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Mitchell Map appraised for $575,000; Urbanna paid $7,500 for it in 1979

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A 1755 map of Colonial America, a small portion of which is pictured above, was purchased in 1979 by the Urbanna Tricentennial Committee as part of the 300th celebration of the founding of the Town of Urbanna. The John Mitchell Map is being restored and will soon hang in the Urbanna Visitors Center at the Old Tobacco Warehouse.

by Larry Chowning

The year 1980 marked the 300th anniversary of the Town of Urbanna. Three hundred years prior in 1680, the Virginia General Assembly had approved an Act of Cohabitation.

That year, King Charles II of England encouraged Virginia Governor Thomas Culpeper, the Baron of Thoresby, to urge the State Assembly in Jamestown to encourage Virginia colonists to create towns. Culpeper brought forth the King’s message that no colony had ever thrived until towns were developed and “resolved as soon as storehouses and conveniences can be provided to prohibit ships trading here to load and unload but at certain fixed places.”

There were 19 town sites created on paper throughout the colony and one of those was land on the western bank of the creek owned by Ralph Wormeley of Rosegill—later to become the Town of Urbanna and Urbanna Creek.

As part of the 300th anniversary, in 1979 the Urbanna Town Council officially appointed a 300th Anniversary Tricentennial Committee, and charged it with planning and overseeing a year-long celebration. Jessie DeBusk and the late Stuart Chewning were co-chairs of the committee.

From the work of that committee came the first Urbanna history book, “Urbanna A Port Town in Virginia 1680-1980”; a historical community play performed behind the Old Tobacco Warehouse; the reproducing and selling of replicas of a colonial Rosegill wine bottle; and the purchase of a colonial map by an obscure American mapmaker named John Mitchell.

DeBusk worked for the Bank of Middlesex as assistant vice president at the time, and in 1975 bank president Gene Paulette encouraged DeBusk to research history of the bank as part of the bank’s 75th anniversary. Through that research, she learned a great deal about John Mitchell.

Through research, DeBusk determined Mitchell practiced medicine in Urbanna from 1734 to 1745, and lived on “Physick Lane” on lots in town that now include the post office, the old Tomlinson home (since torn down), and the ABC store “right in the center of town,” she said.

DeBusk also learned that Mitchell had international fame as a mapmaker. He is known as the man who made the “Map of the British and French Dominion,” often considered the most important map in American history. The Mitchell Map was used as the cartographic document consulted by Great Britain and United States officials at Paris, France, in 1782 and 1783 while negotiating the treaty that terminated the Revolutionary War and recognized the independence of the United States. The map determined the official boundaries of the 13 original American Colonies.

Some years later, in 1790, Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, questioned who had drawn the Mitchell Map. None other than Benjamin Franklin, a longtime friend of Mitchell, made it clear to Jefferson and others that “I now can assure you that I am perfectly clear in the remembrance that the map we used in tracing the boundaries was brought to the Treaty by the commissioners from England and that it was the same that was published by Mitchell 20 years before.”

“During the early stages of planning the tricentennial we started discussing what should be done to celebrate our 300 years,” said DeBusk. “I mentioned to Mr. Paulette that we might consider purchasing a Mitchell Map, if we could find one.

“He encouraged it and the search began,” said DeBusk. “After two years of searching, Mrs. Parks Rouse in Williamsburg found W. Graham Arader III, a dealer in rare books and maps who had a Mitchell Map, and who wanted to sell it for $7,500. Arader indicated it was a first edition, third impression of the map.

Recently, the town decided to have the map reframed and preserved. When it was taken to the frame shop in Richmond, it was suggested that the map receive an “official” appraisal. It was appraised by Turner C. Johnson Jr. of Richmond at $560,000, and after full conservation treatment is completed, it will be worth $575,000, his appraisal states.

The map is currently in Richmond being re-framed and preserved, and when returned it will hang in the Town’s Visitors Center in the Old Tobacco Warehouse on historic Virginia Street.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 03.13.2013

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