January 19, 2004
Charting a Course Through History: Popular antique map exhibition to feature original manuscript of the Mason-Dixon Line
As any traveler knows, a good map is as important today as it was centuries ago. Travelers, historians and cartographers alike will delight in “Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America.” This extraordinary exhibition of 77 historic maps and four atlases as well as military and surveying equipment will be on display at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum May 29, 2004 through August 14, 2005. The exhibition recently completed a successful two-year nationwide tour, appearing at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Concord Museum in Concord, Mass., and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C.
“Degrees of Latitude” uses antique maps from the Colonial Williamsburg collections to illustrate the history of American settlement and colonization of the original 13 colonies. Highlights include a manuscript map of the Virginia campaign used by Lafayette during the Revolution and the Custis Atlas, once owned by Virginian John Custis IV and passed through the Custis family for several generations.
In addition, the Wallace Museum will display the original drawing of the Mason-Dixon Line map, a magnificent historical document produced in 1768 by two British surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Mason and Dixon determined the official boundaries between the colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Once owned by Malcolm Forbes Jr., president of Forbes magazine, the map is on loan to Colonial Williamsburg by an anonymous donor.
“The profits generated from the American colonies created a need for maps to facilitate trade and promote new settlements,” said Margaret Beck Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg curator of prints, maps and wallpaper. “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 and generously funded by Anna Glen Vietor in memory of her husband Alexander Orr Vietor. Henry G. Taliaferro, also co-author of the book, is a well-known dealer of rare maps in New York.
In support of the exhibition, Colonial Williamsburg has launched an online “virtual” display, “Mapping Colonial America,” comprising 22 of the maps from the display. Following the close of “Degrees of Latitude” at the Wallace Museum, the collection will return to climate- and light-controlled storage to preserve the maps for posterity. The online version, accessible at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/maps, will allow these works to continue to be studied and enjoyed in digital format, even though the maps themselves no longer will be on display.