The culmination of 20 voyages covering 2,500 miles, Captain John Smith’s map of Virginia was the first comprehensive map of the Chesapeake Region. It encompasses the coastal areas of modern Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Washington DC, including rivers, tributaries, islands, bays and some 200 Indian villages. Charted from the perspective of a ship coming in from the Atlantic, it is oriented with the right side of the map corresponding to the direction north.
Smith spoke some Algonquian and was able to build relationships with the Indians he encountered. With their help he was able to chart much of the interior, indicating with crosses the borders between those territories that he had personally explored, and those which had been described to him by natives. The figures illustrated on the map are the chief Powhatan, who figured prominently in the history of Jamestown, and a Susquehannock Indian described as “the goodliest man we ever beheld.”
In spite of the primitive navigational tools at his disposal, Smith map was remarkably accurate. It remained in active use for 70 years after its publication, having been finally surpassed by Augustine Herman’s map of Virginia and Maryland in 1673.