The finest 17th-century map of the Carolinas

[John Thornton, Robert Morden & Philip Lea] / Philip Lea, A New Map of CAROLINA. London: Philip Lea, [ca. 1695].
Engraving on laid paper, 21 ¾”h x 18 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, original color retouched. Upper left quadrant and margins a bit dusty, some diagonal creasing at upper left, minor mends to wear at centerfold and along edges.

A scarce and highly-important map of the Province of Carolina, the last of a sequence of the great 17th-century maps of the region, each building on its predecessors. The map was first published in 1685 by the partnership of John Thornton, Robert Morden and Philip Lea; offered here is the second state, issued ca. 1695 with only minor changes under the sole imprint of Lea.

In 1663, in recognition for their support of the Restoration, Charles II granted to eight Lords Proprietor the Province of Carolina, including present-day North and South Carolina. The first settlers arrived from the Caribbean in 1670 and settled along the Ashley River in the vicinity of what soon became Charleston. By 1685, when this map was first published, English settlement remained thin indeed, consisting of a few plantations growing rice and indigo, primarily in the vicinity of Charleston, with some settlers from Virginia establishing themselves in the Albemarle Sound region.

The map depicts the region from roughly the modern-day North Carolina:Virginia border south and west to St. Augustine (not named), and inland to the vaguely-defined “Apalatian Mountains”. The coast is shown in considerable detail, the most notable features being the Outer Banks and a profusion of rivers flowing from the interior, where they appear to originate in the “Apalatian” foothills. A very few areas of settlement are identified, particularly Charleston at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, which is treated in greater detail in an inset at lower right (with a table at top listing “settlements” in the area). Though some hydrographic data is given immediately off the coast, the scale of the map is far too small for this to have been much use to navigators.

Jay Lester, a student of early maps of the Carolinas, describes the compilation and of the map and assesses its significance:

“One of the rarest and most important seventeenth century printed maps of Carolina…. Their base map was the now unobtainable second Lords Proprietors’ map of Carolina by Gascoyne, published in 1682. The Thornton-Morden-Lea map derives from both the first and second states of the Gascoyne map. However, it is not simply a modified Gascoyne map; Thornton et al also incorporated data from other sources. Though not copied verbatim, the soundings along the Outer Banks were unequivocally derived from an untitled manuscript map in the Blathwayt Atlas (John Carter Brown Library). For the interior, Thornton et al chose to improve upon the Gascoyne map rather than revert to the Lederer-inspired geography of the Ogilby-Moxon and so-called Speed maps of Carolina from the previous decade. As such, the depiction of the river system is, without question, the most accurate to date.


The interior is decorated with two well-antlered deer or elk, two panthers, turkey, boar, raccoon, and… an ostrich?! Cumming described the 1682 Gascoyne map as “the most accurate representation of the Carolina region yet to appear.” Yet, in just a few short years, it was surpassed by Thornton, Morden, & Lea’s A New Map of Carolina. Decades would pass before Carolina cartography would see further noticeable improvement.” (unpublished communication, March 2023)

As such, this map had a considerable legacy, influencing both English and continental maps well into the eighteenth century—most notably, the New Mapp of Carolina which first appeared in the 1689 first edition of The English Pilot. The Fourth Book and in subsequent editions through at least 1751.

Thornton, Morden & Lea’s wall map of England’s North American colonies
The map has an interesting back story. It was conceived as part of a wall map of the English colonies in North America, first advertised in May 1685:

“A new Map of the English Empire in America, viz. New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania, Maryland, Virginia and Carolina. In four large Sheets; with a Description of the Countries. Sold by J. Thornton at the Plat in the Minories, R. Morden at the Atlas in Cornhill, and P. Lea at the Atlas and Hercules in the Poultrey.” (Term Catalogues, for Easter Term 1685 – Licenced [May]).

The wall map was designed so that the two principal component sheets, the map of the Carolinas offered here and a map of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, each with their own title, could be marketed separately, as evidenced in Philip Lea’s catalogues of the period.

The wall map version is of great rarity, with the Bibliothèque nationale de France holding the only extant example of the 1685 printing, while a Philip Lea printing of the mid-to-late 1690s is known only from his advertisements. By contrast, the New Map of Carolina received wide distribution in Philip Lea’s composite atlases of the period, as the best single-sheet summation of contemporary knowledge of the region. Today it is well represented in institutional collections but is now surprisingly scarce on the market.

Thornton, Morden & Lea
John Thornton (1641-1708), Robert Morden (d. 1703) and Philip Lea (1660-1700) were three of the most important English mapmakers of the last quarter of the 18th century.

Thornton had apprenticed with John Burston, an important chart maker working in manuscript. Throughout his career Thornton specialized in chart making, but moved into publishing after entering into partnership with John Seller and William Fisher. Morden was probably the best mapmaker of the group but, as he himself lamented, he had “lain latent under the horizon of unknown obscurity, and irresistible poverty” (Geography Rectified, 1688, leaf [A3], and this very much handicapped his publishing career. Much of his best work was published in association with others, then, as now, a common practice designed to pool capital and distribute risk. Lea was more commercially successful, although he built his early career on the acquisition of existing engraved map plates, which he and his successors went on to exploit to their great profit.

It seems likely that the three partners came together simply for the wall-map project, pooling their knowledge to produce the constituent sheets for this first detailed map of the English empire in North America. Given their different skill sets, it seems plausible that Thornton was responsible for the additional soundings along the Carolinas coast and Morden for the additional material for the interior, but this is pure hypothesis.

In all, an attractive example of one of the most significant 17th-century maps of the Carolinas. 

Burden, Mapping of North America, #617, state 2 (pl. 617 illustrates this second state). Cumming, Southeast In Early Maps, #104, state 2. Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography”, #10b (in Tooley, Mapping of North America). Background on the partners from their individual entries in Worms & Baynton-Williams, British Map Engravers.