"a concise Geographical Grammar"


James Madison, like many of his peers, was a man dedicated to knowledge of geography and history. In an August 1822 letter to William Taylor Barry, Madison wrote: “A knowledge of the Globe & its various inhabitants, however slight, might moreover create a taste for Books of Travels and Voyages, out of which might grow a general taste for history, an inexhaustible fund of entertainment & instruction.” Madison emphasized a familiarity of geography, “such as can easily be conveyed by a Globe & Maps, and a concise Geographical Grammar.”1 Madison’s belief system is nowhere better represented than in his extensive map collection. While Madison never traveled abroad and only briefly traveled domestically, as a scholar, politician, and intellectual, he was keenly aware of the importance of geographical knowledge and innovations.

The first permanent installation in Mr. Madison’s Room, the space where James Madison spent much of his later years, was unveiled to the public on October 7. A period framed copy of A Map of the most Inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina (1775), often referred to as the Fry-Jefferson Map after its creators Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, now hangs on the room’s western wall.

Fry, a mathematics professor at the College of William and Mary, and surveyor Jefferson (President Thomas Jefferson’s father) produced what was considered the definitive map of the Virginia colony and later the preeminent map of the state until the publication of Bishop James Madison’s map in 1807. A Map of the most Inhabited part of Virginia was commissioned in 1750 by Governor Lewis Burwell in an effort to survey state boundaries, and was the first map to reflect surveys of the unsettled southern and western edges of the state as well as natural features like river systems and the Appalachian Mountain chain. First published in London in 1753, the map sold widely throughout the eighteenth century.

The Fry-Jefferson Map is the most recent map installation at Montpelier. It joins Bishop James Madison’s A Map of Virginia (1807) and S. J. Neale’s A Map of the country between Albemarle Sound and Lake Erie (1787) both of which are located in the Library.


1. James Madison to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson's "A Map of the most Inhabited part of Virginia" hangs in Mr. Madison's Room.








Montpelier Staff