Virginia and Cheseapeake Bay – Nova Virginia tabula
by Joan Blaeu, Willem Blaeu
A map full of history
Date of first edition: 1630 (Willem Blaeu in Appendix)
Date of this map: 1643-1645 (Joan Blaeu)
Dimensions (not including margins): 37,6 x 47,6 cm
Dimensions (including margins): 51 x 61,3 cm
Condition: Excellent. Sharp copper engraving on strong paper. Centre fold as published. Original colouring. Wide margins. Slight age-toning. Bottom left corner probably restored, but a long time ago.
Condition rating: A+
Verso: text in French
Map reference: Van der Krogt II, 9410:2.2; Burden, 193, State 2
From: Théâtre du Nouveau Monde or Atlas Novus; Van der Krogt II, 2:212, page 9
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Chesapeake Bay 400 years ago
The most magnificent historical map of this bay….
In 1606 King James I of England and at the same time King James VI of Scotland (whose coat of arms adorns the top) granted commercial rights to the London Company, officially Charter of the Virginia Company of London, in order to establish colonies on the North American coast between the 34th latitude (Cape Fear) and the 41st parallel (Long Island Sound). [Hence the area was called New Virginia (so referring to Queen Elisabeth I). Since a western boundary was not “foreseen”, this grant would much later lead to Virginia’s enormous and controversial territorial claims.] At the end of December of the same year a fleet, with John Smith on board, took off. On April 27, 1607 they set foot at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, in a place which is currently called Cape Henry. They landed later at (the currently called town of) Jamestown on May 13, 1607. Between June and September 1608 Smith made two trips in the larger area (even up to the Anacostia; see below). In 1612, he made his world-famous map which formed the basis for all similar maps of this area.
This map goes back to a copy of Jodocus Hondius from 1618. When Hondius died, his widow sold several of his copper plates to Willem Blaeu, including this one, who promptly replaced the name of the cartographer (see bottom center). Blaeu published the map in his Atlas Appendix from 1630 onward. He only changed the face position of the Sasquesahanough Native American; on Hondius’ map he is facing left. This Blaeu copy is from the French atlas version of 1643; published by Joan and his brother Cornelis. The latter died however in 1648, and Joan continued the family business.
The scene (“Status Regis Powhatan”) in the cartouche (derived from drawings of John White) shows an historical event: when John Smith was taken prisoner in December 1607, he was brought up for trial to Powhatan, the local chief of the Algonquia tribe in Werowocomoco, some 18 km from Jamestown.Powhatan ruled over an area around the rivers York and James (Powhatan flu.). His daughter, Pocahontas (see engraving), wanted to save the life of Smith and so came to pass. On April 5, 1614 Pocahontas married tobacco planter John Rolfe in the local church of Jamestown. The young couple would live a few months in London in 1616-1617. Unfortunately, Pocahontas died shortly after returning to the new world in 1617 at the age of 21. When Powhatan died in April 1618, relations with the English were tense again.
As for John Smith, the man who made of Jamestown a survivable colony, he would return to England in 1609… never to see Jamestown again. He died in London in 1631.