A View of the World from Madison's Library


James Madison is often remembered as a contemplative scholar, a political philosopher, and an ardent life-long learner. Like most educated men of his generation, he maintained a sizeable reference collection, including nearly 4,000 published volumes, stacks of significant newspapers, and other materials. To enhance his study of national, international, and state politics as well as his interest in the natural world, Madison often referred to sources beyond text: maps and globes.

This fall, members of the Montpelier research team paired with map experts to identify the core maps that comprised Madison’s collection, which contained most of the important maps of Virginia from the colonial and early statehood period, as well as significant national and international maps. In sum, the collection speaks to his curiosity, intellect, and resources, and was among the most extensive of his peers.

Based on historical context, we have hung a reproduction of “A Map of Virginia formed from Actual Surveys and the latest as well as the most accurate observations” on rollers above the mantel in Madison’s Presidential Library, a space he used for scholarship during his retirement. Published in Richmond in 1807, “A Map of Virginia…” is commonly referred to as “Bishop Madison’s Map.” As president of The College of William and Mary, President Madison’s cousin Bishop James Madison (1749-1812) was tasked with selecting Virginia’s Surveyor General, and in this capacity recognized the need for an updated state map. Until the publication of “A Map of Virginia…” the most widely referenced state map was Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson’s 1753 “Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia.” Bishop Madison’s map is further significant as the first Virginia map to be compiled, engraved, and published in the Commonwealth – not in Great Britain. The cartouche in the upper right corner of the map is a view of the city of Richmond as seen across the James River.

Documentary evidence confirms that Madison owned a copy of “A Map of Virginia…” The title appears on an undated list of statues and maps at Montpelier compiled by John Payne Todd. Placing Bishop Madison’s map over the mantel indicates Madison’s pride for both his native state as well as for the work of his cousin and frequent correspondent.

Hanging in the southeastern corner of the room is a framed reproduction of “A Map of the country between Albemarle Sound and Lake Erie, comprehending the whole of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.” Thomas Jefferson contracted surveyor S.J. Neale to prepare the map for inclusion in his 1787 work Notes on the State of Virginia. The map is largely based on Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson’s 1753 “Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia” and Thomas Hutchin’s “A New Map of the Western Parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina…” published in the midst of the Revolution in 1778. From Paris in 1787, Jefferson sent Madison one hundred copies of “A Map of the country between Albemarle Sound and Lake Erie…” to sell and distribute to Philadelphia booksellers. He instructed Madison to sell the map for “5/6 of a dollar” in Virginia.[1] In the same crate, Jefferson also sent two copies of Notes on the State of Virginia, including the private French printing as well as an English copy; Jefferson hoped that the income generated from the sale of the maps would defray expenses he incurred printing Notes on the State of Virginia.

The geographical and thematic diversity of Madison’s map collection points to his significant role in national and world affairs. We believe Madison also likely owned globes, as most men in his position did during his lifetime. Because we have no extant documentary or inventory evidence of the type of globes used at Montpelier, we drew from the collections of his contemporaries as well as from correspondence between Madison and John Addison, a British globe dealer, in 1825. Addison wrote, “About two years ago, a gentleman called at my shop, as he said commissioned by you, to know what were the largest Globes published […] I accordingly take the liberty of informing you that the Terraqueous Globe is completed & has given the highest satisfaction, it having they say far exceeded our promises in the Prospectus. The Celestial will be done about Christmas.”[2] The J. &W. Cary firm was one of the most prolific globe-making firms in Great Britain during Madison’s lifetime; it is likely that Addison, globe maker by Royal Appointment to King George IV, worked with the Cary brothers and possibly sold their gores—the maps affixed to globe balls, adapted to fit a spherical shape.

Using this correspondence and detailed research about the nineteenth century globe market, we have acquired a custom pair of reproduction globes with reproduction period maps. Both are 21 inch balls featuring colored gores on mahogany stands with brass castors—all copied from period originals. The celestial map shows constellations depicting mythical beasts with a cartouche reading “Made & sold by J. & W. Cary March 1829.” The terrestrial globe features discoveries made by Captain Cook in Australia and Captain Vancouver in North America. The cartouche is dated by Cary in 1815 with additions in 1825. While we do not have definitive evidence of globes with Madison-family provenance, it is very likely that James Madison, Sr. owned one or more globes, which would have been used to educate his children in geography. Similarly, Madison Jr. would have come across globes and extensive map collections during his primary and collegiate education.


1 Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 17, 1787, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

2 J. Addison & Co. to James Madison, July 29, 1825, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Bishop Madison's Map

Celestial Globe






Montpelier Staff