La Virginea Pars
Original Author: John White
Created: ca. 1585
Medium: Watercolor
Publisher: ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

La Virginea Pars

This map, drawn by the English artist John White, provides a detailed rendering of the east coast of North America from the Chesapeake Bay (at top) to Cape Lookout in present-day North Carolina. In 1585 White accompanied some 600 men in a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island, which is shown here as a pink island ("Roanoac") between the mainland and the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. Five ships and two smaller pinnaces transported the colonists. The flagship Tiger, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, can be seen at bottom.

Thomas Hariot, an English mathematician, astronomer, linguist, and experimental scientist, was also part of the expedition and helped provide measurements for the map. Kim Sloane, curator of British drawings and watercolors at the British Museum, the institution that owns White's drawings, speculates that Hariot was not alone in surveying the region and that others also supplied detailed sketches that went into the final creation of the map.

An expert in White's drawings, David Beers Quinn, described this particular map as "the most careful detailed piece of cartography for any part of North America to be made in the sixteenth century." The accuracy of the map holds up remarkably well: when a modern satellite photograph was placed on top of it, the only difference was in the configuration of the Outer Banks, which had changed over time.