Re-stating John Henry’s 1770 Map of Virginia

Discovery of a previously unrecorded proof state

of John Henry’s 1770 Map of Virginia

One of the rarest colonial era maps of Virginia is A new and accurate map of Virginia wherein most of the counties are laid down from actual surveys…by John Henry, published in London in February, 1770, by Thomas Jefferys. Previously published cartobibliographies and descriptions of this map have reported only one known state of the map.

Yes, I realize this is supposed to be the North Carolina map blog. However, since North Carolina is the “original Virginia”, I consider the topic fair game 😉 .

John Henry’s 1770 four-sheet wall map is excessively rare, with approximately a dozen surviving copies documented.[1] It obviously was not a commercial success on account of multiple reasons. First, Henry’s pleas to the Virginia House of Burgesses for financial assistance were repeatedly rejected.[2] Lacking sufficient money for the project, Henry never measured all the roads of Virginia, information he had proposed to include in his map. The resulting map not only lacks those distances, but it lacks any roads at all! The locations of multiple bridges are shown, but there are no roads leading to or from them.

Second, even though the map is the first map of Virginia to delineate county boundaries and depicts new counties not present on the Fry-Jefferson map, and despite the claim of accuracy implied by the title, the map was not highly accurate:

[Thomas] Pownall in his Topographical description of North America says of Henry’s map: “A map engraved by Jeff erys and called ‘A new and accurate map of Virginia by John Henry’ was published in 1770. I was in hopes to have derived information from this, but upon examination of it, it appears to me to be a very inaccurate compilation; defective in topography; and not very attentive even to geography; the draughtsman or the engraver has totally omitted the South Branch of Potomack River: nor is that curious and interesting piece of information, the communication between the waters of Virginia and the waters of the Ohio, which was known when this was published, marked in it.”[3]

Third, John Henry died in 1773; he had a very narrow window after the initial publication of the map to pursue corrections or revisions. According to one source, John Henry sold the rights to the map to his son, Patrick, in May, 1770.[4] Correcting or revising his father’s map may not have been one of Patrick Henry’s higher priorities on the eve of the Revolutionary War.

A recent announcement of a copy of the map for sale prompted an internet search for digital images of the map. Upon inspecting the copy held by the Biblioteca nacional de Espana (BNE), it became readily apparent that their copy is an earlier state than all others for which on line images are available. The 2nd state (or is it the 3rd – see comments) of the map contains many engraved additions that are present only in manuscript on the BNE copy, leading to an initial conclusion that the BNE copy was used as a template for the revisions to the copper plates. However, the BNE copy also has adscititious features in manuscript that are not part of the engraved 2nd state, and the 2nd state has some engraved additions that are not present (engraved or manuscript) on the BNE copy. This makes it difficult to conclude with absolute certainty which is the chicken, and which is the egg. Readers are requested to provide their opinions via the “What’s on your mind” comment box at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, let’s take a look at several of the distinguishing features between the 1st and 2nd states of John Henry’s map of Virginia.

Note: The first state images are from the digital scan of a map in the collection of the Biblioteca nacional de Espana. The second state images are from the digital scan of a map in the John Carter Brown Library.

On the first state, the place name and symbols for Peaks of Otter are in manuscript  (below left); these are engraved on the later state (below right):










On the first state, Falmouth is added in manuscript across the river from Fredericksburg. On the later state, Falmouth is engraved. Town symbols for Fredericksburg and Falmouth are also added, though only one for Falmouth is seen in manuscript on the first state. The later state also includes an engraved “The Falls” up river from Falmouth; this text is not seen at all on the first state.








In southwestern Virginia, there is a curious group of mismatched manuscript annotations and plate revisions. Several marks in the range of mountains on the first state suggest that small gaps in the mountains (A, below left and right) should be filled with mountains. However, this did not occur on the later state. Further north, 3 manuscript mountains close off the south end of a valley on the first state, but only a single engraved mountain symbol serves that purpose on the later state (B, below left and right). Finally. just west of B, there are some hand drawn ink lines on the first state for which no appreciable change to the plate is seen on the later state.

1770-1-Mtn 1770-2-Mtn






The most common change is the addition of multiple engraved court house symbols for those counties which did not contain an engraved symbol on the first state. Multiple new plantations or land owners are designated along the rivers in manuscript on the first state and engraved on the later state. The engraver’s imprint below the title on the later state, is only faintly seen in manuscript on the 1st state (see below). The later state has a publisher imprint bottom center below the neat line as well as longitudinal numbers at the top and bottom; these are lacking on the 1st state. These are just a few of numerous differences between the first and later states.


Was the first state a publisher’s proof, not intended for public sale, or was it a first production run? The evidence certainly favors the former. What is the likelihood that a publisher’s proof would have been so beautifully colored? Opinions of scholars of cartographic history would be greatly appreciated. One can hope that a definitive answer still awaits discovery in the unpublished historical records. I’d also love to hear the story of how this particular 1st state copy ended up in Spain. ADDENDUM: Per the BNE, the Henry map of Virginia is part of the Mendoza Collection. More details about this collection can be found in the comment section.

Below are links to copies of the map that can be viewed on line, several images being high resolution scans while others were just for illustration.

Biblioteca nacional de Espana, Madrid


John Carter Brown Library, Providence


Library of Congress, Washington


University of Virginia, Charlottesville


Library of Virginia, Richmond
Also illustrated in Virginia in Maps


Colonial Williamsburg
Also illustrated in Degrees of Latitude


In addition to references cited in the footnotes below, readers may also be interested in the following:

  • Degrees of Latitude by Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro – pp 200-203 contain excellent discussion of the publication history; the public bantering carried on in the newspaper between Henry and his detractors is most entertaining. Margaret and Henry’s bibliography provides many excellent references.
  • The John Henry County Map of Virginia, 1770 ( 1977 Facsimile), with introduction by Louis B. Wright.

To see other maps that have been “Re-stated” on the North Carolina Map Blog, click here.


[1] The following institutions hold (or are believed to hold) copies of the map: Virginia Historical Society (2 copies, one of which is “imperfect”), Library of Virginia, University of Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg, Harvard, Clements Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Library of Congress, British Library, John Carter Brown Library, and Biblioteca nacional de Espana. A copy in private hands prompted this search.  Census data provided by Luke Vavra, with minor modifications.

[2] Swem, Earl G., “Maps relating to Virginia in the Virginia State Library and other Departments of the Commonwealth with the 17th and 18th Century Atlas-Maps in the Library of Congress”, in Virginia State Library Bulletin, April, July, 1914, Vol. 7, Nos. 2 and 3 (Richmond, VA: Davis Bottom, Superintendent of Public Printing, 1914), 67-68.

[3] Phillips, P. Lee, Virginia Cartography: A bibliographical description (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1896), 56.

[4] Henry, William Wirt, Patrick Henry Life, Correspondence and Speeches (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), Vol. 1; 123.

6 thoughts on “Re-stating John Henry’s 1770 Map of Virginia

  1. Jay – Really nicely done article. The poor Henry map is clearly the ne’er do well relation that the Virginia map family doesn’t like to discuss, but it’s fascinating in its peculiarities. I tend to thing this was a publisher’s proof. I doubt that they added color at that point, but someone, reluctant to discard it despite its shortcomings, could have easily done so later. Like you, I’d love to know how it ended up in Madrid.


  2. I am the owner of the John Henry map which recently became available for sale by my firm Cartographic Arts. The availability of a proof copy adds an interesting chapter to the history of the John Henry map.

    I think the Madrid copy Jay Lester writes about should be labeled a “proof” copy for two reasons:

    1 It bears numerous manuscript annotations later incorporated on the production issue.

    2. There is no evidence more than one copy of the Madrid version exists. In separate correspondence Jay indicated he had examined images of six copies which were not like the Madrid copy but could not examine images of five others. He and I independently determined that four of the five others were production issues by analyzing the library records for the maps. The one listed in the Massachusetts Historical Society catalog may exist as four sheets bound in the French atlas factice (also called “composite atlas”) Atlas des colonies Angloises en Amerique, compiled circa 1775, some 5 years after the production date on the map. At that later date it is not likely to match the Madrid copy. Of twelve recorded copies, one is a proof copy, ten are production copies, and it is uncertain as to the issue of the MHS copy.

    The manuscript additions to the Madrid map are in faded brown ink suggesting they may be contemporary to the time the production version was published. At least three different persons made annotations in one area of the map, suggesting the Jefferys firm received batches of changes which were incorporated by different people. Jefferys employed about a dozen draftsman and engravers. Other areas were not examined in detail so it is not known if more than three “hands” made annotations such as the following to the Madrid map:

    1. On the Madrid copy, compare “Court House” above Snake River Mountains in Buckingham County to “Court House” near the word Chesterfield in Chesterfield County. See especially the capital “H” and the lower case “s”.

    2. On the Madrid copy, see the manuscript words “Willis’s Mountains” above the word Buckingham County. They are completely different from either of the above.

    In his blog Jay mentions changes to the production issue which were not present on the Madrid copy. Those could have been applied directly on the copper plates.

    The full color east of the mountains may have been added to the proof copy as a guide for colorists to use on those maps sold with full color. This would help prevent them from using the same color on two adjacent counties. [The copy belonging to the Library of Virginia is in outline color, not the “wash” color, so not all were sold with full color.]

    The Jefferys firm was the engraver and publisher, but not the distributor of Henry’s map. Jefferys would have little reason to keep the proof copy in his records once printing was completed, and the copy eventually wound up at the National Library in Madrid. Jefferys was publisher of the popular Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia during this time so would not agree to distribute a competing map of the same size and region; his firm was essentially a subcontractor to engrave, edit and print the map for John Henry.

    Luke A Vavra
    Cartographic Arts, Inc.

    • I have just received a reply from Daniel Hinchen at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Their copy of the Henry map of Virginia is indeed the 2nd state.

  3. Via a link at the bottom of this comment, one can download an excellent 70mb PowerPoint presentation that describes the origins of the Jose Mendoza y Rios Collection, including images of many extraordinary maps in the collection. The following is Google’s attempt to translate the original slide text from Spanish to English which, though imperfect, is far better than this ignorant monolingual could do:

    The Mendoza Collection
    Comes from the ancient Geographic Office of the First Secretary of State. The Geographic Cabinet was created by Manuel Godoy in 1795. Leading the Cabinet is set to Thomas and Juan López geographers with the task of forming a collection of maps for the service itself. Secretary of State Representatives of the king is ordered abroad, buy the best maps, sea or land, published in the countries in which they were intended. Commission was given to some people for passing to the main European countries cooperate to the same end. To make this work in England was commissioned Frigate Captain José Mendoza y Rios. Mendoza, excellent mathematician and astronomer, gathered two magnificent collections of manuscripts also made two separate catalogs: A travel books, atlases and works of Geography -Another Maps, sea charts, itineraries, sailing, published in Britain and Ireland. Both catalogs are dated in London in 1796 and are signed by its collector: Jose Mendoza Rios. Finally, by Royal Order June 7, 1913, maps were transferred to the National Library being deposited in the Cartographic Section. [Image of] Letter from the Deputy Minister of Public Instruction, reporting to the Director of the National Library of the Royal Order of June 7 by the collection of letters Geographic pass to the National Library. [Image of] Minutes of the Charter of the Director of the National Library Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Education, notifying the Library Officer D. Pedro Mora has taken over the maps and they will be installed in the Cartographic Section. The Mendoza Collection 2405 consists of maps, divided into two series: The first set consists of 1,697 maps, printed in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century. It was completed with a second series of 708 maps, recorded in other countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Russia. The maps are carefully lit, for the most part scrims and kept in perfect condition. Spatial catalog The collection is divided into two main classes of maps and each in Sections. The two main types are: geography hydrography
    Here is link to the slide show: The Mendoza Collection (.pps 70Mb)
    Wikipedia has a biographical entry on Jose Mendoza y Rios

  4. A response from the Virginia Historical Society suggests that their 2 copies may be an intermediate state between the two states described above:
    Both copies have the engraver’s imprint below the title.
    The other variations you noted (manuscript notations for Falmouth, Peaks of Otter, etc.) do not appear on our copies.

    Or perhaps just a bit of confusion and their copies are the same as the other “later state” copies. I look forward to visiting the VHS some time in the next few months.

What's on your mind?