Biography of a Map in Motion

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Christian J. Koot. A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake. New York:  New York University Press, 2018. 304 p. $35.00. ISBN: 9781479837298.

biography of a map in motionJohn Smith’s map of Virginia published in 1612 was the proto-type map of the colony until the publication of Augustine Herrman’s map of Virginia and Maryland in 1673. Herrman’s map of the mid-Atlantic region became the “source” map of the region for numerous mapmakers and inspired many derivatives. However, as important as his map is to the cartographic history of Maryland and Virginia, scholars knew little about him or the processes he used to compile his map of the colonies. Koot’s A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake fills this “cartographic” void by providing parallel biographies of Herrman and his map. The map represents Herrman’s local, colonial ties as it simultaneously identifies the mid-Atlantic as part of the British Empire.

Herrman was born in 1621 or 1622 in Bohemia; his father was a Protestant minister who eventually settled in the Netherlands. Herrman is recorded as living in New Netherland in 1644 where he was working as an agent for the Amsterdam mercantile firm Peter Gabry and Sons. As a merchant in New Netherland he traded and bartered with the Swedish, English and Dutch colonists who lived in the mid-Atlantic. In the process he became very familiar with the Chesapeake Bay’s waterways and its people. He was also exposed to the political intrigues and boundary disputes of his time. In the 1650s Herrman married and acquired land on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Herrman’s work as a merchant and as an adviser to New Netherland leader Peter Stuyvesant impressed upon him the need for an accurate map of the mid-Atlantic that would force Lord Baltimore to acquiesce to Dutch territorial claims. When Stuyvesant declined Herrman’s request, Herrman approached Lord Baltimore about a new and accurate map of the region; Baltimore agreed with him and supported Herrman’s work. Herrman’s experiences in the Chesapeake and his exposure to the Dutch’s rich cartographic tradition influenced how he drafted and portrayed the Chesapeake on A Map of Virginia and Maryland.  In the Dutch tradition Herrman focused on the region’s waterways. The water structures the map and in the process captures the geographic divisions of the colonies represented: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Specific attention is given to representing soundings, the location of shoals and isobaths, and to identifying the plantations and Native American towns along Virginia and Maryland’s rivers, the region’s maritime attributes. The degree marks, compass rose, and rhumb lines are not decoration but useful navigational tools. Herrman’s map, a map the size of a sea chart, hints at the possible commercial development while diminishing Native American spaces.

Koot emphasizes that three men were responsible for the creation and publication of A Map of Virginia and Maryland:  Augustine Herrman, William Faithorne and Lord Baltimore. Faithorne was hired to engrave the map and an excellent description of the engraving and printing process is provided in chapter four. The map’s iconographic and ornamental features were likely added during the engraving process and changed the map from being a map of waterways for merchants and tobacco merchants to one that identified the Chesapeake as a royal English region. Lord Baltimore was instrumental in publishing the map and the copyright awarded by King Charles II to Herrman’s map is likely due to the influence of Baltimore.

Today the map is rare: only five institutions own copies. Koot was able to track down two of the original owners, the Committee of the Lords of Trade and Plantation and Samuel Pepys. Since the King’s copyright is printed on the map it is likely that King Charles II and Lord Baltimore possessed copies of the map, too. Eventually, Herrman and his map fell into the shadows of history and re-emerged in American culture during the American Civil War. Czech immigrants to the United States after the war embraced the map and proudly identified the Czech place-names present on the map that were placed there by fellow Czech, Augustine Herrman.

Koot’s research is impressive. His scholarship relies heavily upon primary sources, including 17th century Virginia county records. A Biography of a Map in Motion:  Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake includes important information about 17th century Anglo-Dutch trade and insight into the life of a relatively unknown cartographer, merchant and land owner. The reviewer recommends that libraries in the business of collecting books about seventeenth century maritime cartography, seventeenth century business practices and colonial American history should consider adding this to their collections.

Cassandra Britt Farrell
Senior Map Archivist
Library of Virginia
Richmond, Virginia


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