Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America

Margaret Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Tuesday, July 13, 2010Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Detail from "A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia"

Detail from the cartouche from A MAP of the most INHABITED part of VIRGINIA by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, London, 1768, depicting the rivers and creeks of the Chesapeake region. This information was essential to a plantation economy because slaves loaded hogsheads of tobacco directly onto the ships, eliminating the added expense of land transportation and reducing the possibility of damaging the tobacco leaves had the hogsheads been rolled along roads. The planter’s status is highlighted by depiction as the only one seated and being served a drink.

Mr. Foote in the Character of Major Sturgeon by John Boydell

MR. FOOTE in the Character of MAJOR STURGEON, mezzotint engraving by John Boydell after a painting by John Zoffany, London, 1765, shows two gentlemen standing in a room decorated with objects that reflect their worldly interests. Maps were regarded as elite male objects that reflected a global perspective. Newspaper advertisements suggest that maps on rollers were appropriate for gentlemen’s rooms.

Maps, in the 17th and 18th centuries, were important for documenting new discoveries and promoting settlement in the New World. Maps, however, were much more than an inducement to wanderlust. These documents —- created by empirical observation and scientific equipment —- authoritatively documented claims of boundaries between colonies and empires. Land titles and rents, and trade —- aided by nautical atlases, hung in the balance. As the struggle between France and Britain for control of North America intensified in the 18th century, the need for reliable maps for military use also increased.

Maps also embodied intellectual attainment and social aspiration. Prominently displayed maps, charts, atlases and globes became status symbols for the enlightened, genteel 18th century gentleman whose library might well have included works on commerce, navigation, geography, mathematics, physics, natural history and travel. Maps were ordinarily displayed in the hall (not today’s passageway but the name for the primary room for welcoming guests to the home) or dining room, literally and figuratively demonstrating the host’s expanded world view to guests.

Royal Governor Botetourt of Virginia demonstrated his endorsement of John Henry’s 1770 map of Virginia, over the generally favored circa 1753 Virginia map by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson’s father), by hanging the map by John Henry (the father of Patrick Henry) in the dining room of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. Given Patrick Henry’s early agitation against the crown’s treatment of the colonists, Governor Botetourt’s furnishings may well have indicated his support for native Virginians, thereby transforming a map into a different type of political statement.

Margaret Pritchard will explore the role of maps as powerful visual symbols during the 17th and 18th centuries, useful devices for mapmakers and colonial expansionists to convey a host of attitudes and values. This lecture will illustrate the motivation behind the production of these objects, ultimately revealing how each of the maps was used as a vehicle for unique and important messages.

Margaret Pritchard received a bachelor’s degree from Hollins College. After working with Winterthur’s needlework collection for a year, she received a fellowship at Colonial Williamsburg to assist with the refurnishing of the Governor’s Palace.

Ms Pritchard subsequently became the curator of Colonial Williamsburg’s collections of prints, maps and wallpaper. Her responsibilities include acquisition of new objects for the collections and research in the medium of paper. She selects appropriate prints, maps, and wallpaper to hang on the walls of buildings in the historic district, such as the Brush-Everard House, the George Wythe House and the recently recreated Richard Charlton Coffeehouse.

Margaret Pritchard’s publications include William Byrd II and His Lost History: Engravings of the Americas with Virginia Sites (1993); Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby’s New World Vision with Amy Meyers (1998); and Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America with Henry Taliaferro (2002). She combined her study of geography with living nature for “A Protracted View: The Relationship between Mapmakers and Naturalists in Recording the Land,” her contribution to Curious in our Way: The Culture of Nature in Philadelphia, 1740-1840 (2009).

Ms Pritchard’s contributions to The Magazine Antiques are “Rethinking Two Houses at Colonial Williamsburg” with William Graham (January 1996); “Maps as objects of material culture” (January 2001); “John Drayton’s Watercolors” (January 2003); and “Useful devices: the prints and maps at MESDA” (January 2007). She has also written ” ‘Proper to Hang a Passage and Staircase’: The Discovery of Original Wallpapers at Kenmore” (the home of George Washington’s brother-in-law, Fielding Lewis, in Fredericksburg, Virginia) in Restoring Kenmore (1999). Her most recent publication, “Wall Treatments in the Chesapeake” co-authored with Mark Wenger, will be published this year.

Another responsibility for Margaret Pritchard at Colonial Williamsburg is to create exhibitions of the graphic collections to be displayed in the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. April’s speaker has curated “Degrees of Latitude: Maps of America from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection,” “Drawing on Nature”; “Mark Catesby’s Natural History of America: The Watercolors from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle”; “Images of Nature, Creations of Man: Natural History and the Decorative Arts”; “Mapping America: A Selection of Maps from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection”; and “English Prints of the Eighteenth Century,” a permanent exhibition of more than 500 prints from the Colonial Williamsburg collections. She has also curated “Upholsterers and their Trade,” an exhibition of 17th and 18th century upholstery documents from the Colonial Williamsburg collections.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

If the medium is paper, share your maps and prints from around the world: maps, road maps, atlases, globes and prints of all kinds, especially the faraway and exotic. Geographic samplers and globes also demonstrate female “marks of achievement.”


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.