Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America

October 01, 2002
February 02, 2003

"We are thrilled and honored to be able to exhibit these maps," said Margaret Heilbrun, Vice President for Library Services and Head Librarian for the New-York Historical Society, "This is a rare chance for New Yorkers and their visitors to see and experience these important documents of early American exploration."

Degrees of Latitude will use maps as a point of departure for understanding the history of American settlement and colonization. These maps, representing each of the 13 colonies, were selected for their rarity, historical importance and aesthetic beauty. A few, such as Bernard Ratzer's Plan for the City of New York, are rare or unique examples never before published. The Custis Atlas, once owned by Virginian John Custis IV, features an additional 100 maps. As this remarkable volume passed through generations of the Custis family, it was familiar to two other prominent Virginians who were related by marriage: George Washington and Robert E. Lee.

Maps tell us what was known or believed about the land, suggest how people traveled and traded, and record routes taken across oceans and continents," said Margaret Beck Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg curator of prints, maps and wallpaper since 1982.

"By the 17th century, the profits generated from the American colonies created a need for maps to facilitate trade and promote new settlements. Maps substantiated land claims, settled boundary disputes and recorded the battles and adventures of the early colonists."

Pritchard is co-author of Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America, 1590–1787, published jointly by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in New York. The book, funded by Anna Glen Vietor of New York in memory of her husband Alexander Orr Vietor, will be available in Fall 2002. Pritchard has also co-authored William Byrd II and His Lost History: Engravings of the Americas (1993), published by Colonial Williamsburg, and co-edited Empire's Nature: mark Catesby's New World Vision (1998), published by the University of North Carolina Press.

Henry G. Taliaferro, co-author of Degrees of Latitude, is a well-known dealer of rare maps and prints in New York. He compiled Cartographic Sources in the Rosenberg Library (1987) and has authored several articles on Virginia genealogy and 17th- through 19th-century mapmaking.

Creative: Tronvig Group