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John Smith's Landmark Map of Virginia --The First Printed Map of any English Colony in America.

This famous map of Virginia is the earliest printed map of the first extensive English colony in America. As noted by Burden, it is "one of the most important printed maps of America ever produced and certainly one of the greatest influence. It became the prototype for the area for half a century." Burden goes so far as to say that the map's publication considerably influenced the success of the Virginia Colony itself.

In 1606, the London Company sent its first ship to Virginia and established the Jamestown settlement. Captain John Smith accompanied the English settlers at Jamestown. Between 1607 and 1609, he explored the major rivers which flowed west into the Chesapeake Bay, recording the names of the Native American villages and tribes he encountered. The limits of Smith's explorations are marked with a Maltese cross. Beyond the crosses, Smith relied on Native American accounts to delineate territories further upriver. Smith notes on the map "To the crosses hath bin discouerd what beyond is by relation."

Smith's depiction of the Native America Villages and accounts of the region is one of the primary sources for information on the region in the early 17h Century. Burden notes that "to this day the map is still used by archaeologists to locate native Indian villages. It records 166 of them, and is remarkably detailed." The illustrations of Powhatan's Council and a Sasquesahanough Indian are derived from the original drawings of John White.

Upon Smith's return to England in 1609, Smith employed William Hole to engrave a map, which was first included in a small pamphlet by Joseph Barnes of Oxford in 1612. The map would not appear again for 12 years, when it was included, along with Smith's map of New England, in his landmark work, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, in 1624. The following year it was included in Purchas His Pilgrimes.

Smith's map was by far the most important map of Virginia published in the first part of the 17th Century. First issued in 1612, it became the prototype map of the region until Augustine Hermann's map of 1673. The map depicts a number of explorations and observations of Smith and the Jamestown settlers. There is some question as to whether the map is the work of Smith, who led most of the explorations, or the surveyor accompanying him, Nathaniel Powell. However, convention attributes the map to John Smith as his name appears on it in two publications by him and in a third by Samuel Purchas who credits Smith with the production of the map.

Christopher Newport Expedition

The map is the first reference to the inland expedition of Christopher Newport in 1608.

In 1606, the Virginia Company of London chose Christopher Newport to lead the first voyage to Virginia, as well as several later voyages. Over the next several years, he became a central figure in the early history of the Virginia Colony.

In October 1608, Newport led an inland expedition by foot up the James River (here called the Powhantan flu), which is shown on the map, beginning at the Falls of the James River (The Fales) above Powhantan's village and extending about 50 to 60 miles inland.  Smith did not accompany Newport and returned to England before Newport's return.  

John Smith and The Mythical Inland Sea Across North America

The map also includes remnants of the inland sea described by Smith in his True Relation of 1608 at the top right, above the banner.  While only a fragment of the coast remains, this fragment reflects the belief which John Smith held in 1608, just prior to his next trip to Virginia.  In mid-1608, Smith was just about to undertake his comprehensive survey of Virginia and was hot on the trail of rumors of a great lake, which local Indians told him lay not far inland. Smith had not seen it himself but felt confident enough in his triangulation of the Indian reports that he could relay his findings to others in Europe. The fact that there was a large inland lake somewhere in North America was tantalizing because, according to the theories of the day, such a large body of water would probably have offshoot rivers that exited to the Pacific Ocean in the west.

Smith communicated this information to Henry Hudson.  Smith knew of Hudson's desire to find an alternate passage to the East Indies and hoped by sending him this information he would entice him to search for it in North America, in or near the Virginia colony. Writing to Hudson who was then in The Hague, Smith's letter and maps suggested that the entrance to the great inland lake could be found through a river or rivers lying somewhere between 37° and 40° North latitude. ]Hudson showed this material to Jodocucs Hondius and allowed him to make copies of Smith's manuscript maps for his own archive. This exchange between John Smith, Henry Hudson, and Jodocus Hondius gave rise to the inclusion of this cartographic information on Hondius's globe of 1611.  This episode is summarized in Edward Butts's 2009 biography of Hudson, Henry Hudson: New World Voyager.   A further fragment of this information appears on Smith's map of Virginia, at the lower right corner, where to the right of the Atquanachuke Indian villages, the map again teases at a waterway to the west.  

States of the Map

The present example of the map is state 10 (Page numbers changed to 1690 and 1691). The various states of the Smith map of Virginia can be identified as follows, according to Burden:

  • State 1: No date, No coat of arms at bottom right.
  • State 2: 1606 date added in the scale of miles and 1607 below Powhatan illustration.
  • State 3: Smith's coat of arms added at bottom right, but without motto below coat of arms.
  • State 4: Smith motto added, along with longitude and latitude markings.
  • State 5: Gunter's Harbour added along with other place names at the head of the Chesapeake.
  • State 6: Democrites Tree added lower left of the Royal Coat of arms, two other new place names.
  • State 7: Page numbers 1692 and1693 added at top corners (first appearance in Purchas)
  • State 8: Page 41 Smith added at lower right corner, with new place names added
  • State 9: Washborne C. appears just above the ship, with other changes
  • State 10: Page numbers changed to 1690 and 1691
  • State 11: Hair on the top of the Indian's head is cross-hatched
  • State 12: Large plate crack running through the ship and extending more than 1/2 way across the plate


All states of the map are scarce, with states 1-6 rare on the market (those pre-dating the publication of Purchas).

Condition Description
Trimmed to the platemark or just inside it on all sides. Some very minor expert stabilizations or mends on verso. A few areas of minor toning.
Burden 164 (State 10); Schwartz & Ehrenberg p.89-93; Fite & Freeman #32; Tooley, R.V. (Amer) p.135-60; Papenfuse & Coale p.1-2; Stephenson & McKee (VA) 1-4.