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Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia, 1755


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


The Fry- Jefferson map was first published in 1753. It was, at the time, the most comprehensive map of 18th Century Virginia. Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson were two of the most successful surveyors in the Virginia Colony. They collaborated and produced this map which included the first detailed rendering of the Virginia river system and the Northeast- Southeast orientation of the Appalachian Mountains. The map would go on to have eight editions and would be used by future mapmakers for over 56 years.

The Fry- Jefferson map was created in response to British concerns that French colonists were encroaching on British territory. As there were no clear boundaries at that time and very few maps accurately depicted the lands that the Virginia colony held, the acting governor of Virginia Lewis Burwell, commissioned Colonel Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson to prepare a map which would establish the boundaries of British and French held land.

 Fry and Jefferson created the map by using their experiences making surveys, surveys they had produced, previously published maps, manuscript maps, and field notes from a variety of sources to produce a detailed map of the Virginia Colony. Burwell received the Fry-Jefferson Map in 1751. The Fry- Jefferson map was considered the definitive cartographic representation of Virginia until Bishop James Madison published an updated map in 1807.

The map was the first of its type to properly depict many natural landmarks in Virginia. It also displayed Virginia’s portion of the “Great Waggon Road to Philadelphia” which was a heavily traveled route connecting settlement areas as it ran from Pennsylvania, through Virginia, and into North Carolina. . Jefferson’s son, Thomas, the third President of the United States, would later cite this map in his 1781 work, Notes on the State of Virginia.

Citation: Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A Map of the most Inhabited part of Virginia. Thomas Jefferys, engraver. London, 1755. State 3. Engraving with outline color and watercolor. The Library of Virginia.


History: VS.1, VS.4, VS.5, USI.1, USI.2, USI.5, VUS.1, VUS.2, VUS.3

Earth Science: ES 1, ES 8

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at it: Look at the map. What do you notice about it? How is it different from other maps of Virginia?

Post Activities

Artistic Exploration; The Fry- Jefferson Map includes an image in the lower right hand corner. What is it depicting? Why would such an image be included on a map?  

Analyze: Identify four features on the map which are not found on a current map of the state. What assumptions can you make about why they were not found on the Fry- Jefferson map?

STEM Stat: In the 18th Century, surveying could involve several techniques including the use of transits which were instruments which used to establish a straight line, read angles, and measure distances through a lens and theodolites which measured both horizontal and vertical angles to “triangulate” the positions of objects in a specific area. In some cases, star charts were used to map areas in which there was not an object from which to take a measurement. What issues or problems do you see with these approaches? How might these potential issues be resolved using modern surveying equipment such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) or Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) in which multiple forms of a data are used to create and analyze accurate maps?