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An Embroidered map of England and Wales

Below is an image of an embroidered map from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. The name of the embroiderer, Sophia Mason, is stitched at the bottom of the map; the year 1802 is printed beneath her name. From the 18th to the early 19th century, American and British school girls received their geographical education by embroidering maps on pieces of cloth. Girls were educated at home or sent to boarding schools or dame schools headed by single women. Needlework was considered an important part of the curriculum for girls and they embroidered maps as part of their formal education. The embroidered maps were often elaborate with floral borders; however, map samplers that were stitched at Quaker boarding schools were less decorative. The use of map needlework for geographical education started to decline during the 1820s.

An embroidered map of England and Wales in an oval frame.

Sofia Mason. A map of England & Wales. 1802. Geography and Map Division.

A detail of the county boundaries from A map of England and Wales.

Detail from A map of England and Wales.

Dr. Judith A. Tyner, a cartographer and historian, conducted extensive research on antique map samplers. Dr. Tyner is the author of the book Stitching the World: Embroidered Maps and Women’s Geographical Education. Before her book was published there was very little available information about the use of map samplers to educate young women in geography.

According to Ms. Tyner, research on embroidered maps was overlooked because cartographic historians did not consider them to be true maps. Some considered them cartifacts; a cartifact is an object with a map on it that is used primarily for decorative purposes. In my opinion they are true maps; note the accurate placement of the counties and bodies of water on the detailed sampler that is featured in this post. I think that map embroidery must have been a very effective method for learning geography.

Detail of the part of the map that shows Georges Channel and the Isle of Man.

Detail from A map of England and Wales.

An image of Sofia Mason's signature on the map.

Detail of the name Sophia Mason on A map of England & Wales.

The mapmaker who embroidered this map was British. We do not know her age or the name of the school that she attended. Many of the antique map samplers that exist today do not include the names of the embroiderers; some only include their initials. The young mapmakers who stitched them will always remain anonymous. Many existing map samplers are in a state of deterioration and some embroidered maps were discarded because of their condition. Fortunately, the one held in the Geography and Map Division includes the name of the embroiderer and it has been carefully preserved by the staff of the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate. All map samplers that were embroidered during the 18th and 19th centuries are cultural artifacts that should be preserved. We are fortunate to have this map sampler in the Library’s collections; embroidered maps are an important part of cartographic history.

 

Learn More:

Read an in-depth history about embroidered maps and globes in Stitching the world : embroidered maps and women’s geographical education by Judith A. Tyner. The book includes an extensive history about women’s geographical education during the 18th and 19th centuries and 46 plates of embroidered maps and globes.

 

Nicolas de Fer:The Royal Geographer

The French cartographer and engraver, Nicolas de Fer, was a master at creating maps that were works of art. The maps that he published were printed during the Baroque period when the decorative arts were characterized by ornate detail. De Fer’s detailed maps and atlases were valued more for their decorative content than their geographical […]

Searching for Saint Brendan’s Island

Over the years I have noticed the placement of Saint Brendan’s Island on historical maps. I became curious about the mythical island and the story behind it. Saint Brendan’s Island was placed in different locations on maps of the Atlantic Ocean. The island was often placed west of England and Ireland. It was also placed […]

Verba Incognita: A Guide to Deciphering Latin on Maps

This is a guest post by Kelly Bilz, Librarian-in-Residence in the Geography and Map Division. Even though Latin had fallen out of vernacular use after the fall of Rome (and began to evolve into the modern Romance languages), it lived on in its written form, becoming the lingua franca, so to speak, of scholarship. In […]

The Exotic Animals of the Americas

European colonists were fascinated with the wildlife of the Western Hemisphere. They described fauna native to the Americas in memoirs, travel journals and poetry. Pictures of the unfamiliar animals were often printed on maps. In this post I will discuss four colonial era maps that were decorated with illustrations of animals. The two maps of […]

18th Century Maps of North America: Perception vs. Reality

Between 1755 and 1775, over the course of just twenty years, three seminal maps of North America were published in London, even though those responsible for the maps never left England! These three maps, discussed in more detail below, were prepared for a British audience in an attempt to reinforce opinions regarding British control of North America. A fourth map, also published in London, depicts the extent of the United States in 1802.

Mitchell, John, Thomas Kitchin, and Andrew Millar. A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax, and the other Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners for Trade & Plantations. [London; Sold by And: Millar, 1755] Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Mitchell, John, Thomas Kitchin, and Andrew Millar. A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax, and the other Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners for Trade & Plantations. [London; Sold by And: Millar, 1755] Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Arguably the most important of the first three pre-1800 maps addressed in this blog is John Mitchell’s iconic 1755 Map of the British and French Dominions in North America pictured above. At the request of the English Board of Trade and Plantations, the equivalent of the State Department, Mitchell was tasked with preparing a large map of North America based upon maps provided by each of the thirteen colonial governors. The intriguing story behind the map lies with its illustrated claim of English sovereignty extending from the Atlantic Ocean westward past the Mississippi and, eventually, to the Pacific Ocean. These claims are evidenced by the horizontal colonial boundaries extending into French territory.

Our second map, pictured below, was originally published in London by Emanuel Bowen in 1763. Unlike Mitchell’s map, which incorporated the territorial aspirations of the British colonies, the 1763 map by Bowen illustrated the political realities dictated by the 1763 Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Year’s War in North America.

Bowen, Emanuel, -1767, J Gibson, and Robert Sayer. An accurate map of North America. Describing and distinguishing the British and Spanish dominions on this great continent; according to the definitive treaty concluded at Paris 10th Feby. Also all the West India Islands belonging to, and possessed by the several European princes and states. London, Printed for Robert Sayer, 1763. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Bowen, Emanuel, -1767, J Gibson, and Robert Sayer. An accurate map of North America. Describing and distinguishing the British and Spanish dominions on this great continent; according to the definitive treaty concluded at Paris 10th Feby. Also all the West India Islands belonging to, and possessed by the several European princes and states. London, Printed for Robert Sayer, 1763. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The third revolutionary map in our saga was published in London by Carington Bowles in 1771. Like the Bowen map illustrated above, it, too, includes colonial territory lost in 1763, but also emphasizes unsettled colonial boundaries.  Of those, the most notable are the western boundary of Pennsylvania, the northeastern boundary of Virginia, and the western boundary of New York, as establishment of each defined those colonies’ access to Lake Erie.

Bowles, Carington. North America, and the West Indies; a new map, wherein the British Empire and its limits, according to the definitive treaty of peace, in , are accurately described, and the dominions possessed by the Spaniards, the French, & other European States. The whole compiled from all the new surveys, and authentic memoirs that have hitherto appeared. [London, 1774 ?, 1774]

Bowles, Carington. North America, and the West Indies; a new map, wherein the British Empire and its limits, according to the definitive treaty of peace, in , are accurately described, and the dominions possessed by the Spaniards, the French, & other European States. The whole compiled from all the new surveys, and authentic memoirs that have hitherto appeared. [London, 177?, 1771]. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The final map of North America in our brief exploration of revolutionary maps was published in London in 1802. Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823) produced the most current and accurate cartographic representation of the American West up to that date. Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark carefully studied the map in 1803 and even carried a copy on the first leg of their landmark expedition. Arrowsmith’s map immediately pre-dates the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and subsequent 1804-06 expedition by Lewis & Clark.  Rather than fill in the American West with conjectural or inaccurate data, he has deliberately left large areas blank, allowing viewers to envision for themselves the nature of the vast territory recently acquired before the landscape could be recorded by scientific surveys.

Arrowsmith, Aaron, and J Puke. A map exhibiting all the new discoveries in the interior parts of North America. [London: A. Arrowsmith, 1802]. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. 

So why are these maps significant? And how do they illustrate cartographic perception and geographic reality?  First, British control of North America is implied in Mitchell’s 1755 map which depicts British colonies extending from “sea to sea”.  Secondly, the geographic reality of British control of North America are all shown on the commercially produced 1763 Bowen map, the 1774 Bowles’ map, and Arrowsmith’s 1802 map which all relied on factual data. It all comes down to the intentions of each cartographer and those who employed the cartographers!

Learn more:

Creating the United States. A Library of Congress exhibit drawing heavily on items related to American Revolution from various parts of the Library. (April 2008 – May 2012).

Rivers, Edens, and Empires: Lewis and Clark and the Revealing of America. A Library of Congress exhibit showcasing items from various collections the related to Lewis and Clark expedition. (July 2003 – November 2003).

Read more »

Hy-Brasil: The Supernatural Island

Hy-Brasil never existed, however, it was often shown on maps as a very small island west of Ireland. The name Hy-Brasil originated from Celtic mythology. According to Irish folklore an island named Hy-Brasil was visible from the west coast of Ireland for only one day every seven years, the rest of the time it was […]