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The Mitchell Map – the Most Important Map in American History

The Urbanna links to the making, conserving and displaying of the Mitchell Map, the most important map in American history

It was in 1979, in anticipation of the Town of Urbanna’s 300th anniversary celebration, that years of research by town resident and Bank of Middlesex employee Jessie DeBusk paid off in the form of the purchase of the most important map in American history.

Traveling to an antique dealer’s home in Pennsylvania, DeBusk and other members of the Urbanna Tricentennial Committee secured a first edition, third printing copy of the 1755 Michell Map for $7,500. The map hung for years in the Bank of Middlesex building.

Mitchell was born in nearby Lancaster in 1711 and studied medicine in Scotland before opening a practice in Urbanna in 1734. He moved to London in 1746 before publishing his “Map of the British and French Dominion in North America.”

The map is hailed for its detailed accuracy and was used to negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the Revolutionary War, as well as in subsequent diplomatic efforts. The map was used as recently as 1980 to settle a fishing boundary dispute between the U.S. and Canada off the coast of Maine.

While the map that is approximately five feet by seven feet hung in the bank building for decades, it had deteriorated to the point that it needed detailed conservation measures to save and preserve it.

Under the expert eyes and techniques of the Richmond Conservators of Works on Paper, where Wendy Cowan and Mary Studt labored for 18 months on the restoration work.

The conservation measures included washing the map, removing soiling and repairing earlier restoration efforts. Cowan and Studt told NPR in 2014 for a story for Community Idea Stations that it took more than 600 hours of work to conserve the map.

Cowan even told NPR that she had such an intimate knowledge of the map that she dreamed about it.

The map is testament to the power of dreams — the dream of a colonial doctor to make a definitive map of North America, the dream of a young colony to achieve its independence and the dream of a small town to acquire a copy of the most important map in American history and hang it on a wall for all to see.

To learn about the Mitchell Map and its history, we recommend visiting these links below: