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print study / map / drawing

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    "La Virginea Pars", map of the E coast of N America from Chesapeake bay to Cape Lookout; with royal arms and compass, English vessels, Indian canoes and villages Pen and brown ink and watercolour over graphite, heightened with silver (altered) and gold, with two patches of corrections made by the artist, and the upper third of the map was once folded and has offset on the middle third


  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1585-1593
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 478 millimetres
    • Width: 235 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed in brown ink with title and names of villages, lakes, coastal features and scale
  • Curator's comments

    For an introduction to this group of drawings by John White and a list of abbreviations used in the Lit. at the end, see curatorial comment for 1906,0509.1.1, the title page inscription to the album.

    The following text is taken from K. Sloan, 'A New World: England's First View of America' (London, BM Publications, 2006), no. 6, pp. 104-5:
    [NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the publication source (Sloan, above) and the British Museum Collection Database, citing the URL ]:

    "The first professional surveyors appeared in the sixteenth century alongside deep-sea navigation and new engineering for fortification and siege artillery, all of which went hand-in-hand with advances in mathematics, instrument making and mapping. The instructions to Bavin for Gilbert’s voyage (see p. 42) did not only describe what to survey and draw on maps charting the coastline from the southern tip of Florida northwards, but also specifically mentioned the instruments to be used for surveying and the symbols to be used for trees, hills, rivers, and how to devise new ones for things ‘strange to vs in England’. The surveying method used was probably the triangulation method, carried out on board ship, on small flat boats in coastal waters and also on land. A uniform scale for all measurements and drawings was essential and the cross staff, compass and, for surveying on land, the theodolite or plane table would have been the most useful tools to the team involved in their recording of capes, headlands, hills, inlets and rivers, land elevation and use. It has often been stated that Harriot took the measurements and White drew the maps but it was not as simple as that and it is likely that a team was involved and these beautiful final coloured maps by John White were based on numerous more detailed surveys and sketches.
    This map of the area explored by Lane and Grenville, and mapped by Harriot and White, was described by Quinn as ‘the most careful detailed piece of cartography for any part of North America to be made in the sixteenth century’ (pp. 847–8). Its accuracy has been proved by being overlaid with a modern satellite photograph of the area, only the shifting shapes and breaks in the Outer Banks having changed over time. Grenville’s larger ships, the Tyger and Elizabeth, are shown sailing past Cape Lookout and Wococon, another at anchor north of ‘Hatrask’ and smaller pinnaces and Indian canoes in Pamlico Sound to the south and Albermarle Sound to the north. Chesapeake is the large unnamed bay to the far north above England’s coat of arms firmly planted in an area which is now, indeed, the state of Virginia. Raleigh’s arms are just to the west of a lake labelled Paquippe (now Mattamuskeet). The towns of ‘Pomeyooc’ (on the north-east corner of the lake) and Secotan (on an inlet below the lake), both drawn by White, are clearly marked with red dots, along with others including Aquascogoc (just above Secotan) and Dasemunkepeuc, which is on the mainland opposite the island of ‘Roanoac’, entirely shaded red, as is Croatoan; the inhabitants of both these islands were of great assistance to the English.
    Although this is similar to the one map included in de Bry’s illustrated edition of Harriot’s Briefe and true report (below), it was not the direct source. The cartouche on the left credits John White with the original which de Bry has engraved, incorporates elements from the larger map (no. 2), such as the mountains and inland extents of the rivers that are not included in this detail. De Bry also adds images taken from the series of drawings he also engraved, including the Pomeiooc mother with her child shown near the Chesapeake which is filled with English ships. In addition, the map is reoriented so that it appears as it would if one were facing the coast from England looking east, directly accessible to English ships, with friendly Indians greeting the colonists and rivers providing direct open access to the mineral-bearing mountains in the interior. England’s coat of arms is firmly planted above the area called Secotan and Raleigh’s surmount the cartouche over Chesapeake Bay, which echoes the words of White’s own manuscript title page (no. 1) when translated from the Latin: ‘Part of America now called Virginia, first discovered by the English at the expense of Sir Walter Raleigh in the year of our Lord 1585 in the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.’ The true history of this is described in the separate book (Harriot’s?) with the addition of picturing the inhabitants.

    Lit.: LB 1(2); Quinn, pp. 53, 461–2; ECM 60; PH&DBQ 111(a); PH 60; R&R, no. 56 (for satellite image); Cumming, pp. 55–6

    Engraved by Theodor de Bry in 'America' Pt I, Plate I, 1590."

    The above text was published in 2006. In 2012, Brent Lane, a professor at the University of North Carolina and a director of the First Colony Foundation (which conducts archaeological and historical research on the 16th century Sir Walter Raleigh colonization venture), asked whether it was possible to see what might be underneath the patches that John White adhered to the surface of the paper to correct the coastal outline. This method of making corrections by artists is a common one but it would be impossible to remove the patches without harming the drawing. Instead we placed a bright light under the drawing which indicated that the larger patch had been used to correct the drawing of the coastline but that the upper, smaller patch was covering a symbol, in red and blue watercolour, which might have represented a fort. This prompted us to make further detailed images and physical analyses, for which see the British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research Report attached to this record, which must not be cited or reproduced without permission of the Keeper of the Department of CSR. If there is no link from this record, see


  • Bibliography

    • Binyon 1898-1907 1(2) bibliographic details
    • Hulton & Quinn 1964 111(a) bibliographic details
    • Sloan 2007 6 bibliographic details
    • Croft-Murray 1960 60 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British Imp PI)

  • Exhibition history

    1934 BM, Exhibition of English Art, no.397 1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.85
    1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 85
    1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 85
    1984 May 1-Dec 31, BL, Raleigh & Roanoke, no.59
    1985 Mar-Jun, Raleigh, NC Mus of History, Raleigh & Roanoke, no.55
    1985 Jun-Aug, New York, Public Library, Raleigh & Roanoke , no. 55
    2003 May-Sep, London, National Maritime Museum, 'Elizabeth 1'
    2007 Mar-Jun, BM, 'A New World:...', no.6
    2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Carolina Mus of History, 'A New World:...'
    2008 Mar-Jun, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'A New World:...'
    2008 Jul-Oct, Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, 'A New World:...'

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    The provenance given above refers to the moment when the album of drawings connected with John White was purchased by the Department of Manuscripts in what is now the British Library. The album was transferred to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1906, where it was assigned new register numbers.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Map of the E coast of N America from Chesapeake bay to Cape lookout; with royal arms, English vessels, Indian canoes Pen and brown ink and watercolour over graphite, heightened with silver (?) (oxidised) and gold and touched with white over grey and brown wash

Map of the E coast of N America from Chesapeake bay to Cape lookout; with royal arms, English vessels, Indian canoes Pen and brown ink and watercolour over graphite, heightened with silver (?) (oxidised) and gold and touched with white over grey and brown wash

Image description



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