World.

As Carolina was just in the process of being settled, and by some very influential figures, Ogilby was keen to include information and a map of the colony.  Thus he approached Peter Colleton, the brother of one of the Proprietors, John Colleton, who wrote to John Locke, secretary of another of the Proprietors, Lord Ashley, requesting a map he could use in his book.  Ogilby was able to get a map, which included the very latest and most informed information on the new colony, but not until the 1673 edition of America, making this map particularly rare.

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Visscher Novi Belgii

Nicholaus Visscher.  “Novi Belgii Novaeque Angliae Nec Non Partis Virginiae Tabula multis in lotis emendata per Nicolaum Visscher.”  Amsterdam: N. Visscher II, [1655]-ca. 1685. 

A beautiful example of one of the most decorative and desirable maps of north-eastern United States.  The map was intended to detail the situation of the Dutch and England settlements between the Chesapeake Bay and what is today Maine.  The coastline, though quite inaccurate, is based on information gathered in Amsterdam from English, Dutch, and Swedish sources (the Swedes had control of the Delaware until around the time this map was issued).  Inland the cartographic rendering is based on somewhat accurate conjectures of river courses and Indian settlements.

The mid-seventeenth century was a time of considerable turmoil in the region, with competing attempts at colonies between the Dutch, Swedish and English.  This map came out at the time the English were gaining control of the region shown here.  The Dutch colony of New Netherlands was surrendered to the English in 1664, with New Amsterdam (which is shown in a wonderful vignette on this map) was changed to New York.  Further south, the English colony of Pennsylvania was founded in 1681, with Philadelphia (shown here for the first time) established just a year later.

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“d’Engleze Volkplanting in Virginie door Johan Smith.”  Leiden: Pieter Vander Aa, 1707. 

By the early 18th century, the English had established colonies from New England to the Carolinas.  This map shows their colonies in the Mid-Atlantic.

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Moll Mexico and FloridaHerman Moll. “A Map of Mexico or New Spain Florida now called Louisiana and Part of California &c.”  London: John Nicholson, 1717.

The Spanish began their colony of New Mexico at the end of the sixteenth century, but they had trouble establishing the colony until after the “reconquest” in 1692.  This map shows information on their settlements along the northern Rio Grande.  The Spanish were notorious for not making geographic information of their possessions accessible, but this map does give us a glimpse of the Spanish colony to the north.

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Map of English Colonies 1721John Senex.  “A New Map of the English Empire in America viz Virginia, New York, Maryland, New Jarsey, Carolina, New England, Pennsylvania, Newfoundland, New France, &c.”  London: J. Senex, 1721.  

This map depicts as comprehensive a look at the British colonies as was available in the early 18th century.  The borders of the different grants, rivers, and many early towns are indicated from Nova Scotia to Carolina, which is shown extending down to the Florida peninsula.  No western border is indicated, though the “Apalitean mountains” form a natural border.

The map includes an inset map showing North America in relation to Europe and Asia.  The English colonies were designed to be trading outposts for the home country, so the connecting routes across the Atlantic Ocean was important.  This picture of the English colonies in early eighteenth century is fascinating.

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Bellin 1744 Great LakesJacques Nicolas Bellin.  “Carte Des Lacs Du Canada.” Paris: Nyon Fils, 1744.

In contrast to the Lahontan map above, this map by Bellin presents an excellent picture of the Great Lakes.  Bellin (1703-72) was Hydrographer to the King of France and one of the best French cartographers of the later period. He is especially noted for his influential series of maps of the Great Lakes, of which this is the first. This map is based on manuscript maps in the French marine archives, in particular those by Chaussegros de Lerys, and it gives the first new information on New France since Delisle’s seminal work at the beginning of the century.

Still, the map does contain some interesting errors, including a south-easterly slanted Lake Michigan. The map is especially notorious for the introduction of two non-existent islands in Lake Superior. These islands were “Isle Pontchartrain” and “Isle Philippeaux,” the latter of which is shown almost as big as the near-by Isle Royale. These mythical islands were quickly copied by other cartographers and appeared on most maps of North America for the next century.

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Bowen Georgia

Emanuel Bowen. “A New Map of Georgia with Part of Carolina, Florida and Louisiana.” London, 1748. 

The last English colony to be established in North America was Georgia.  This colony was the result of the efforts of James Oglethorpe, who thought that the poor and destitute of England could be helped by settling them in America.  It was decided to create a new colony to the south of South Carolina for this purpose, but also to act as a buffer between South Carolina and the Spanish, French and Native Americans.  Oglethorpe was issued a charter by King George (after whom the colony was named) in 1732.  Georgia originally ran under the control of a board of Trustees, but the colony struggled and in 1752, the Trustees surrendered their charter back to the British government, making it a royal colony.

This map shows Georgia near the end of the Trustee period.  The original charter established Georgia as the lands lying between the headwaters of the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.  For practical purposes, the English didn’t really consider the lands to the west of the Mississippi to be part of the colony and this map shows Georgia up to, and just across, the Mississippi.  It shows the very limited English settlements along and near the Atlantic coast, but contains impressive information of the myriad Indian settlements in the interior.

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French Fry-Jefferson Virginia

Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson.  “Carte De La Virginie et Du Maryland.”  Paris: Gilles Robert De Vaugondy, 1755. 

Unlike Georgia, which had little development beyond the coast, Virginian settlers began to move to the interior soon after the colony was established.  When first issued in 1751, the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia was the first accurate map of the colony beyond the Chesapeake Bay region and into the Appalachian Mountains.  Commissioned by the colonial government of Virginia, Joshua Fry, Thomas Jefferson’s tutor, and Peter Jefferson, Thomas’ father, based the map on their own surveys of the interior together with other first-hand information, producing a superior map that extends from the Chesapeake in the east to beyond the mountains in the west.

The first edition was issued in London in a very large size.  Four years later, Gilles Robert De Vaugondy issued this reduced version.  He very carefully copied the details of the large map and this French version increased the impact of the map considerably.  In fact, it is said that Thomas Jefferson hung the smaller version at Monticello as the English copy of his father’s map was too large.

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