“A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye Hills.”— 1651.

JOHN FARRER or Ferrar (1590-1657) was born in London. He was a member of the Royal Council of the Virginia Company and deputy treasurer of the company from 1619 to 1622. An active investor in and promoter of the colony, he supported the establishment of a silkworm industry in Virginia. Farrer wrote a description of the Virginia colony, A Perfect Description of Virginia (London, 1649); Edward Williams incorporated this description into his Virgo Triumphans: or, Virginia richly and truly valued, first published in 1650. Farrer also named his daughter after the colony “so that speaking unto her, looking upon her, or hearing others call her by name, he might think upon both at once.”— Virginia Farrer (1620-1688) continued her father’s efforts to introduce silk culture into Virginia and was the compiler of the later versions of her father’s map.

In his personal copy of Williams’s Virgo Triumphans, Farrer wrote in the margin: “But a map had binn very proper to this Book For all men love to see the country as well as to heare of it.”— That copy, now owned by the New York Public Library, contains a rough manuscript map drawn in Farrer’s hand and entitled: “A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye Falls.”— An engraved version of this map first appeared in the third edition (1651) of Virgo Triumphans.

Farrer’s map depicts an astonishingly narrow North American continent: the Pacific Ocean appears just beyond the Appalachian Mountains! Farrer attributed his representation of the continent to the English mathematician and cartographer Henry Briggs. Briggs, who was the first mapmaker to show California as an island, may have conflated the mountains that lay to the east of California with the mountains that lay to the west of Virginia. A belief in the false Sea of Verrazano could also have led Farrer to the conclusion that the American continent was extremely narrow. In A Perfect Description of Virginia, Farrer writes:

from the head of James River above the falls . . . will be found like rivers issuing into a south sea or a west sea, on the other side of those hills, as there is on this side, where they run from west down to the east sea after a course of one hundred and fifty miles.

Farrer’s map legend also notes that a ten-day march westward from the head of the James River will bring the traveler to rivers that run into the “Indian Seas.”

Another remarkable feature of the Farrer map is the Northwest Passage, which is formed by a river to the north that connects the Hudson River to the “Sea of China and the Indies.”— Farrer’s map labels many place-names in Virginia and Maryland for the first time. It also provides details on the Swedish and Dutch settlements north of Virginia.

The map in the exhibition is a fourth state (c.1652) in which Falls in the title is changed to read Hills. In this version of the map, the Northwest Passage is now blocked by a narrow isthmus. Virginia Farrer compiled this version of the map.

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