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September 20, 2002

CW map exhibition will debut at New-York Historical Society this fall

Have you ever traveled to an unfamiliar place and found yourself lost, looking for directions? If so, you undoubtedly have discovered the benefits of a good map, something as important today as it was centuries ago. Travelers, historians and cartographers alike will delight in “Degrees of Latitude: Maps of America from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection,” an extraordinary exhibition of 72 historic maps and an atlas of early America, which will debut at the New-York Historical Society Oct. 1, 2002 and run through Feb. 2, 2003.

“Degrees of Latitude” will use maps as a point of departure for understanding the history of American settlement and colonization. These maps, representing each of the original 13 colonies, were selected for their rarity, historical importance and aesthetic beauty. A few, such as Bernard Ratzer’s “Plan of the City of New York,” are rare or unique examples never before published. The Custis Atlas, once owned by Virginian John Custis IV, features an additional 100 maps. As this remarkable volume passed through generations of the Custis family, it was familiar to two other prominent Virginians who were related by marriage: George Washington and Robert E. Lee.

“Maps tell us what was known or believed about the land, suggest how people traveled and traded, and record routes taken across oceans and continents,” said Margaret Beck Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg curator of prints, maps and wallpaper since 1982. “By the 17th 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,” published jointly by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Harry N. Abrams Inc., in New York. The book, funded by Anna Glen Vietor of New York in memory of her husband Alexander Orr Vietor, will be available in Fall 2002. Pritchard also has co-authored “William Byrd II and His Lost History: Engravings of the Americas (1993),” published by Colonial Williamsburg, and co-edited “Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby’s New World Vision (1998),” published by the University of North Carolina Press.

Henry G. Taliaferro, co-author of “Degrees of Latitude,” is a well-known dealer of rare maps and prints in New York. He compiled “Cartographic Sources in the Rosenberg Library (1987)” and has authored several articles on Virginia genealogy and 17th- through 19th-century mapmaking.

The New-York Historical Society, at West 77th Street and Central Park West, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students/seniors and free for children ages 12 and under. For more information, call (212) 873-3400 or visit online at

Media Contact:
Sophia Hart
(757) 220-7272