One of the finest 17th-century maps of the English Empire in America

John Thornton, Rob[er]t Morden and Phillip Lea, A NEW MAP OF NEW ENGLAND NEW YORK NEW IARSEY PENSILVANIA MARYLAND AND VIRGINIA. London, ca. 1685.
Engraving, 17.75"h x 21.25"w plus margins, uncolored

The rare first obtainable state of the finest general map of England’s American colonies to date. This most important map is one of the earliest to adopt Augustine Herrman’s cartography for Virginia and Maryland. To the North it includes one of the earliest depictions of the Pennsylvania colony (est. 1681), the first printed chart of New York Harbor, and significant additions to the cartography of New England.

This is one of a series of general maps issued by the English in the late 17th century, arguably beginning with Morden and Berry’s A New Map of the English Plantations in America (1673). Catalyzed by the capture from the Dutch of the area that became the Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, these maps reflect the dawning realization that England now possessed a coherent, contiguous imperium in North America.

The map depicts the English colonies from Cape Ann in Massachusetts to Cape Henry at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Though sparser as one moves inland, the coverage extends as far north as the tributaries of the Hudson, Delaware and Susquehannah Rivers and as far west as the tributaries of the Potomac and Rapahannock. Augustyn and Cohen suggest plausibly that contemporaries would have viewed this map with the greatest interest:

“To the ambitious person, the map would have presented an enticing vista: it displays a loose federation of colonies, between and beyond which there appears to be ample unclaimed land. It creates an image of an area comfortingly linked by civilization but still containing much open territory.” (Augustyn & Cohen, p. 48)

The geography of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey is derived largely from the Thornton-Greene Mapp of Virginia Mary=land, New Jarsey, New=York, & New England (ca. 1678, Burden #507), whose depiction of the region is in turn based largely on Augustine Herrman’s Virginia and Maryland (1673, Burden #429). The Thornton-Morden-Lea departs from these prototypes, however, in showing the new colony of Pennsylvania and incorporating changes to the course of the Delaware and place names along its banks. Burden suggests that the mapmakers must have struggled with this area, as it bears numerous signs of erasure and re-engraving.

The New Netherlands and southern New England are taken from an inset map of the region included on the Thornton-Greene map, which in turn draws on John Seller’s Mapp of New England (1676, Burden #473). Here as well Thornton, Morden and Lea have departed substantially from the prototypes: Long Island’s barrier beaches are shown for the first time on a printed map; numerous place names are introduced along the Connecticut coast and on Cape Cod; the boundaries between Massachusetts, Plymouth and Connecticut colonies are drawn; and several roads are shown.

The little inset of New York Harbor at lower right is a most important piece of work. Hydrographic data for the area had appeared on smaller-scale regional maps (most notably in two charts from Arent Rogeveen’s 1675 Het Brandende Veen), but this should be considered the first separate printed chart of the area. Based on a 1683 survey conducted by Philip Wells for William Penn and the other proprietors of West New Jersey, it is far more accurate than earlier work. It shows particularly well the shoals that confine shipping to a single deep-water entrance around Sandy Hook. To the credit of Thornton et al, the depiction on the main map of New York and its harbor have been updated to reflect the Wells cartography and hydrography.

Publication history
Research by Barbara McCorkle and Henry Taliaferro has shed light on the unusual publication history of this map:

“The map is actually a separately-issued section of a multi-sheet wall map entitled A New Map of the English Empire in the Continent of America (1685). This ambitious project was a collaborative venture between three of London’s leading map publishers, but it resulted in a map that was far too expensive to succeed. The Thornton-Morden-Lea wall map survives today only in one … copy in the Bibliotheque National in Paris.


“But the map’s publishers had anticipated that the wall map would be financially risky, so they included all of the English colonies except for Carolina on one sheet, and this sheet was designed to that it could be sold separately. It was given its own secondary title, A New Map of New England New York New Jarsey Pennsylvania Maryland and Virginia, which could be trimmed off when the sheet was used for the wall map.” (Richard B. Arkway and Cohen & Taliaferro, Catalogue 62, item #8)

The example of the map offered here is described by Burden as representing the first state, bearing the imprints of Thornton, Morden and Lea. Three later states appeared ca. 1695, 1698 and 1715, with alterations both major and minor. Pritchard and Taliaferro posit a true first state preceding the four identified by Burden, based on numerous signs of erasure, visible for example in the faint traces of rhumb lines visible on the inset of New York Harbor. However, no examples are known, and this writer remains agnostic as to the existence of such a state.

Augustyn & Cohen, Manhattan in Maps, pp. 48-49; Burden, Mapping of North America, #616; Cumming, British Maps of Colonial America, p. 31, fig. 18 (detail); McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, entries 680.4 and 685.3; Pritchard & Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude, pps. 363-364; Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography”, #35a.


About very good overall. Light, even toning to image area; two mended tears well into image at lower right; and a couple of other short marginal tears.