Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia


The Fry-Jefferson map, first published in 1753, was the definitive map of Virginia in the eighteenth century. Created by two of the colony’s most accomplished surveyors, Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland, with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina included their completed border survey for the western bounds of the Northern Neck and a portion of the Virginia–North Carolina dividing line. For the first time the entire Virginia river system was properly delineated, and the northeast-southwest orientation of the Appalachian Mountains was fully displayed. Published in eight known editions, or states, the map was widely copied, and served as an important resource for mapmakers like Lewis Evans and John Mitchell, whose Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755) was used to determine the boundaries of the United States as established in the Treaty of Paris (1783). John Henry also relied heavily on the Fry-Jefferson map as he plotted county boundaries in his New and Accurate Map of Virginia (1770), and Thomas Jefferson, Peter Jefferson’s son, used his father’s map to compile A Map of the country between Albemarle Sounds, and Lake Erie, which accompanied his Notes on the State of Virginia (written 1781).


Captain John Smith and Augustine Herrman published two prototype maps of Virginia in 1612 and 1673, respectively, that focused on the Tidewater region and served as the

basis for most early-eighteenth-century maps of the colony. As Virginians moved west, it became clear that a new map was needed to reflect the expansion of Virginia’s western boundaries, and in 1729 and 1730 the Board of Trade in London requested a map of the colony. Lieutenant Governor Sir William Gooch received the board’s request on “short notice” and in May 1731 sent them a manuscript map of Virginia that provided little detail. (The identity of the author of the 1731 map is unknown today.) A more accurate and detailed map was clearly needed, but the Board of Trade was unwilling to invest the time and money needed to publish one—a stance echoed by the House of Burgesses, which in 1744 rejected a petition to map Virginia by colonists Joshua Fry and Robert Brooke.

By 1750 the British became convinced that the French were encroaching on their territory. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713), signed at the end of Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713), had determined the boundaries of French and British claims to lands in North America, but was not specific enough to prevent territorial disputes between the two countries. With the French increasing their presence in the Virginia frontier, the Board of Trade determined that a more accurate map of the colony was needed. George Montagu Dunk, earl of Halifax and president of the Board of Trade, asked the colonies for more information about activities on the frontier. Lewis Burwell, acting governor of Virginia, responded by commissioning Fry and Peter Jefferson to prepare a map of the colony. They were experienced surveyors who had worked together in determining the Fairfax Line in 1746, had served as joint commissioners to extend the western portion of the Virginia–North Carolina boundary line, and were surveyors for Albemarle County, a recently created county in Virginia’s Piedmont region.

Compilation and Production of the Map

The pressure to produce the map quickly compelled Fry and Jefferson to rely on their own surveys and experiences to supplement existing published maps, manuscript maps, and field notes; they also relied, in the words of American historian Sarah S. Hughes, “upon the network of personal connections that bound members of Virginia’s gentry.” Brooke had died by the time Lord Halifax issued his request, but it is highly likely that Fry had access to maps and notes from his estate, including the 1731 map of Virginia. Fry and Jefferson completed their manuscript map of Virginia in less than a year.

In 1751 Fry and Jefferson delivered a draft of the map to Burwell, who forwarded it to London with a description of Virginia’s boundaries and back settlements, compiled by Fry, and a brief account of the travels of John Peter Salley, a German man living in Augusta County. The Board of Trade paid Jefferson and Fry £150 each, and their work became the property of the English government. Thomas Jefferys, a prolific publisher and engraver and geographer to the Prince of Wales, engraved the map on four copperplates. Artist and engraver Francis Hayman, a popular historical painter and a founding member of the Royal Academy, and Charles Grignion, about whom little is known, were commissioned to design and execute the cartouche, a decorative element that bears a map’s inscription.

Cartouche on Fry-Jefferson Map

The result was the most important map of Virginia drawn in the mid-eighteenth century. Wavy lines represent the colony’s waterways; the great valley and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains are shown; the North Carolina–Virginia and Fairfax boundaries are marked, as well as the colony’s Pennsylvania and Maryland boundaries; and several Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Delaware counties are named. The year 1751 is printed in the cartouche to reflect the date the manuscript map was completed, but Jefferys did not publish it until late in the summer of 1753. The first edition, entitled A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland, with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina, is distinctive from future states by the lack of the word “most” in the title, the inaccurate depiction of the Ohio River’s course, and the lack of roads, ordinaries and other landscape features.

Publication History

In 1754 Jefferys reworked the map’s western plates to include information provided by the surveyor and explorer Christopher Gist, whom Fry had met on an expedition to the forks of the Ohio River in 1752. Gist’s contributions are noted in the legend printed on the map’s subsequent states. Lake Erie was deleted, and several rivers were extended, altered, or deleted and replaced by Gist’s data on the correct course of the Ohio, Kanawha, and New rivers and the French settlement along the Pennsylvania frontier. How Jefferys received this information is puzzling to scholars: Fry may have added information from Gist’s surveys to his own manuscript map during the time the two were together in Pennsylvania, or Fry may have sent Gist’s journal and parchment map directly to Jefferys. It is plausible that Captain John Dalrymple, Fry’s quartermaster during the western Pennsylvania expedition, carried this information to Jefferys when he returned to London in 1754.

In the second state of the map, published in 1754, new mountains were added; the eastern section was augmented by the addition of roads, including the Great Wagon Road from the Yadkin River through Virginia to Philadelphia, and the names of several towns and ordinaries. The word “most” was added to the title and a table of distances supplied by Dalrymple was added to the map itself.

Jefferys made additional geographical changes to A Map of the Most Inhabited Parts of Virginia, which are reflected in the third and fourth states published in 1755. He computed the longitude west from London for each degree indicated on the map and these were added to the plate in the appropriate places both top and bottom. The third state is easily recognized from other editions by incorrect longitude degree marks inside the upper and lower borders. The longitude degree marks were reworked in the fourth state, and this is the last state in which any geographical changes were made. Any changes made to the plates after 1755 reflect changes in their ownership.

In 1768 the Fry-Jefferson map began to be sold in atlases, such as the two that Jefferys published, A General Topography of North America and the West Indies (1768) and The American Atlas (1775), and William Faden’s two volumes, The North American Atlas (1777) and The General Atlas of the Four Grand Quarters of the World. The map was translated into French by two different French publishers, was copied by innumerable publishers, and was a major resource for cartographers such as John Henry, who mapped Virginia counties in his New and Accurate Map of Virginia (1770); Lewis Evans, who drew A General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America (1755); and John Mitchell, author of A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755), which was used to determine the boundaries of the United States as set by the Treaty of Paris (1783) after the American Revolution (1765–1783).

May 1731
In response to several requests from the Board of Trade for a map of Virginia, Lieutenant Governor William Gooch sends members a poorly detailed manuscript map of the colony. Attempts to create a better map do not draw enough funding from the Board.
Land surveyors Joshua Fry and Robert Brooke unsuccessfully petition the House of Burgesses to create a new and better map of the Virginia colony.
September 1744
The House of Burgesses rejects for the last time the petition by surveyors Joshua Fry and Robert Brooke to create a better, more detailed map of Virginia.
January 15, 1750
Prompted by territorial disputes with the French, the Board of Trade requests a map of Virginia.
Lewis Burwell, acting governor of Virginia, appoints well-known land surveyors Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson to create a map of the colony for the Board of Trade.
August 1751
Acting Governor Lewis Burwell forwards the map of Virginia drafted by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, along with a brief account of the travels of Augusta County resident John Peter Salley, to the Board of Trade in London.
March 1752
The Fry-Jefferson map is presented to the commissioners of the Board of Trade and Plantations in London.
Summer 1753
Thomas Jefferys, a publisher, engraver, and geographer to the Prince of Wales, publishes the first edition of the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia, entitled A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland, with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Thomas Jefferys publishes the second edition of the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia, now titled A Map of the Most Inhabited Parts of Virginia … This state of the map contains major revisions, the most significant being the corrected course of the Ohio River, based on information provided by surveyor and explorer Christopher Gist.
Thomas Jefferys publishes the third and fourth states, or editions, of the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia. These are the last iterations of the map to be published with geographical changes.
The sixth edition of the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia is published; in this state, or edition, the publication date in the cartouche, a decorative element containing the map's title, is changed from 1751 to 1775.
ca. 1794
The firm of Laurie and Whittle publishes the eighth and last-known state of the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia.
  • Hughes, Sarah S. Surveyors and Statesmen: Land Measuring in Colonial Virginia. Richmond: Virginia’s Surveyors Foundation and the Virginia Association of Surveyors, 1979.
  • Pritchard, Margaret Beck, and Henry G. Taliaferro. Degrees in Latitude: Mapping Colonial America. Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.
  • Stephenson, Richard, and Marianne McKee. Virginia In Maps: Four Centuries of Settlement, Growth, and Development. 2000. Second printing. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2007.
  • Verner, Coolie. “The Fry and Jefferson Map.” Imago Mundi 21 (1967): 70–94.
APA Citation:
Farrell, Cassandra. Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/fry-jefferson-map-of-virginia.
MLA Citation:
Farrell, Cassandra. "Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 17 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2022, April 19
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