Zúñiga Chart


The Zúñiga chart, a manuscript map of the Chesapeake Bay and Tidewater Virginia, is a copy of a map that was probably originally drawn by Captain John Smith, one of the Jamestown colonists. Named for Don Pedro de Zúñiga, a Spanish ambassador to England, who sent it to King Philip III of Spain in September 1608, the chart is significant for its insight into the locations of Indian villages, the location of Jamestown and the architecture of James Fort, and the concerns and priorities of the English colonists.

Smith arrived in Virginia on April 26, 1607, with the group of colonists who established and settled Jamestown. By 1608, Smith had already mounted multiple expeditions of the Chesapeake Bay area and spent several weeks as a captive at Werowocomoco, the residence of Powhatan, the paramount chief of the Indians of Tsenacomoco. Drawing on his travels, Smith drafted a map of the Chesapeake Bay and Tidewater Virginia and sent it to London in June 1608. It is generally believed that he drew the chart to accompany the letter that would become A True Relation (1608), because the map’s details are similar to those in Virginia. Discovered and Discribed, the map that accompanied Smith’s pamphlet A Map of Virginia. With a Description of the Countrey, the Commodities, People, Government, and Religion (1612).

Meanwhile, the Spanish, who early in the sixteenth century laid claim to a swath of land that stretched from present-day Florida to the Chesapeake, had been interested in the English plan to plant a colony in America since its inception. Prior to Jamestown’s establishment, Zúñiga had recommended that the Spanish suppress English attempts to colonize their territory; although Philip III did not take the ambassador’s advice, he did instruct Zúñiga to keep him apprised of the Jamestown colony’s development. In September 1608, Zúñiga obtained and forwarded to Philip III a copy of a hand-drawn chart of Virginia—likely Smith’s, though some authorities have suggested that the original author is Nathaniel Powell, a cartographer employed by the Virginia Company of London who accompanied Smith on many of his excursions.

James Fort

The Zúñiga chart includes a crude depiction of the bay’s major rivers as well as three rivers in present-day North Carolina. It also lists the names and locations of sixty-eight Indian villages, identifies the location of Jamestown and James Fort, and depicts the route that Smith traveled after he was captured by Opechancanough in December 1607. Of special significance, the drawing of the fort is the only known sketch of the structure. The drawing depicts a three-sided configuration with circles at each corner, which the archaeologist William M. Kelso has argued are circular bulwarks, or walled fortifications. An X in the center of the triangle is thought to indicate the location of a church. What at first glance appears to be a flag on a pole protrudes from the north side of the structure. Kelso has written that the pole represents a single, north-running palisade, while the flag is a rectangular enclosure of some kind.

The map includes several legends or annotations that reflect the English colonists’ priorities as dictated by the Crown and the Virginia Company of London: locating gold, the survivors of the so-called Lost Colony at Roanoke, and a passage to the South Sea. On the left side of the map, at Pakranick on the Neuse River, is written, “here remayneth 4 men clothes to came fro roonock to oconohowan,” while another annotation, near the head of the James River, reads, “here the salt water beatethe into the rier amonts these rocks being the south sea.” A note at the head of the Rappahannock River reads, “Pocoughtawonauck. A Salvage people Dwelling upon this seay beyond this mayne that eate the men and women.” Additional notes indicating distances and travel times to various Indian villages are included on the left side and at the top of the map. Many of the names on the chart differ from those on earlier maps of Virginia and North Carolina drawn by John White and Theodor de Bry, but are found in contemporary reports of the early Jamestown settlement.

The map does contain inaccuracies, not least of which is the implication that the Potomac River leads to the Pacific Ocean. The Chesapeake Bay sweeps erroneously to the left, perhaps, as speculated by scholars John Hebert and Philip L. Barbour, because the chart confuses the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Other inaccuracies are likely the result of Smith’s limited knowledge of the local language and, perhaps, native Indians’ unfamiliarity with portions of upper Tidewater Virginia.

The chart was deposited in royal archives in Simancas in the province of Valladolid, Spain. It remained there in obscurity until late in the nineteenth century, when the historian Alexander Brown, there to research his book Genesis of the United States (1890), discovered it. Still housed at the Archivo General de Simancas today, the Zúñiga chart is written on four sheets of paper adhered together and measures roughly seventy-five by fifty-six centimeters.

March 1607
Don Pedro de Zúñiga, the Spanish ambassador to England, recommends that King Philip III of Spain work to stop the establishment of the Jamestown settlement.
May 13, 1607
The Jamestown colonists select a marshy peninsula fifty miles up the James River on which to establish their settlement.
June 1608
John Smith sends with Captain Francis Nelson a long letter he has written to a friend in England, describing the events of the last two years, and a map of the region. The letter and the map (later known as the Zúñiga map) are published in London as A True Relation.
September 10, 1608
Don Pedro de Zúñiga, the Spanish ambassador to England, forwards a copy of a manuscript map of Tidewater Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay to King Philip III of Spain.
  • 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.
  • Brown, Alexander. The Genesis of the United States. Volume 1. New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1964.
  • Cumming, William P. The Southeast in Early Maps. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Kelso, William M. Jamestown: The Buried Truth. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
  • Stephenson, Richard W. and Marianne M. McKee, eds. Virginia in Maps: Four Centuries of Settlement, Growth, and Development. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2000.
  • Wright, Irene A. “Spanish Policy Toward Virginia, 1606–1612: Jamestown, Ecijo, and John Clark of the Mayflower.” The American Historical Review 25, No. 3 (April 1920): 448–479.
APA Citation:
Farrell, Cassandra. Zúñiga Chart. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/zuniga-chart.
MLA Citation:
Farrell, Cassandra. "Zúñiga Chart" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 21 May. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 03
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