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The Map That Defined the United States

John Mitchell was born in the colony of Virginia, but lived in England, where the director of the Board of Trade and Plantations commissioned him to create a map of the American colonies. Although Mitchell wasn’t trained in cartography, he produced a map, published in 1755, that was surprisingly accurate for the time. Not only that, it had “boundaries” drawn between British lands and those of the French and Spanish.

Mitchell’s map took a decidedly British view of who owned what on the continent. His boundary lines, and small notes he scattered across the map, favored British claims over those made by the Spanish and French.

In Florida, for example, Mitchell drew a southern boundary line well inside the territory claimed by Spain. In Alabama, there’s a small note that reads “A Spanish fort built in 1719 & said to be soon after abandoned,” an apparent effort to diminish any Spanish claims to the land.

Mitchell’s map had political influence far beyond anything he’d ever imagined. It played a part in sparking the French and Indian War. That war sucked up so many resources that King George III levied additional taxes on the colonies, and we know what that led to. Then in 1783, his map was used at the Treaty of Paris to define the boundaries of the new United States, after much negotiation. Read about the map that shaped the USA at Phenomena.

(Image source: Osher Map Library)


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