Most maps are designed and created with a purpose. This is evident when you open an atlas which shows a wide variety of maps on data like population density and physical terrain, as well as something as simple as using your phone to find directions. The map shown here was also designed with a purpose, shown in what kind of information is present and the way it is given:
It was originally published in a pamphlet written in 1733 by Benjamin Martyn entitled “Reasons for Establishing the Colony of Georgia,” which argued that establishing a colony would bring large economic and social benefits to Great Britain:
The pamphlet and the map it contains are very interesting on their own, but in order to fully understand them we must look at the historical context in which they were created and the motivations of the people who would use it. The map and pamphlet were published by the British, for a British audience, and when looking at something like this bias is almost inevitable. Many of the ideas presented here about this map are inspired by Daniel Richter’s book, “Facing East from Indian Country” which emphasizes the importance of considering different perspectives. A map commissioned by the Spanish or French might have different information present, and Native Americans especially would prioritize wildly different things when it comes to not only something like a map but many parts of culture and how the world is visualized. The interactions between colonists and the native inhabitants of America was one of the biggest and most important aspects of the early efforts in colonization.
These interactions are sometimes remembered as peaceful and mutually beneficial in mythologized tales, such as the story of the pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, but more often than not the relationship between Native Americans and European colonists was complicated, fluid, and even hostile. Early American colonists did not place much importance on race and did participate in friendly interaction with Native Americans, but this doesn’t mean that Europeans saw Native Americans as equals. As early as 1637 colonists in Connecticut set fire to a Pequot village and killed hundreds in the mystic massacre, showing that many saw the natives as uncivilized and inferior. By the middle of the 18th century the attitude among Europeans had become that the native population of America was an obstacle to expansion further west. A good marker for the solidification of this relationship with natives came in 1711 with the Tuscarora war in Colonial North Carolina. This violent war between colonists, the Tuscarora tribe, and their allies had a lasting effect on relations and the ways Europeans viewed the Native Americans.
This brings us to the map presented here, which was published only a few decades after this defining conflict between colonists and native groups. The content of the map is focused on the southeast corner of what would become the United States, with it being centered on the modern-day state of Georgia. You should be able to pick out this name, along with other familiar places like South Carolina and Florida, but while the names have remained the borders and claims of these states have shifted over time. At the very left is the Mississippi River which is labelled as “the line of the present French possession,” marking the Louisiana territory which was at the time claimed by France:
It also places a particular emphasis on many rivers and their tributaries, even labelling many small inlets. Notably absent from the map are many labels for colonial population centers, a few coastal ones such as Charlestown are included, but in contrast the names and inhabited land of various native groups in this region are present. The population of men within each group is also labeled, for instance the Cherokee are marked as having 8000 men. Several descriptive labels are present in places like along the gulf coast which claims there are “no inhabitants from hence to the point Florida,” and a spot along a tributary of the Mississippi described as “a fitt place to settle an English factory.”
The historical background given on native relations at this time and content chosen by the mapmaker on the map all point to the explanation that its purpose was to encourage and facilitate the settlement of this region by the British. The map serves as a sort of tool in determining the ideal locations and what sort of obstacles potential colonists may face. Because of this purpose the creator of the map did not have to include other things like details on already existing settlements. The various native tribes in this region were perceived as an obstacle and the chance of conflict was present, meaning the mapmaker felt it was necessary to explain the military strength of each group through the number of men present. The fact that the male population and name is the only information given shows the disconnect between the settlers and native inhabitants, with expansion bringing conflict between these two groups.
More obvious indicators of priority include the statements on ideal locations for settlement, but information like the extent of claims was also important for this region. British settlement of the interior not only brought conflict with natives, but also with other colonial powers like France and Spain. Florida, with areas marked as having no inhabitants, was a Spanish colonial territory at the time. A slave uprising in South Carolina known as the Stono Rebellion took place in 1739, only a few years after this map was published, with the goal of fleeing to Spanish Florida which offered freedom to escaped British slaves. The settlement of Georgia was partly encouraged because of this colonial competition, to create a buffer between South Carolina and Florida. While the competition with Spain in the south was happening, to the east territorial claims brought even greater strife with the French.
The rising tension between France and Great Britain would culminate in the Seven Years’ War which lasted from 1754 to 1763, also called the French and Indian War for the part of the conflict fought in America. Participants in the war included then Lieutenant-Colonel George Washington who served in the British army at the time. Much of the fighting took place in the area west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi, an area populated by many different indigenous tribes. With the war ending in a British victory, the French lost most of their American colonies and the region was claimed by Great Britain. This brought even greater settlement from the east, with valuable land even being claimed by prominent American figures like Thomas Jefferson and Washington.
The increased settlement brought even more conflict, which the British government recognized and tried to remedy by restricting settlement to the east of the Proclamation Line of 1763, roughly following the Appalachian Mountains. The land west of the line was reserved for native groups, especially those which aided the British in the war, but as the existence of this map shows many believed this place was a potential area to settle and were angered by this decision. This attitude towards settlement restrictions would be a contributing factor to the American Revolution, and the relationship between colonists and natives would continue to be defined by settlement and conflict. By looking at things like this map, used as a tool for colonization, we can try to understand the motivations of those using it and the perspectives they might have had towards others.
[This blog post was written by Nick Archer, SFSU undergraduate in history, who will be graduating in 2022. Nick wrote this essay as part of a class project.]
If you are interested in reading the original pamphlet written in 1733 by Benjamin Martyn entitled “Reasons for Establishing the Colony of Georgia,” please page Vault F289 .M42 1733 once the Sutro Library is open again to the public.