When determining a topic for this week’s blog post, I discovered very little has been written about Special Collections’ historical maps. We have over 800 individual maps along with special map collections, such as the Robert Holman Map Collection and the Pocahontas Mines Collection. (We are currently working on the Pocahontas Mines Collection of over 7,000 maps and will have posts devoted to it in the future, so keep an eye out!) The maps primarily document Virginia and the Appalachian region from the 18th to 20th centuries. But the maps I’d like to share with you date to the days of European colonization and American independence.

The above map, “Virgini partis australis, et Florid partis orientalis, interjacentiumque regionum Nova Descriptio”, is a reproduction of Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu’s 1640 map of the North American coast from Florida to Virginia. Marked in the upper right corner is “Chesapeak” or Chesapeake Bay and towards center left are the “Apalatcy” or Appalachian Mountains. The map also identifies different Native tribes, such as the Houstaqua – probably the Yustaga people of the Florida Panhandle – and the Powhatans of Virginia. The back of the map discusses Florida, showing that the map was once part of a Latin language atlas.

This map, “Virgini Partis australis, et Florid partis orientalis, interjacentiumque regionum Nova Descriptio”, is a reproduction of a map in Arnoldus Montanus’ De Nieuwe en onbekend Weereld, published in 1671 by Jacob Meurs. When compared against Blaeu’s map, very little has changed in the description of the land, although the visual depictions are fuller and more colorful.

Jump forward to 1784, and you get this more detailed, albeit less visually arresting, depiction of North America east of the Mississippi River. This reproduction identifies the boundaries of the United States as defined by the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War. Like the other maps above, this one identifies Native tribes, but it also includes new landmarks, cities, and states, showing how the changing political and cultural landscapes affect cartographic description.

As I mentioned, these are just a few out of hundreds of maps held by Special Collections. If you’d like to peruse more, check out those we’ve digitized and put up online or come in to the reading room and take a look at them yourself!

Update, Jan. 12, 2021:

The processing of the Pocahontas Mines Collection, Ms2004-002 is now complete, and there are additional posts related to the collection:

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