Smith Map, The


Virginia: Discovered and Discribed was the definitive map of Virginia from 1612 until 1673. It depicts the Chesapeake Bay and four major rivers: the Powhatan, Pamunk, Tappahannock, and Patowomec (now the James, York, Rappahannock, and Potomac, respectively). The map also denotes the locations and English-language names of certain Indian groups and towns in Tidewater Virginia. Attributed to Captain John Smith, one of the first English settlers at Jamestown, the map was published in 1612 to accompany Smith’s pamphlet A Map of Virginia. The original engraved copperplate of the map was altered or added to twelve times between 1612 and 1624, resulting in the publication of twelve known states of the map. Because of its accuracy and detail, Europe’s best engravers and map publishers copied the geography and orientation of Smith’s map in their own printed maps of Virginia. Nine of these derivatives were published, beginning in 1618 and continuing throughout the seventeenth century. Virginia: Discovered and Discribed was the basic source of nearly every printed map of the Chesapeake Bay until 1673, when Augustine Herrman’s Virginia and Maryland As it is Planted and Inhabited this present Year was published. Smith’s map remains the best-known map of colonial Virginia and a critical source of information about the history of early settlement.


The Virginia Company of London charged the early colonists with establishing an English presence in North America; finding gold, the lost Roanoke Colony, and a passage to the Pacific Ocean; and exploring the Chesapeake Bay. Smith began exploring the bay and its rivers in June 1608. While he and his exploring party never found gold, the lost colony, or a passage to the Pacific, they did gather enough information to produce a map that accurately delineated the Chesapeake Bay and the Tidewater region of Virginia.

During the first voyage, Smith and his cohorts explored the Eastern Shore side of the bay and the Potomac River as far as the fall line. Because they kept to the coastline, they missed visiting several inland villages on the Eastern Shore. Their explorations along the Potomac were more thorough, as evidence suggests that they visited several Indian capitals and several villages. During the second voyage the colonists sailed to the northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay, exploring the Susquehanna, Patuxent, Rappahannock, and Piankatank Rivers. The third expedition took place during the winter of 1608–1609 and was conducted along the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Nansemond rivers. Scholars believe that Smith took notes on these explorations and that someone drafted manuscript maps, but much of this information was probably destroyed or inadvertently discarded. The extant drafts that were sent back to England reveal the colonists’ growing knowledge of the Chesapeake Bay.

According to Philip L. Barbour, a twentieth-century scholar of Captain John Smith, colonist Robert Tindall drafted the first map sent back to England. A letter from Tindall to Prince Henry, dated June 22, 1607, references a “draughte of our river … by us discovered,” but the map is lost. The second manuscript draft crafted by Tindall survived and is now housed at the British Museum. Dated 1608, the map depicts the Hampton Roads area from Cape Henry to some distance above the James River, and to the York River’s beginnings at West Point. Of the two rivers, the James is more accurately delineated, and numerous Indian villages are identified, as is the location of Jamestown.

Zúñiga Chart

A third manuscript map of the Chesapeake Bay and Tidewater Virginia, probably drawn by Smith, was sent to London in June 1608 with Captain Francis Nelson. This is the map that accompanied Smith’s A True Relation. Don Pedro de Zúñiga, a Spanish ambassador to England, copied the chart and sent it to King Philip III of Spain in September 1608. The Zúñiga chart, as it is now called, includes crude descriptions of the Chesapeake Bay’s major rivers and three rivers in present-day North Carolina. The map lists the names and locations of sixty-eight Indian villages, identifies the locations of Jamestown and James Fort, and depicts the route that Opechancanough traveled with a captive Smith in December 1607.

Another known manuscript draft depicting Virginia is the Velasco chart, which the historian Alexander Brown published after finding it in the Royal Archives of Spain at Simancas in the late 1800s. Named for Don Alonzo de Velasco, the Spanish ambassador who obtained the map and sent it back to Spain, the chart depicts the east coast of North America from Newfoundland to North Carolina and is a composite of numerous surveys. It identifies the chief rivers of Virginia’s Tidewater region.

Preparation and Publication

The Portraictuer of Captayne John Smith

Smith returned to England in September 1609 after being badly burned in a gunpowder explosion. One of his supporters, Sir Edward Seymour, encouraged Smith to draft a map of the Virginia colony and to compile a pamphlet to accompany it. By 1611 he had a sketch map ready and had hired William Hole to engrave the map onto a copperplate.

It is not clear how much of the map Smith actually drew. Some scholars have argued that Nathaniel Powell, a trained cartographer who accompanied Smith on many of his excursions, is the author of the map. But Barbour has pointed out that Smith had some basic knowledge of or qualification for mapmaking because of his list of reference sources in navigation in his publication An Accidence, or The Pathway to Experience (1626). Regardless of who drew the map, Smith had the vision to get it prepared and engraved.

As early as 1608, Smith provided Hole with sketch maps of Virginia identifying the major Tidewater rivers and other geographical details. Smith also may have assembled cards for Hole that included written descriptions of places he had not visited during the explorations or that had been insufficiently explored. Under Smith’s guidance, and referencing John White‘s portraits of indigenous peoples in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound, Hole etched images representative of the Indians Smith encountered.

Theire sitting at meate

After Hole engraved the copperplate, Joseph Barnes printed Virginia: Discovered and Discribed, as well as the accompanying small quarto pamphlet A Map of Virginia, on a small handpress belonging to Oxford University. The pamphlet discusses Virginia’s four seasons, includes physical descriptions of Cape Henry and Cape Charles, and lists Smith’s transcription of Algonquian words and their English translations. It also contains his descriptions of the indigenous peoples living in Virginia—their diet, dress, religious beliefs and practices, and political organization—as well as the colony’s flora, fauna, and sea life.


In his article “Smith’s Virginia and Its Derivatives: A Carto-Bibliographical Study of the Diffusion of Geographical Knowledge,” Coolie Verner provides the most detailed description available of the map. The following relies on his work.

Virginia: Discovered and Discribed measures sixteen inches by twelve and a half inches. It is oriented with west, rather than north, at the top. A cartouche in the center of the map along the bottom border contains a scale, the imprint of the publisher, and the name of the engraver. The scale is given in leagues and half-leagues, with fifteen leagues measuring 68 millimeters. Latitude is given from 36 to 41 degrees north. The map delineates the Chesapeake Bay and four major rivers: the Powhatan, Pamunk, Tappahannock, and Patowomec (now the James, York, Rappahannock, and Potomac, respectively). Also included are the Delmarva Peninsula, the delineation of which ends at Cape Charles; the Virginia Peninsula; and 200 place-names. A distinctive feature of this map is the appearance of twenty-seven Maltese crosses indicating the limits of the exploring party’s personal knowledge.


Two illustrations dominate the document: an image of Powhatan’s house and a figure of a Susquehannock man. Both are based on John White drawings, as engraved and published by Theodore de Bry in 1590. The first illustration is based on de Bry’s plate The Tomb of the Weroans. It shows the interior of Powhatan’s house, but the people depicted inside are unlike any found in other White drawings or de Bry engravings. The image of the Indian man has been reworked from de Bry’s engraving A Weroan or Great Lord of Virginia to match Smith’s description in A Map of Virginia. Hole added a suspended tail of animal skin, removed the loincloth, and depicted a necklace made of rope instead of beads. The upper part of the man’s body is covered by animal skin and an animal head hangs from his right hip, with arrows in a quiver showing beyond the left hip. The left arm is extended to hold a club resting on the ground rather than placed on the hip.

Known Variations

The Generall Historie of Virginia

According to Verner, the original copperplate of the Smith map was altered or added to twelve times between 1612 and 1624, resulting in twelve known variations, or states, of the map. The map was published in A Map of Virginia (1612); Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia (1624), and its reprints; and Samuel Purchas’s Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625), and its reprints. Verner hypothesized that versions one through six are equivalent to proof copies and belong with A Map of Virginia (1612). Version seven belongs to the earliest gathered copies of Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625), while versions eight, nine, and ten were printed for both Purchas His Pilgrimes and Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia; the changes to the plates for these states were made during the printing process. Versions eleven and twelve belong to the last gathered copies of Purchas His Pilgrimes. Verner believed that impressions were printed and changed before more impressions were printed, and that copies were pulled simultaneously for Purchas His Pilgrimes and Generall Historie. (The information provided here about the known states of the Smith map is based on the work of Verner and Philip D. Burden.)

State one of the map is readily identified by the absence of Smith’s coat of arms, dates, or longitude figures. The plate is bordered with three parallel lines, with the center line closer to the inner line. The bottom border is segmented for latitude with an inner space divided into twelve segments and the outer space into four segments. The latitude figures read from 37 to 41 degrees; these are engraved outside the final border line and are not printed on top of the map, only below it. The date 1606 is not included. Copies of state one are reported to appear in the pamphlet A Map of Virginia (1612).

In state two, the date 1606 was added, and the date 1607 appears as the third line in the legend beneath the image of Powhatan in his lodge. Copies of state two are reported in Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625).

Smith’s coat of arms, without motto, appears in the lower-right corner of state three of the map. Copies of this map are reported in A Map of Virginia (1612) and The Generall Historie of Virginia (1624) and its 1627 reprint.

John Smith's Coat of Arms

The motto was added beneath Smith’s coat of arms in state four of the map, as was the longitude. Copies of this map are reported in A Map of Virginia (1612) and Generall Historie (1624).

The place-names “Gunters Harbour,” “Tauerners roade,” “Winston’s Iles,” and “Brookes forest” were added to state five of the map, which appears in copies of The Generall Historie (1624).

In state six of the map, the place-names “Sparkes content,” “Democrites tree,” and “Burtons Mount” were added. Copies of this map state are reported in The Generall Historie (1624) and Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625).

State seven of the map includes the page numbers 1692 and 1693 in the upper-left and right corners. These page numbers correspond with the pages of Purchas His Pilgrimes, and copies are reported to appear in the 1625 edition.

In state eight, the place-names “Fetherstones Baye,” “Bollers bush,” and “Sparkes poynt” were added. The phrase “Page 41/Smith” was added in the lower-right corner. Numerous mountains on the right side were reengraved, and the scale cartouche was reengraved in spots above the scale bard and frame immediately adjacent to it. Copies are reported in the 1624, 1626, 1627, and 1632 printings of The Generall Historie and in Purchas His Pilgrimes(1625).

State nine of the map includes the place-names “Washeborne C,” “Blands C,” and “Downes dale.” The place-name “Bollers Bush” has been altered to read “Boolers Bush.” The map features additional recutting around the scale bar, and numerous mountains and trees in the top center of the map and to the left of the royal arms have been reengraved. The initial A in “Appamatuck” at the bottom-right corner of the drawing of Powhatan’s house has been extended, and the features of the Susquehannock man’s face are more pronounced, with his eyebrows defined. Copies of this map are reported in A Map of Virginia (1612) and The Generall Historie (1624, 1625, 1627, and 1632).

Detail of the Susquehannock Indian

In state ten of the map, the page numbers added in state seven have been changed to read 1690 on the left and 1691 on the right. Copies are reported in The Generall Historie (1624, 1625, 1627, and 1632) and in Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625).

In state eleven, the Susquehannock man’s hair has been reengraved to appear longer, with a more disheveled topknot. State twelve has a conspicuous, heavy crack in the plate.

Map scholars suspect that a proof state of the Smith map existed because of a ghost imprint on all states of the map—an imprint of a claw that was engraved on the map to stand apart from the Susquehannock man’s left arm.

Known Derivatives

Verner identified nine derivatives of Virginia Discovered and Discribed, produced for inclusion in full- and quarto-size atlases and as single sheet maps. Because changes were often made to these copperplate engravings, several states exist for many of the derivatives.

The first derivative of Smith’s map of Virginia was initially published as a single sheet by Jodocus Hondius Jr. in 1618. Larger than Smith’s map, it retains the two main images, but does not include the pictures of ships and monsters. The map includes its title, Nova Virginiae Tabula, and an explanatory note above the image of the Susquehannock man. After Hondius died, his widow sold his copperplates to his rival, Willem Blaeu, who published the second state of the Hondius map in Atlantis Appendix in 1630. This state, known as the Hondius-Blaeu copy, is the map that best diffused Smith’s data.

Atlas Minor Gerardi Mercatoris

The second derivative, Nova Virginiae Tabula/Petrus Kaerius Caelavit, was engraved by Pieter van den Keere and published by Johannes Janssonius in Atlas Minor Gerardi Mercatoris (1628). This map does not include the two main images. It was the first derivative of the Smith map to appear in an atlas.

Derivative three, Virginia, was based on state six of Smith’s map. It was published by German engraver Matheus Merian in part thirteen of Theodore de Bry’s Grand Voyages, Dreyzehender Theil Americae (1627 or later). This version of the map also appears in de Bry’s Decima Tertia Pars Historia Americanae (1634) and in Neue Welt und Americanische Historien (1655).

Pieter van den Keere engraved each of derivative four’s three states. Titled Nova Virginiae Tabula/Miliaria Germanico communia 15 pro uno gradu, state one was published in Johannes Cloppenburg’s Gerardi Mercatoris Atlas sive Cosmographicae (1630–1636). The map features a letterpress title above the neat line, a printed line that defines the map’s outer perimeter, and two poems on the verso. In state two, published in Jan Jansson van Waesberger’s Gerardi Mercatoris Atlas Sive Cosmographicae (1673–1734), the letterpress title has been removed and the verso is blank. The moiré, or ripple effect, has been deleted. State three was published in Atlas Portatif (1734) by Henri du Sauzet, who obtained several plates from Gerardi Mercatoris. In this state, the plate number 263 has been added within the border on the upper-right corner.

Henricus Hondius, younger brother of Jodocus Hondius, published derivative five, Nova Virginia Tabula/Amstelodami ex officina Henrici Hondius, in L’Appendice de l’ Atlas (1633–1666). Drawn from state one of derivative one, this is the only derivative in which the Susquehannock man faces the Chesapeake Bay. Peter Schenk acquired the plates for Atlas Major in 1694 and issued state two of derivative five. In this state, longitude and latitude lines cross the map, and the boundary line of Virginia is indicated with a dotted line.

Derivative six, Virginia, is the first English derivative. Engraved by Ralph Hall, it was published in Gerardus Mercator’s Historia Mundi or Mercator’s Atlas (1635–1639). Decorated with animals, birds, and sea monsters, this derivative features vignettes of indigenous Americans from White/de Bry engravings.

Derivative seven was published in the third edition of Johannes Janssonius’s Atlas Minor (1648–1656). It replaces the Smith map derivative published in the first edition of Atlas Minor. The engraver is unknown.

Jacob van Meurs engraved Nova Virginiae Tabula, which is derivative Eight. A copy of derivative one, state one, it was published in Arnoud Montanus’s Die Unbekannte Neue Welt (1671–1673). In it, the images of Powhatan’s lodge and the Susquehannock man are replaced by a cartouche that features two indigenous Americans, a llama, a goat, and a unicorn. This plate was acquired by Pierre Van der Aa in 1729 and then significantly changed. Derivative eight, state two is titled Virginie Grande Region de l’Amerique Septentrionale Pierre Van der Aa. The cartouche, scale, and title were removed and replaced with a single cartouche. Longitude figures were added, as well as a new scale with French and German leagues. The map also delineates three counties in eastern Maryland. This state was published in La Galerie Agreable du Monde (1729). In the third state, published in 1761, Van der Aa has been deleted and replaced with the words Amsterdam chez I covens et C. Montis.

The ninth and final derivative was engraved by Francis Lamb and published by Thomas Bassett and Richard Chiswell in John Speed’s The Theatre of Empire of Great Britain (1676). Derivative nine follows the Smith map’s general outline, but shows a small portion of North Carolina and incorporates elements of Herrman’s Map of Virginia and Maryland (1673). Three states of this derivative exist. In the second, published in or around 1680, the Bassett and Chiswell imprint has been deleted. In the third, published in or around 1685, the imprint of publisher Christopher Browne has been added.

Reproductions and Reprints

In 1673 engraver W. Faithorne published Virginia and Maryland As it is Planted and Inhabited this present Year 1670, by Prague-born cartographer Augustine Herrman. A detailed four-sheet map of the Chesapeake Bay region, Herrman’s map was the culmination of more than ten years of surveying and drafting. After the Herrman map was published, engravers and publishers relied less on the Smith map and it fell into obscurity. Thomas Jefferson searched for the original copperplate of Smith’s map when he was preparing his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), hoping to print restrikes, but was unable to find it. As he wrote to his publisher John Stockdale in 1787, “I have taken great pains to procure Smith’s Map of Virginia, but without Success, therefore was absolutely obliged to give up the Idea. I met with three different Copies of the Work, but without the Map, nor does any of our Gentlemen even remember to have seen a Map to the Book.”

In 1819, an engraver copied State Ten of Smith’s map onto a copperplate. The resulting facsimile, printed by William W. Gray at the Franklin Press in Richmond, was included in an 1819 reprint of Smith’s Generall Historie and in volume one of Smith’s The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations … in Europe, Asia, Africke, and America. These books were produced by Francis Walker Gilmer and John Holt Rice—both members of the William Wirt Literary Circle in Richmond. Lithographic copies of the map printed from the copperplate were also included in 1873’s Report of the Commissioners on the Boundary between Virginia and Maryland.


Virginia: Discovered and Discribed is published to accompany John Smith’s pamphlet A Map of Virginia.

  • Barbour, Philip L., ed. The Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter, 1606–1609. Volume 1. London, England: Cambridge University Press for the Hakluyt Society, 1969.
  • Burden, Philip. The Mapping of North America: A List of Printed Maps, 1511–1670. Herts, England: Raleigh Publications, 1996.
  • Burden, Philip. The Mapping of North America II: A List of Printed Maps, 1671–1700. Herts, England: Raleigh Publications, 2007.
  • Cumming, William P. The Southeast in Early Maps. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Tooley, R. V. The Mapping of America. New York: The Holland Press Limited, 1980.
  • Verner, Coolie. “The First Maps of Virginia, 1590–1673.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 58, No. 1 (January 1950): 3–15.
APA Citation:
Farrell, Cassandra. Smith Map, The. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/smith-map.
MLA Citation:
Farrell, Cassandra. "Smith Map, The" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 27 May. 2024
Last updated: 2022, November 10
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