Joshua Fry (1700-1754) was born in England, studied at Oxford, and was a professor of mathematics at William and Mary College. Around 1740 he settled on the Hardware River south of Charlottesville and became a planter. When Albemarle County was formed in 1744, he was appointed a county justice along with Peter Jefferson. He also served as presiding magistrate, county lieutenant, and county surveyor. Because of his surveying experience, he was appointed a Crown Commissioner to establish the boundaries of the “Northern Neck,” a proprietary grant of over five million acres. Fry’s recommendation that his friend Peter Jefferson be appointed a surveyor for this project was accepted and the completed survey was approved by the Council of State in 1747. As a result of this success, in 1749 Fry and Peter Jefferson were appointed Virginia Commissioners to extend the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina further westward. In 1751 Fry and Jefferson produced their new map of Virginia. Three years later Fry, while serving as Virginia’s top colonial military leader, died of injuries he received in a fall from his horse. Fry left his surveying instruments to Peter Jefferson in his will.
Peter Jefferson (1708-1757) was of Welsh descent and a man of legendary size and strength. Though he lacked formal education, he was well-read and became a skilled surveyor and mapmaker. About 1735 he received a patent for 1,000 acres, to which he added 400 acres from William Randolph, his wife’s kinsman. On this land he built his plantation Shadwell where his son Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743. He was one of the first residents of this frontier area. He became a justice of the peace, a county justice and sheriff, a lieutenant colonel in the militia, and he also represented his county in the House of Burgesses. In 1746 he and Thomas Lewis surveyed the “Fairfax Line.” This assignment required an arduous expedition. Peter Jefferson died in 1757, leaving his wife, six daughters, and two sons. He left his surveying instruments and books to his son Thomas.
Starting in 1738, Joshua Fry petitioned the House of Burgesses for financial assistance to produce a new map of Virginia but his request was turned down four times. Finally, in 1750, the Board of Trade and Plantations in England authorized the acting governor to appoint “the most proper and best qualified” surveyors to complete a new map of Virginia. Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson were commissioned to carry out this order. Although they completed their map in 1751, it was first published in 1754 by Thomas Jefferys of London.
This first edition of this map, of which only two copies exist today, represents parts of the Middle Atlantic colonies from the Eastern seaboard to the Ohio River. It depicts the settled parts of Virginia very accurately and is the first map to show the Appalachian Mountains running in the correct direction. Longitude is shown in degrees west from a line extending from Philadelphia to Currituck Inlet. The area to the west of the mountains has several errors: Lake Erie is erroneously located two hundred miles further south than it belongs and the Ohio River is distorted.
Many of the problems of this map were corrected in the second edition, published in 1755, which drew on data collected by Fry, George Washington, and others. That same year John Evans used this map in preparing his own seminal map of North America, “Map of the Middle British Colonies”; he credited the Fry-Jefferson map “as this had the assistance of actual surveys . . . joined to the Experience of two skillful Persons.” Similarly, Gilles Robert de Vaugondy, geographer to the king of France, used a modified version of the Fry-Jefferson map in his 1756 atlas. Both the British and French used the map in the French and Indian War and in the American Revolution. The map went through several editions, the last published in 1794. Thomas Jefferson used the Fry-Jefferson map in drawing his map for Notes on the State of Virginia.