Fry & Jefferson’s Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia

Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A MAP of the most INHABITED part of VIRGINIA containing the whole PROVINCE OF Maryland with Part of PENSILVANIA, NEW JERSEY AND NORTH CAROLINA. London: Robert Sayer at No. 53 in Fleet Street & Thomas Jefferys at the Corner of St. Martins Lane, Charing Cross [but Sayer & Bennett], 1775.
Engraving on four sheets joined as two, 31 ½”h x 49”w at neat line plus margins if fully joined. Some offset, exaggerated in the image at left, else excellent.

The 1775 edition of Fry and Jefferson’s epochal Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia, praised as “the basic cartographical document for Virginia of the eighteenth century [and] the first map of Virginia by Virginians” (Coolie Verner) and “the definitive eighteenth century cartographic document for the colony of Virginia.” (Taliaferro) 

In scope, content and accuracy, the map far exceeds any of its predecessors. Whereas previous “mother maps” of Virginia by John Smith and Augustine Hermann focused on the Tidewater and Piedmont regions, Fry and Jefferson’s extends well west of the Blue Ridge, though the treatment of the trans-montane region is admittedly sketchy. As Bill Wooldridge argues, the map constitutes a visual argument for the colony’s wealth, maturity and scale:

“The map’s generous scale, fine engraving, and iconic cartouche suggest the prosperity of Virginia. The image in the cartouche is that of a planter seated on his wharf, surrounded by merchants, tobacco hogsheads, and slaves, one of whom is serving the planter a cordial on a footed silver tray. Even the stone building behind the planter, as Margaret Pritchard has noted, projects an aura of stability and wealth….


“In the map’s interior we see a fully developed political entity. In addition to the carefully charted network of rivers and watercourses, there are county names, roads, ferries, bridges, mills, churches, ordinaries, and seats of individual planters. Virginia has a full complement of all the geographic indicia of maturity….


“The proportions of the map, about eleven square feet of engraved area when the four sheets are assembled, both accommodated its geographic reach and emphasized the colony’s stunning size, which is one of the map’s silent if salient messages.” (Wooldridge, pp. 108, 110)

This example of the map bears a date of 1775 and the imprints of both Robert Sayer and the late Thomas Jefferys, making it an instance of the 7th state, per Taliaferro’s carto-bibliography in the 2013 MESDA Journal.

In 1750, against the backdrop of French “encroachments” from Canada into the Ohio Valley, the Board of Trade directed all governors in colonial North America to submit maps of their respective colonies. The results were limited, but in Virginia Governor Lewis Burwell engaged the highly-experienced surveyors Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson to compile the requested map. At the time the men were respectively Chief and Deputy Surveyor for Albemarle County. Fry was also county magistrate and Albemarle’s representative in the House of Burgesses, and had previously served as the first professor of mathematics at William and Mary. Jefferson had been Chief Surveyor of Goochland County, from which Albemarle was carved out in 1744, and retained that position even as he took up his new post with Fry.

The men had also held important surveying commissions for the Colony, and in 1746 had worked together on the survey of the “back line” (i.e., western boundary) of the Fairfax Grant, also known as the “Northern Neck” between the Potomac and Rapahannock Rivers. In 1749 the two had extended the Virginia-North Carolina boundary a further ninety miles to the west and produced a map of its full length. Their knowledge base was vital to the construction of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia.

“Fry and Jefferson’s surveys of the Northern Neck and the Virginia-North Carolina boundary line were the framework upon which the rest of the map of Virginia was hinged–otherwise, we can only speculate as to their sources. In his forwarding letter to the Board of Trade, Burwell merely comments that as “we are yet a country of woods, it is surprising that he [Fry] could draw so beautiful a map of it…. Thomas Jefferson… in his autobiography says that “they possessed excellent materials for so much of the country as is below the blue ridge; little being the known beyond that ridge.”….


“The construction of the map only took about six months, so there was no time for any new first-hand surveys. Fry and Jefferson must have solicited sketch maps, surveys, written descriptions, and other information from county surveyors and other contacts throughout Virginia. Both were well-connected, and most of the leading men of the colony must have been eager to see the project succeed. Solicitation of this sort was a fundamental tool for the construction of eighteenth century maps.” (Taliaferro, “Fry and Jefferson Revisited”)

Burwell submitted Fry and Jefferson’s manuscript to the Board of Trade in the Summer of 1751, where it was reviewed by John Mitchell, who at the time was at work on his monumental Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (London, 1755). In Mitchell’s view, the map and Fry’s accompanying report on the “Back Settlements of Virginia” highlighted “Virginia’s particular potential to withstand the French encroachments in the Ohio Valley”. Impressed, the Board of Trade ordered the Virginia map printed by Thomas Jefferys, and it was first published in August 1753. It is worth noting that Fry’s report on the “Back Settlements” makes clear that the printed map covers far less territory than the now-perished original manuscript, which may have extended as far as the Mississippi River.

The map was reworked in subsequent versions, the first major addition being Virginia’s road system, likely added to a December 1753 state of the map discovered by Taliaferro (See his MESDA Journal article). In January 1755 the two western sheets were entirely reworked, based in large part on surveys conducted by Christopher Gist on behalf of the Ohio Company (Fry died in May 1754 in a fall from a horse while serving as Colonel of the Virginia militia, and Jefferson was not involved in the 1755 revision.) The map was reissued many times over the next four decades, with further changes only to the date and imprint.

The map was at the time acknowledged for its excellence, was copied by French publisher George Louis le Rouge, and served as the prototype for other maps of Virginia until the Bishop Madison map of 1808. Most prominently, Fry and Jefferson’s depiction of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge serving as the basis for Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America and Lewis Evans’ Map of the Middle British Colonies in North America (Philadelphia, 1755).

In all, a lovely example of the single most influential 18th-century map of Virginia.

Cumming, Southeast in Early Maps, #449. Pritchard & Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude, #30 (pp. 154-159). Phillips, Maps of America, p. 982. Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #1430. Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography,” in Tooley, Mapping of America, #87f. Taliaferro, “Fry and Jefferson Revisited”, MESDA Journal, vol. 34 (2013), state 7. Wooldridge, Mapping Virginia #102 (pp. 107-111).