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1755 John Mitchell Map

  • A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America by John Mitchell, 1755
This 1755 map claimed unsettled western lands as British territory. During the French and Indian War, the British fought the French for these lands.
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A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America by John Mitchell, 1755

John Mitchell's 1755 map, A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America, shows the boundaries for Great Britain's North American colonies. Mitchell was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, in 1711. After attending the University of Edinburgh and becoming a doctor, he returned to Virginia and settled in Urbanna. Because of his poor health, Mitchell returned to England in 1746 and entered the intellectual circles of London. Shortly after his return to London, he began working on the map for the Board of Trade. He researched the original colony charters in the Board's archives to learn the boundaries of the North American colonies. Mitchell died in England in 1768.

In 1754, a year prior to the map's publication, disputes between the French and the English over the possession of land in the Ohio River Valley broke out as armed combat in the colonies, beginning the French and Indian War (known as the Seven Years' War in Europe). This map is important because it reaffirmed all western land as English territory, despite French claims to the contrary. The southern colonies are shown without western boundaries. Great Britain won the French and Indian War, and France ceded land east of the Mississippi River to the British. Virginians were excited about this victory, because they believed it would allow them to spread westward. To prevent another war with the Indians, the king issued the Proclamation of 1763, forbidding British colonists to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. The British government had gone deeply into debt because of the French and Indian War and did not have the resources or desire for another war.

Despite the Proclamation of 1763 and because the decree was hard to enforce, colonists illegally settled in the new territory. The Proclamation and illegal settlement angered elite Virginians, many of whom were land speculators. George Mason, Patrick Henry, and George Washington were all land speculators who, without the legal title to the land, were unable to sell or rent it to settlers. Colonists moving to the western land did not have legal ownership of it, either; they lived there illegally and for free. Virginia land speculators fought against the Proclamation of 1763 until 1774. Their anger over the Proclamation and the limitations it put on expansion and profit added to their growing dislike of British rule.

For Educators

Questions

1. For whom was this map created?
2. What did John Mitchell use to determine the boundaries of the colonies?
3. For what event was this map a response?

Further Discussion

1. How did this map help England claim western territory during the French and Indian War?
2. How would this map, the French and Indian War, and the Proclamation of 1763 affect Native Americans living in the western territories? Were the British justified in restricting settlement in the western territories?

Suggested Reading

Stephenson, Richard W., and Marianne M. McKee, eds. Virginia in Maps: Four Centuries of Settlement, Growth, and Development. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2000, pp. 52–53, 81.

Holton, Woody. “The Ohio Indians and the Coming of the American Revolution in Virginia.” Journal of Southern History 60, no. 3 (August 1994): 453–478.