Published: August 5, 2003
The Concord Museum is exhibiting “Degrees of Latitude; Maps of America from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection” through October 19. This is the exhibition’s only New England venue.
Organized by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the show uses maps as a point of departure for understanding the history of American settlement and colonization. These 72 extraordinary historic maps and an atlas of early America were selected for their rarity, historical importance and aesthetic beauty.
“Maps tell us what was known or believed about the land, suggest how people traveled and traded and recorded routes taken across oceans and continents,” said Margaret Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg curator of prints, maps and wallpaper since 1982. “By the Seventeenth Century, the profits generated from the American colonies created a need for maps to facilitate trade and promote new settlements. Maps substantiated land claims, settled boundary disputes and recorded the battles and adventures of the early colonists.”
Pritchard is co-author of Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America, 1590-1787, with Henry G. Taliaferro, a dealer of rare maps and prints in New York. The catalog is jointly published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
This exhibition features the first printed English record in 1590 of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish a colony in the New World at Roanoke Island; Captain John Smith’s 1624 map of the New England region that shows “Plimouth” six years before the Pilgrims landed; a Seventeenth Century depiction of North America showing California as an island, a common misunderstanding on maps of that period; and Carver’s 1775 map of Boston showing the troop movements in Lexington and Concord during the first battle of the Revolutionary War.
Also on view are highlights such as the map that was used to determine the geographic boundaries of the new nation at the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which concluded the American Revolution; the first English map that illustrated the American flag; the first sea chart to use Mercator’s projection, a way of more accurately representing the earth’s curvature and relative distances in a flat map.
More highlights are a map commissioned and owned by Benjamin Franklin that shows the course and dimensions of the gulf stream; Ratzer’s “Plan of the City of New York” first published in October 1770 and described as perhaps the finest map of an American city produced in the Eighteenth Century; and The Custis Atlas, once owned by Virginian John Custis IV, passed through generations of the Custis family and familiar to two other prominent Virginians who were related by marriage, George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
The exhibition is accompanied by a full calendar of programs for travelers, historians, cartographers, collectors, students and families alike.
The Concord Museum is at the intersection of Lexington Road and Cambridge Turnpike. For information, 978-369-9609 or visit www.concordmuseum.org.
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