Map of the Day

Published:November 6, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Called the John Smith map of Virginia, this gorgeous engraving was actually completed by William Hole based on information provided by John Smith and then published first in 1612 and then again in Smith’s book The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624). The particular edition shown above was hand-colored in Frankfurt in 1627 and appeared in a volume of Theodor de Bry‘s Grands Voyages.

As was traditional for maps drawn by or intended for mariners, it offers the seaman’s perspective on the land. In other words, the water is at the bottom, so that, in this case, west is at the top. Click on the image to enlarge, and you’ll discover a huge amount of detail regarding the river systems and the habitations of the Virginia Indians. You’ll also be able to see more clearly those great illustrations of Powhatan (in the upper left) and an Indian warrior (on the right).

William Hole created those images, but because he had never been to Virginia, it’s fair to wonder where they came from. The answer, in large part, is John White. (Governor of the so-called Lost Colonists in 1586, White had visited Roanoke a year earlier as an expedition artist.) You’ll see the similarity of Hole’s Indian man (below left) to a colored engraving by Theodor de Bry (below center), which dates to 1590: the bow is the same, the angle of the head, the man’s right arm, the case on his back, his feet. The biggest difference is the left arm, which is akimbo in de Bry. De Bry, by the way, was a Dutch engraver born in present-day Belgium; he hadn’t ever been to the New World. So where did his image come from? From White, whose image of an Indian warrior from the area around Roanoke (below right), painted in 1585, soon became an archetype. You’ll notice that de Bry flipped the image and added an arrow and background. Otherwise, it’s the same.

What’s interesting about this is that in the John White map, Virginia Indians are actually drawn from third-hand, twenty-five-year-old representations of Indians not actually from (present-day) Virginia. You can see this happen again with Hole’s representation of the paramount chief Powhatan, certainly one of the towering figures in early Virginia history. In his engraving (bottom left), Powhatan, seated indoors and wearing a headdress, towers over his subjects. Notice the distinctive positioning of his legs; you can see something similar in a de Bry engraving (bottom center) of an Indian idol. The connection is a bit less obvious, but it’s more than plausible, I think.

Anyway, most of de Bry’s engravings of Virginia Indians were directly inspired by John White paintings, but there’s no surviving source image for the idol, and scholars have speculated that White’s painting of an ossuary temple (below right) may be the source. Click on the image and you’ll see, on the plantform, what Kim Sloan has described as “a painted wooden idol, Kiwasa, [sitting] guard.” He’s got that same, distinctive posture. And even more intriguing, he’s indoors and high up on a platform.

Could it be that our most famous image of Powhatan, made during his lifetime, is nevertheless derived from a picture of a wooden idol?

IMAGES: Hand-colored version of William Hole’s map of Virginia, done in Frankfurt, 1627 (Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.); a detail from Regulorum aut Principum in Virginia typus, or “An example of the Rulers or Chiefs in Virginia” by Theodor de Bry after John White, 1590 (The Mariners’ Museum); The manner of their attire by John White, ca. 1585 (The Trustees of the British Museum); from Ther Idol Kivvasa by Theodor de Bry, 1590; An Ossuary Temple by John White, ca. 1585 (The Trustees of the British Museum)