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 more than 30 historic maps and an atlas of early America, which will be on view at the DAR Museum from November 14, 2003 to February 28, 2004.
"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. She also 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 exhibition catalogue is available by contacting the Museum Shop at (202) 879-3208.
Colonial Williamsburg, the nation's largest living history museum, is celebrating its 75th year as the restored 18th-century capital of colonial Virginia. It operates five world-class museums -- the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Carter's Grove, the Winthrop Rockefeller Archaeology Museum and Bassett Hall -- which allow the display of some of the more than 60,000 objects in its extensive collections. For more information, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit online at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org