Nova Virginiae tabvla

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This map is “Nova Virginiae Tabula” and it’s a map by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, who lived from 1571 to 1638. It’s an extraordinary map, and Clive Burden, one of the great compilers of antique maps in the United States has described it as one of the most important maps ever published about America or a part of America. What it shows is a good portion of the state of Virginia, particularly that portion surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, which is clearly indicated. It’s nicely colored. The map is a little bit toned but the color still is striking.

One of the things that your eye is immediately drawn to is the print material in the upper-left hand corner which features the Indian Chief Powhatan sitting in a longhouse along with the leaders of his tribe with a smoking fire before him. Now Powhatan, as most people have heard, is associated with a daughter by the name of Pocahontas, and the legend has it that Pocahontas, Powhatan’s daughter, met and had an amorous relationship with one of the earlier explorers, Captain John Smith – no relation to me, by the way! In any event Powhatan took a shine to Captain Smith, not necessarily on behalf of his daughter but perhaps because his tribe was being pressed on all sides by other Indian rivals and the speculation is that he may have seen the English Captain John Smith, as potential allies in a conflict.

The map itself is actually based on a map that John Smith, the original, in 1612 drew of this same area, the Chesapeake Bay area. When you look at the map, you’ll realize that north is essentially to the right, west is where we would normally think “north” to be, and east is at the bottom of the frame. Captain John Smith’s map was largely laid out the same way. It was then emulated by still another mapmaker, Jodocus Hondius, in 1618, and, ultimately, Willem Blaeu created this masterpiece, one of the great maps of America’s Mid-Atlantic in the 1600s.



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