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A Cartographic Landmark -- The Fry Jefferson Map of Virginia & Maryland

Fine example of the 1775 edition of Fry and Jefferson's map of Virginia and Maryland, widely regarded as the most important and influential 18th-century map of Virginia and Maryland.

Originally prepared by Joshua Fry of William and Mary College and Peter Jefferson (parents of President Thomas Jefferson) at the request of Lord Halifax in 1751, the Fry-Jefferson was a monumental leap forward in the mapping of the region. It is the first map to accurately depict the Blue Ridge Mountains and the first to lay down the colonial road system of Virginia. A great number of plantations are located and include the family names of the Virginia plantation owners of the period. The cartouche, showing a tobacco warehouse and wharf, is one of the earliest printed images of the Virginia tobacco trade.

History of the Map

One of the first actions of Lord Halifax upon becoming president of the Board of Trade and Plantations in 1748 was to request information concerning activities in the Frontiers and of potential French encroachments on the British territorial claims. In 1750, the Board required that each colony to conduct a comprehensive survey. The acting Governor of Virginia, Col. Lewis Burwell commissioned Fry & Jefferson to prepare a map of the Virginia colony.

Joshua Fry, a mathematician at the College of William and Mary, and Peter Jefferson, a surveyor (father of Thomas Jefferson), had together previously drawn the boundaries of Lord Fairfax's lands in 1746 and surveyed the Virginia-North Carolina boundary in 1749. First issued in 1751, the map incorporates the original surveys of Fry & Jefferson with existing data. A major revision in 1755 incorporated important information about the western part of the colony from the journals of John Dalrymple and Christopher Gist, the latter of whom is credited in the upper left part of the map with having contributed to the revisions. It is the 1755 edition that forms the basis for the subsequent editions.

Importance of the Map

This map was particularly important for its accuracy at a time when most maps of North America relied on local explorers and word of mouth. The map was particularly important in delimiting the extent of the state. Fry argued, in a separate account of the map, that Virginia had legitimate claims to areas west of the mountains, which the Loyal Company of Virginia used to recruit settlers to western Virginia up to the start of the War of Independence.

The early editions of the map were used extensively during the French and Indian War, while later editions were consulted by important Revolutionary War Figures. Thomas Jefferson discusses the map extensively in his Notes on the State of Virginia. He states:

For the particular geography of our mountains I must refer to Fry and Jefferson's map of Virginia. . . It is worthy notice, that our mountains are not solitary and scattered confusedly over the face of the country; but that they commence at about 150 miles from the sea-coast, are disposed in ridges one behind another, running nearly parallel with the sea-coast, though rather approaching it as they advance north-eastwardly.

He also gives the following account in his autobiography:

My father’s education had been quite neglected, but being of a strong mind, sound judgment and eager after information, he read much and improved himself insomuch that he was chosen with Joshua Fry professor of Mathm. in W.[William] & M.[Mary] college to continue the boundary line between Virginia & N. Carolina ... and was afterwards employed with the same mr Fry to make the 1st Map of Virginia which had ever been made, that of Capt Smith being merely a conjectural sketch. they possessed excellent materials for so much of the country as is below the blue ridge; little being then known beyond that ridge

States of the Map

The map is known in 8 editions. The first four states are so rare as to be virtually unobtainable. The present example is state 6, which includes the updated 1775 date but is otherwise identical to the 1768 edition, the first obtainable state.

Degrees of Latitude, 30; Stephenson & McKee Virginia in Maps, Map II-21A-D, p. 83; Cumming 281; Coolie Verner, "The Fry and Jefferson Map", Imago Mundi XXI, pp. 70-94; cf. On the Map, Figure 42; Papenfuse & Coale, pp. 34-36.