Map of Virginia

Title page.

The map you see below first appeared in John Smith's 1612 text, A Map of Virginia with a Description of the Countrey, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion (left), the title of which highlights Smith's fascination with numerous facets of life in the "new world." However, from my perspective as a scholar of post-colonial texts, this map depicts the encounter between two cultures: Native Americans and European colonists.

Smith's map offers two images of Native Americans: the rendering of his 1607 capture by the Powhatan tribe in the top left corner and the figure of the "Susquehannock Bowman" on the right side of the map. In reality, Smith and engraver William Hole derived these images from those made by Thomas Hariot in 1590, but with some important changes. For instance, Smith and Hole transform the "Susquehannock Bowman" from a menacing, animal-like warrior in the original drawing to the friendly, food-bearing symbol of the new world's bounty you see here. This change suggests that the map was used in part as a piece of colonial propaganda as it depicts a more welcoming new world.

Finally, to the contemporary eye, the map's representation of Smith's capture makes us reconsider what later emerges as one of American history's most compelling myths: the John Smith-Pocahontas "romance." Smith's drawing makes no reference to the Powhatan princess. The image here emphasizes the interaction between the English presence and Native American custom. Rather than a romanticized and idealized encounter between two individual lovers, the illustration of Smith's capture in this map suggests a complicated relationship between two cultures, which the popular stories of American history often ignore, if not suppress, entirely.

Elizabeth Vogtsberger
Doctoral Candidate in English