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A new book featuring maps of Virginia’s first 300 years has many stories to tell. There’s the author, an amateur historian who over 40 years amassed maps from around the world. There’s the story of early Virginia and its central role in America’s founding. And there are the maps themselves, many both fanciful and beautiful, featuring detailed illustrations by the most talented engravers of the time. We explore our region’s history through this cartographic collection.
- William Wooldridge Author, "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War"
Photo Gallery: Historic Maps Of Virginia
All images excerpted from “Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War” by William Wooldridge. Copyright 2012 by William Wooldridge. Reprinted here by permission of University of Virginia Press. All rights reserved.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. A new book featuring maps of Virginia's first 300 years has many stories to tell. There's the author, a lawyer turned historian, who, over 40 years, unmasked the maps from around the world. Then there's the story of early Virginia and its central role in our country's founding.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd there are the maps themselves. Some are fanciful and beautiful featuring full-color illustrations by the most talented engravers of the time. Others are authoritative, laying out the contours of the land crucial as boundaries were established and fought over. And maps even shifted the focus of military campaigns in the Civil War.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore our region's history through this cartographic collection is William Wooldridge. He is the author of "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." He's just been elected trustee for the Virginia Historical Society, and he has served as president of the Norfolk Historical Society and Chair of the map support group of the library of Virginia. Bill Wooldridge, welcome.
MR. WILLIAM WOOLDRIDGEDelighted to be here.
NNAMDISo glad you can join us. Tell us about the collection in the book. How many maps are there, and what period do they cover?
WOOLDRIDGEThe maps in the book, there are 300, all 300 illustrated. They run from 1540 down through the end of the Civil War.
NNAMDIYou brought -- you bought your first map of Virginia while you were in the army in Germany as a souvenir. Tell us about that and especially how that evolved into a collection amassed over 40 years.
WOOLDRIDGEWell, it was quite an experience. I was stationed in Heidelberg, walking down the Hauptstrasse one day and noticed a little small map, a 17th century map of Virginia in the window of a print shop. I wasn't a map collector, but it was interesting and pretty. It was a reminder of home, and I bought it as a souvenir. And then within a few months or a year, I had bought a second or a third, and by then I was hooked. So that started me down the road to collecting for the next 40 years.
NNAMDIYour profession was in the law. How did you get this interested in history and maps?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, I've always been a history buff, and I was a railroad lawyer. There's a lot of history involved to that, too. But as a kid, I collected stamps, which are little engravings. These maps are much bigger, much more historically interesting copper-plate engravings, so it just seemed to fit. And I think some people have the collecting bug, whether it's matchbooks or maps or coins, but I clearly was susceptible to that.
NNAMDIIf you're interested in joining this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you collect maps, old or new? 800-433-8850. Send us email to email@example.com, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can not only join the conversation with a comment or question, but where you can see the photo gallery of maps of Virginia taken from the book "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War."
NNAMDII guarantee you it will be an interesting experience watching the evolution of those maps. Bill Wooldridge, you did not set out to write a history of Virginia, but that is, in fact, what you have done.
WOOLDRIDGEI think it did turn into that. I was trying to anchor myself on the maps, and really the book is anchored on the individual maps. It's not just another rehash of Virginia history. But by telling this story as the people who mapped and pictured Virginia saw it over the centuries, you end up doing exactly what you say.
WOOLDRIDGEYou write a little history of Virginia from a different standpoint, from a visual standpoint. There are included in this book 300 maps almost exactly. The earliest map in the book is by Sebastian Munster. It's from 1540. It shows all of the New World. And the last one in the book is of Appomattox at the end of the Civil War.
NNAMDIGlad you started with 1540. What did the Americas and Virginia look like to the explorers of that time?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, barely recognizable to us. The Munster map is -- reports, as it were, on the explorations of Verrazano along the east coast of the United States. Verrazano didn't know what he was seeing. He just was sailing along, and he sees this great mass of new land which we hardly expected. But here it is. But I can see across to the ocean on the other side. He thought it was the ocean on the other side. It was actually Albemarle Sound.
WOOLDRIDGEHe was sailing up the outer banks. So on this map you see this giant indentation in America bringing the Pacific Ocean or an arm of the Pacific Ocean almost all the way to the Atlantic. And if you are trying to place Virginia on the map -- of course, there was no Virginia in 1540, but Virginia would fall right along where that inlet almost reaches the Atlantic.
NNAMDIHe thought he'd reached Asia, huh?
WOOLDRIDGEAbsolutely. And it's interesting that, this long after Columbus, there was still some doubt in the minds of the best informed people of the time as to exactly what -- whether this was a new world or a bunch of islands between the old world and Asia or Asia itself.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to this: how did early cartographers actually map out the new world, and how accurate were they?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, some of these maps are surprisingly accurate, surprisingly recognizable. The very -- the first map that is styled, a map of Virginia, is of the outer banks of North Carolina because that's where Sir Walter Raleigh's colonists, the people whom we remember as the lost -- the founders of the lost colony, that's where they were. But when you look at that map, you can recognize the outer banks. You can recognize Cape Hatteras and Roanoke Island.
WOOLDRIDGEThe way they did it, they could take -- even before this, but certainly by this time, they could take quite accurate measurements of latitude, the distance north or south of the equator, and plot that latitude. Longitude was a lot trickier for them. But still by dead reckoning, by sailing along the shore, by measuring angles, they could create a usable, recognizable, even semi-accurate, map of the coast.
NNAMDIWe're talking with William C. Wooldridge. He is the author of "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." Bill Wooldridge has just been elected trustee for the Virginia Historical Society. You can find on our website, kojoshow.org, a slideshow of some of the maps we're talking about.
NNAMDIAnd you can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Are you interested in the history of our region? Do you wonder where some of the region's names originated? You can find that out both in the book "Mapping Virginia" and in this conversation. So give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is Theo in Alexandria, Va. Theo, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THEOHi. (unintelligible) to my call -- I was hoping that the guest could comment on the cartographic skills presented in the historical maps and his general opinion and perspective on the shift from hand-drawn maps to digital maps that we currently see nowadays. Thank you.
NNAMDIThe cartographic skills in these early maps, Bill Wooldridge, and thoughts on hand-drawn versus digital maps?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, let me start with the latter. Since this book stops in 1865, it does not really encompass any digital mapping, GIS systems, the kinds of things which are current now, the kinds of things which brought me up here today, a navigation system in my car. I think it's a different kind of geography. These maps have a historical interest and an aesthetic interest just because some of them are so beautiful that, I think, makes the comparison with digital maps not entirely appropriate.
WOOLDRIDGEBecause there's a lot more going on with a map than presentation of geography. Certainly, digital maps handle geography superlatively well. But for an insight into the way our predecessors thought about America, thought about Virginia, how they visualized it, these antique maps are unsurpassed.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Theo. How did surveyors back then figure into map making?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, the surveyors -- their surveying was a skill that was important and came to the new world very early. The -- in fact, the first map I mentioned before, the first map of -- explicitly a map of Virginia, there was a man named Thomas Harriett who was an excellent surveyor. And his skills account for the accuracy of the map. But, in fact, the discoverers, the early explorers, they were fascinated with the Indians. They were fascinated with the landscape.
WOOLDRIDGEThey were not so much interested in the kind of property lines, boundaries that a surveyor would determine, whereas when you get down to the 18th century, it's all about surveying, it's all about boundaries, and a map really becomes a collection of surveys, a depiction of the boundaries between properties of individuals, like Lord Fairfax in the northern neck or individuals with individual plots of land, or boundaries between states, like the line between North Carolina and Virginia that was run under the supervision of Col. William Byrd.
NNAMDIYou mention how early explorers like Giovanni Verrazano thought they had reached Asia, but what they were describing then is now the Carolinas and the outer banks of North Carolina. What other kinds of misconceptions about the new world do these early maps reveal?
WOOLDRIDGEThere was -- the confusion about whether America was a continent or something else was really passing by by the mid-16th century. But other geographical misconceptions continued for a long, long time. There's a wonderful map of Virginia by a man named Farrer reissued by his daughter, Virginia Farrer. This is well up into the 1600s, say 1630s.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd it recites -- it shows on the map the shore of California with a picture of Sir Francis Drake because he'd been to California and recites on the face of the map that this western ocean could be reached in 10 days' march from the headwaters of the James River. Well, they -- there was a lot of geographical confusion for a long time. And if you looked at these maps solely with the idea of seeing whether they're geographically accurate or geographically confused, you miss a lot of the other messages that they have for us.
NNAMDIFor instance, the name Arcadia appears on these early maps around this region. It's an interesting story, particularly how the name migrated.
WOOLDRIDGEYes, that is a remarkable one, and I don't think very well known. Arcadia was the name that Verrazano gave to the east coast of Virginia, Maryland, wherever he was. We don't know exactly. He meant to convey that it was sort of a pleasant pastoral place. And that was fine. But the mapmakers, when they applied that name, they got a little confused. They got it a little too far north to start with. And then in successive generations, it moved still farther north and eventually in the form Acadia rather than Arcadia became attached to the part of Canada that we still know as Acadia.
WOOLDRIDGEBut there's still a further chapter which is that the people who live there, the French settlers of that part of what's now Canada, had to leave in the mid-18th century. They went to Louisiana, which was French. They were Acadians which got shortened to Cajuns. So the Cajuns of today's Louisiana derive their name through this long twisted pathway from the name that Verrazano gave the eastern shore of Virginia in 1528.
NNAMDIStarted out in Virginia, went up through Canada and ended up in Louisiana with the name Cajun from Arcadia.
WOOLDRIDGEThat's absolutely right.
NNAMDIWell, that's a piece of history that I learned today. Here is Tony in Ashburn, Va. Tony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TONYThank you so much, Kojo. Well, let me begin by saying my daughter is named Acadia and...
TONY...but not something I expected to talk about until I just heard your last conversation. But we named her after the park in Maine. And I was familiar with that story, which I think is a fascinating one. I look forward to buying your book. And I have a kind of a specific question about the Vestal Gap Road, which is sort of an east-to-west colonial road, I guess, that crossed into what today, I guess, is West Virginia at what's Keyes Gap Road today. And that happens to be my last name, but not a relative.
TONYSo a section of this road at Claude Moore Park in Loudoun County -- and I actually live in a community that's just west of that where's there another section of terrain that looks very much like that remnant of road. And I'm just wondering -- I haven't been able to find a map that traces the Vestal Gap Road in any way where you could sort of line it up and identify landmarks today of where that road might have passed. So that's kind of my question that...
NNAMDILet's see if Bill Wooldridge has any advice for you.
WOOLDRIDGEWell, I have advice. I'm delighted that there's an Acadia involved here. I don't personally know Vestal Gap Road, but I can tell you the major maps of Virginia over the years that you would go to to look for a name like that. I would start with the John Mitchell Map of 1755. That's not limited to Virginia, but it's enormously large and enormously detailed. So it might show something like that.
WOOLDRIDGEThe Fry-Jefferson map of about the same period is of Virginia, then coming down to about 1807, the Bishop Madison map of Virginia, another very large, very detailed map, and finally, concluding in the 1820s with the Boye B-O-Y-E -- I'm not completely sure how it's pronounced -- but the Boye map of Virginia. And if the road exists on antique maps, it would be on one or another of those because those are the maps that everything else was drawn from.
NNAMDITony, thank you very much for your call.
TONYThank you very much. May I just say one more thing?
TONYOne thing that was very interesting when I researched the Vestal Gap Road is it actually was at the center of a competition between two very wealthy land owners. And access to the Port of Alexandria was key. And, at the time, they were toll roads. And one land owner didn't want to pay the other a toll to actually get his crop to the port. And that's why yet another road was developed. And so I just thought that's kind of fascinating that transportation and access to the ports were so important back at that time that they'd actually develop a -- or build a road to give them right-of-way.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad that dispute ended with the building of an alternative road rather than a duel of some kind.
TONYReally. (unintelligible) Thank you.
NNAMDITony, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Bill Wooldridge. He is the author of "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." But we're still interested in your calls. Do you wonder where some of the region's names originated? Have questions? Call us, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIMapping Virginia is the topic of our conversation. Our guest is William Wooldridge. He is the author of the book "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." Bill Wooldridge has been elected trustee for the Virginia Historical Society. He served as president of the Norfolk Historical Society and Chair of the map support group of the Library of Virginia.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. A lot of place names will be familiar, and, of course, they are the names of some of the explorers, as well as many original Native American names. Can you talk a little bit, Bill, about how mapping can influence the naming of places?
WOOLDRIDGEYes. It's an interesting subject, and the maps do allow you to trace these names in -- from decade to decade and almost from year to year sometimes. But Capt. John Smith's map of Virginia, for example, one of the most famous -- maybe the most famous Virginia map has large numbers of Indian names. They did not all survive. Probably the majority of them did not survive.
WOOLDRIDGEBut the ones that did you can find on that map. They were succeeded in many instances by English names. It was as if the landscape were being changed from an Indian landscape to an English landscape as the nomenclature changed. In fact, there's a word for it, toponymy, the names that are given to places, and that's a whole field of its own.
NNAMDISpeaking of names, that's what Marshall in Alexandria, Va. would like to speak of. Marshall, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARSHALLThank you very much, Kojo. Bill, I was wondering about down in the Norfolk Virginia Beach area the term Hampton Roads. How did that come to be what we know of as Hampton Roads area?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, boy, that is a great question, and it doesn't have a real easy answer. I've actually looked at that one since that's where I live. It's thought that Hampton comes from the Earl of South Hampton who was an early investor in the Virginia Colony. That much is easy. Why it was contracted from South Hampton to Hampton is not clear. Roads refers to a roadstead which is just a slightly antique word for harbor.
WOOLDRIDGESo it's the Earl of South Hampton's Harbor. You do not find that name on the very earliest maps, notwithstanding that the Earl of South Hampton goes back to the 16th century. I don't find it used with any consistency on Virginia maps until the early 1800s, at which point the body of water that we now know as Hampton Roads begins to be called that all the time.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Marshall.
NNAMDIThese maps are not just about information that they convey. They're really works of art in their own right. The detail in them is incredible. Many of them are decorated with various illustrations. I'm looking right now at the cover. And on the cover I can see a turkey, I can see a deer, and I can see some kind of sea monster emerging from the water.
NNAMDICan you talk a little bit about the artistry of these maps?
WOOLDRIDGEYes, it is fabulous. And that's one of the things that draws people to the antique maps. The sea monster is a convention on maps of this period. You would find it on almost any map of this age that included ocean. It would be a sea monster, sort of tells you it's the ocean. The turkey is interesting because this marks it as America.
WOOLDRIDGEThis is a beast which is indigenous to America, so it could only appear properly on a map of America. But in general the artistry of the maps, the larger subject -- these -- each map was engraved on a copper plate, an incredibly meticulous process that could take, for a very large map, up to a year or two, just to make the copper plate engraving. Then they were printed. They were colored by hand.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd in the early years when printing -- the earliest maps come along at a time when -- just as printing was overtaking and passing and really leaving in the dust hand-drawn illuminated manuscripts. Well, the people who used to illuminate those books of ours had to have something to do, and some of them went to work coloring maps. So you do get exquisite works of art.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd I think some of the illustrations in the book, particularly of the earliest, the white debris, the illustrations of the Virginia Indians are breathtakingly beautiful. And one of the things that I like about this book is that the Mariner's Museum did high resolution digital photographs of every map. The University of Virginia Press, which did the book, designed it in a way to present them to best effect. And it is a gorgeous product.
NNAMDII mentioned earlier we've got a slideshow at our website of some of the maps we're talking about. You can find it at kojoshow.org. And you say that you're still bowled over every time you look at these maps, even though you've been looking at them for over 40 years.
WOOLDRIDGEIt's remarkable. And, in fact, I surprised myself in the course of writing the book. I thought I was pretty familiar with these things, some of which had been in closets or under beds or hanging on walls and in our house for a long time.
NNAMDIYeah, your wife talked to us about that. Yes.
WOOLDRIDGEYes, and then that's OK. We'll let that go. But I saw things that I had not noticed before. For example, there is a little map of a settlement called Henricus. Nothing exists there anymore, but it was upstream from Jamestown. And Henricus was built on a peninsula with a stockade across the neck of the peninsula to protect it. And there were little squiggles on the stockade.
WOOLDRIDGEWell, when I got to looking, they were musketeers. They were musketeers guarding this stockade from the Indians, which in itself was interesting because, only a few years before, the Indians had been these sort of Rousseauistic natural inhabitants of this paradisiacal, Edenic new world. And now you see on the map that they're not that way anymore. They're the threat, and the stockade is there to protect against them. And the musketeers are there to shoot them if necessary.
NNAMDILove all of these illustrations on the maps. We got an email from Jim in Arlington. "I've heard that maps during the colonial era were so important to governments that they were practically state secrets. Did mapmakers sell bound copies of these maps in bookshops, or were they closely held by their patrons?"
WOOLDRIDGEWell, that is an insightful question, and the answer to both alternatives is yes. The Dutch particularly were very secretive about their maps. They would give a captain headed off for the new world a set of charts. He would sign for them. He would make changes if he discovered something that needed to be added. But when he got back, he had to hand them back over. It was a state secret. But at the same time maps were being published, maps involving our part of the world beginning in the late 1500s, mostly in Atlases or histories or geographies, but sometimes separately. So both things were going on.
NNAMDIOne thing that is particularly interesting, a lot of maps were copied and recopied over long periods, a century or more, inaccuracies and all. How did mapmakers use each other's work?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, shamelessly, in a word. The John Smith map is the single best example. It was first printed in 1612. And that map was being copied -- not only was it being copied by 100 years later without any changes at all, the same copper plate was being used for 70-some years on derivatives of the John Smith map.
WOOLDRIDGENot only that, but the person who did this -- the latest copy's about 1729 -- he had the nerve to write on the map that it had been recently brought down to date, although he was using a 70-year-old copper plate of a 110- or -15-year-old survey. So he knew his customers wanted an up-to-date map, but the -- it was cheaper for him to just publish the old copper plate.
NNAMDIAnd we got this from Justine in Washington, D.C.: "Can you comment on mistakes made on purpose to trick other mapmakers?"
WOOLDRIDGEI think the idea of hiding a mistake in a map that might be copied is more a 19th century innovation. They were trying to protect their copyrights. And because you're dealing with geography, which anyone has access to, in order to prove that your map had been copied, you would insert some tiny random error in it that a person could not just pick up because it was imaginary. So if that random error appeared on a subsequent map, you knew your map had been copied, and you could go after him under the copyright laws. But that is not so much a practice in these earlier maps.
NNAMDIOur guest is William Wooldridge. Bill Wooldridge is the author of "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." A lot of listeners would like to join this conversation. We'll go to Carolyn in Portsmouth, Va. Carolyn, your turn.
CAROLYNGood afternoon. How are you both?
CAROLYNI'm wondering if you could tell me about Portsmouth, Va., how it got its name and how the map area -- how the city area has changed from the beginning of mapping.
WOOLDRIDGEOK. Portsmouth was -- got its name from the Port of Portsmouth on the south coast of England. And, of course, Portsmouth today is a port and a ship building, ship repair center. It first appears by that name on a map in the early 1700s -- or, well, say the first quarter of the 17th century -- by a man named Mark Tiddeman. That map is illustrated in the book, as are all 300 of the maps that are discussed in the book.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd it was important in the Revolutionary War, so it appears on Revolutionary War maps. And the Norfolk Portsmouth Complex, of course, was the great maritime gateway to Virginia. And the book includes an entire chapter on 19th century charts of Virginia -- navigation charts in which you can see the evolution of the details about Norfolk and Portsmouth and the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.
NNAMDICarolyn, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIWe move on to Russell in Washington, D.C. Russell, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RUSSELLI wonder if you could shed light on the origin of Gallows Road over near Tysons Corner in Fairfax County. Is this named after an execution gallows? And if you could shed some light on this despicable part of the history of the Commonwealth, I'll take any comments off the air.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Russell.
WOOLDRIDGEI would be making it up if I said I knew the answer to that question. Sometimes names that appear to have an obvious etymology -- like you would say gallows. Well, there must've been -- they must have been hanging people out there. But I don't know in that case, but I'll give you another example. There is a shoal in the Chesapeake Bay named Wolf Trap Shoal.
WOOLDRIDGEWell, you say there must've been a wolf trap there or a wolf must've been trapped there. But, no, it was a ship in the British Royal Navy named the Wolf that ran aground there and gave the name Wolf Trap Shoals to that area. So you have to be careful in assuming a particular etymology just from interpreting a name. And I won't try to do that with Gallows Road.
NNAMDIMost of these early maps were drawn and printed in Europe. The Dutch were especially skilled at producing maps. What made them the center of map publishing?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, this is a great story, especially for Americans. The Dutch -- you know, we're proud of our revolution against a distant empire and our successfully shaking off the shackles of a larger, more powerful political entity. But the Dutch had done it first. They had revolted against Spain. And they spent decades fighting Spain, but were finally successful. They were Protestant at a time when large parts of Europe were Catholic. They were interested in navigation. They had a huge percentage of the world's seagoing ship tonnage.
WOOLDRIDGEThere just seemed to be sort of an enthusiasm, an energy arising out of that victory over the Habsburgs that led to what's called the Dutch golden age, not just for maps, but for art. I mean, we remember Rembrandt, Vermeer. But publishing was centered in Amsterdam, engraving was centered in Amsterdam, and, for a good many decades in the 17th century, this was where all the great maps, all the most beautiful maps came from.
WOOLDRIDGEThey attracted Protestant geographers. There was a certain amount of religious tolerance. It was in the area of what's now Holland that the Pilgrims went before between England and the United States because they knew they would be tolerated there. So it was a magnet for intellectuals and for talent, and it did produce these gorgeous maps that we still admire.
NNAMDIHere's Diane in Tom's Brook, Va. Diane, your turn.
DIANEHi. I'm from the other end of Virginia. When I bought my farm in Tom's Brook, Va., I was told by a reputable source that it was on the original plat of Shenandoah County in 1752. He even gave me a paper that showed it. But I had just moved, and, unfortunately, I have lost that paper. I have been looking for a place to find that forever. Where would I find the original plat of Shenandoah County?
WOOLDRIDGEI'm not familiar with that plat, but the place to look, or at least the place to start looking, is the Library of Virginia which has an absolutely fabulous collection of Virginia cartographic material, particularly manuscript material. And if there is a -- I can imagine that there might be a map of Shenandoah County from a little later than 1752, but, from that later map, you might find Tom's Brook on it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Diane, and good luck to you. We've got to take a short break. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If you're trying to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Are you a Civil War buff? Do you know how maps figured into the military campaigns of the war? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is William Wooldridge. He is the author of the book "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." Bill Wooldridge, given how much of the land in the new world was in dispute for centuries, it's not really surprising that maps would also be political. Can you talk about that?
WOOLDRIDGEThey certainly are. They're instruments of a campaign to establish a legitimate sovereignty, particularly at the time of the -- what became the French and Indian War when England and France were in a contest for control over the Ohio Valley and the land around the Great Lakes. There were a whole series of maps laying out their respective claims, and even trying to document their claims.
WOOLDRIDGEThe John Mitchell Map of 1755 is just covered with legends saying here's where the charter line was or here's where the settlement was or here's what we did. It's very much a document intended to accomplish the legitimization of England's claims to sovereignty over the Ohio Valley.
NNAMDIMaps sometimes created boundaries where there were none, and reality sometimes followed. Can you talk about that?
WOOLDRIDGEYes. And this is something which I have not found in the literature, but I just noticed it in the course of compiling these maps. The earliest maps of the part of America that became Virginia paid no attention at all to boundaries. You don't even find boundaries on them, right or wrong. And then suddenly, along about 1700, a year or so before, a year or so later, boundaries become an essential part of a map.
WOOLDRIDGEThere is some kind of a change in the outlook or the understanding of what Virginia meant. Instead of just being a sort of a misty, mysterious Patagonia, an undefined place on the coast of the continent, it becomes a political jurisdiction. And a political jurisdiction has to have boundaries. So the mapmakers are happy to oblige. They don't know what the boundaries are, so they invent them.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd they inscribe them on these -- they're using the same copper plate as before. They just add a boundary. It has no relationship whatsoever to the legal boundaries, say, the charter lines of the colony, and this is happening with different mapmakers in different places, but all about the same time. So I say we're seeing here -- we're seeing a picture of a change in their understanding of what's going on in America.
NNAMDISo when does Virginia become, well, Virginia?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, Virginia is always there. It's just different things over the years. It starts out as most of eastern North America, undefined, maybe extending to the Pacific Ocean as the charter, in fact, did extend it or attempted to extend it to the...
NNAMDIOne Dutch map shows an association between Virginia and Bermuda. Did Bermuda ever belong to Virginia?
WOOLDRIDGEBermuda did belong to Virginia, and that map that you're referring to shows in the foreground -- this is a Willem Blaeu map, one of the greatest of the Dutch cartographers -- shows Bermuda in the foreground. But the decorations around the perimeter, there's the seal of the colony of Virginia because Bermuda was under Virginia jurisdiction starting in 1612, not for long...
NNAMDISome maps expressed wishful thinking about what was hoped for Virginia's future. Can you talk a little bit about that?
WOOLDRIDGEWell, we have a one small and, in truth, fairly insignificant map that shows Boston as part of Virginia. For many, many years Virginia was conceived to extend all the way to Florida, and it was only with the creation of the Carolina colony in the 1660s that the southern limit of Virginia was sort of officially pulled back from Florida.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd Virginia's claim to the -- what became the northwest territory, the area north and west of the Ohio River, was valid and widely accepted for a long time. And that particular claim was not given up. It was surrendered to the new entity of the United States, or that became the United States at the time, shortly before the Constitution.
NNAMDIGot an email from Terrence, who said, "How were the borders between Maryland and North Carolina set? Specifically, who decided where the Delmarva Peninsula would be divided, and who set the border with North Carolina?" That, plus an email we got from Keith in Winchester, Va., who says, "Curious if Mr. Wooldridge can shed any light on the apparent confusion about the border between North Carolina and Virginia during the colonial period, given surveying advancements mentioned previously by your guest."
WOOLDRIDGEWell, both of those borders were initially established by the charters. The charter of Maryland in the 1630s made the Potomac River the dividing line, actually, I think, the south bank of the Potomac River the dividing line between Maryland and Virginia. And similarly, when Carolina was chartered in the 1660s, there were actually two charters, and the border changed a little bit. But just having the charter say that the border is here, that didn't let anybody know where it was.
WOOLDRIDGEThat required actual surveying, as I think Keith is suggesting. And the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina was initially surveyed in the 1720s by a very great surveyor named William Mayo, operating on the direction of Col. William Byrd. They had quite a time fighting their way out through the dismal swamp and establishing where the border actually was. But that -- and it was continued to the mountains a generation later.
NNAMDICreating a good map of Virginia was something of a personal obsession for Thomas Jefferson, whose father was a surveyor and mapmaker himself. Can you talk about that?
WOOLDRIDGEYes. Thomas Jefferson's only real book is "Notes on the State of Virginia," and it's what we would call a geography book, although he cast a wide net. He talked about everything. He felt like -- that he wanted a really good map to go with this book. He said whatever constitutes the perfection of a map was what he wanted. He had his father's great map, the Fry-Jefferson Map to start from, but things had changed a little bit in the meantime. And he also wanted something more convenient.
WOOLDRIDGEThe Fry-Jefferson Map is this huge four-sheet map that's not really handy for easy reference, you know, in a book. So he created a reduced map. He incorporated almost all the data from the Fry-Jefferson map in the area that he was covering, which was not as large an area. He eliminated some of the decorations, so it's a very businesslike, workmanlike map, consistent with the way we think of Jefferson as a scientific rationalist enlightenment thinker.
NNAMDIMaps figured heavily during the Civil War because, of course, military strategists needed the best maps possible, but the best map of Virginia at the start of the war was more than a decade old and based on an even earlier map. Why was that?
WOOLDRIDGEThat is absolutely right. The base map of Virginia, the Boye map, was updated -- partially updated by a man named Buchholz (sp?) in the 1850s. Buchholz had a little problem though because the state would not pay for a new copper plate, so he could not draw a good map from scratch. He had to take the old copper plates and try to sort of fix them up, add things here, subtract things there.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd the result was not wholly satisfactory, to say the least. But, nevertheless, this was all there was. And one of the most interesting maps in this book is a map that was actually taken from the body of the first general killed in the Civil War, a Gen. Robert Selden Garnett. He was killed in an early campaign in the Civil War in what's now West Virginia.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd the man who captured the map was named Henry Benham. He was a major in the federal army. He returned -- this was still the chivalrous stage of the Civil War. He returned Garnett's sword and his uniform to Garnett's family, but he kept Garnett's map. He said this was a much-needed map, so he held onto it.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here now is Leigh in Waldorf, Md. Leigh, your turn.
LEIGHYes. I'm enjoying this show so much. I'm a Norfolk girl. Please teach Kojo to pronounce it.
LEIGHBut I would like you to talk about the marketing purposes of early maps, whether for investment or settling, the maps that got into the hands of the public and fired their imaginations.
WOOLDRIDGEWell, marketing, Leigh, is a very good word for it because these maps have a message to convey, and sometimes they want to sell you something. I'm looking at the cover of the book which illustrates a map that says, here in the Appalachian Mountains, gold is found or grains of silver are found or grains of silver are found. Well, I don't think they had actually found any gold or silver. That was more a wish than reality. But nevertheless they were proclaiming the richness and the desirability of the new world.
WOOLDRIDGEAnd that tradition does not end with these 16th and 17th century maps. Maps continue to have a purpose of persuading people of something. I'll give you, I think, a wonderful example from the Civil War. There is a little manuscript map in the book. What it actually maps is Gen. McClellan's retreat from Richmond under the blows of Robert E. Lee and the Seven Days Campaign in the Civil War.
WOOLDRIDGEExcept Gen. McClellan didn't think he was retreating, or he didn't like to think about it as a retreat. So his mapmaker titled it the move to a new field of operations, and it was a confederate map of exactly the same geography that's entitled Gen. McClellan's retreat. But the point is -- and I'm again going back to your word marketing. The point is that these maps have -- they're designed to persuade, to convince, to interpret, to sell. There is a lot more going on than the dispassionate presentation of geographic information.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Leigh. The Civil War created a huge demand for maps, particularly of this region which was strategically important, didn't it?
WOOLDRIDGEIt did, and it's interesting how the interest of the whole union seemed to narrow down on the 200 miles between Washington and Richmond. And again, I say that not based on some intellectual abstraction but from simply observing the huge number of maps that were created of this Washington-Richmond corridor, of Grant's advance on Richmond, and of the city of Richmond itself. Of course, the...
NNAMDIMaps also shifted the focus of some of the military campaigns, right?
WOOLDRIDGEI think that's probably true. They certainly narrowed people's focus. It's not that they didn't know that Vicksburg was out there or that Atlanta was out there. But somehow they got the idea, and the maps either reflected it or reinforced it, that the key to this war, where the -- as one of the maps said, where the great battle for the union would be fought, was in the Virginia Theater. So there is this prodigious outpouring of maps of the cockpit of the war, of the theater of the war, and theater is a word they used over and over, which is eastern Virginia.
NNAMDIWe got an email from George in Fairfax, who writes, "Entry regarding Gallows Road from history of Fairfax County. The first Fairfax courthouse was established in 1742 near present-day Tysons Corner and is the namesake for Old Courthouse Road. It intersects with Gallows Road, which today is a major commuter route, but at the time was the road where condemned prisoners were lead to the gallows at the old courthouse." So...
WOOLDRIDGENow, we know.
NNAMDINow, we know.
NNAMDIWilliam Wooldridge is the author of "Mapping Virginia: From the Age of Exploration to the Civil War." He's just been elected trustee for the Virginia Historical Society. Bill Wooldridge, thank you so much for joining us.
WOOLDRIDGEI have really enjoyed it.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein, with help from Stephannie Stokes, Jessica Guzman, and Ryan Mixon. The engineer today is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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