Map #48 in TBHC’s map exhibition — the New Map of East Florida — is important for several reasons. First, it’s one of only two pieces in the entire exhibit that is actually part of TBHC’s own collection. But it’s also unique in that there are only three known copies of this map in the world, and the other two reside in the British Library. It was drawn in 1767 by William Stork, one of many British surveyors and cartographers at the time of the British era in Florida (1763-1783), and is likely a copper engraving because the plate marks can be seen.
You might wonder why this map’s title refers to East Florida when the west coast is plainly visible. The reason is that soon after the British took possession of Florida they split the territory into two colonies: East Florida, which encompassed only the peninsula of Florida, with its capital in St. Augustine; and West Florida, which included a Panhandle that extended all the way to the Mississippi River.
Printed four years after the transfer of Florida to England, this broad-purpose map would have been an early attempt by the British to conceptualize what they owned in East Florida. The British ultimately wanted colonists to migrate to their new possessions so this map would have served the general purpose of illustrating the new territory. “Although there are some neat notations on the map,” says Rodney Kite-Powell, “there really wasn’t much to highlight at that time. Plus, it wasn’t very accurate. There’s a mountain range in the middle of Florida, Tampa Bay is in the wrong place, and Hillsborough Bay hadn’t been named yet; Stork labeled it ‘Spirito Santo (Holy Spirit) Bay.’ But the east coast is well done. Stork did the best he could, and actually…it’s an attractive map and phenomenal that he got as much right as he did”
Like most events in history, it’s the anecdotes that pique the greatest interest. As was mentioned, cartographer William Stork drew the map and he dedicated it to The Right Honourable the Earl of Hillsborough —the first Lord Hillsborough — for whom the Hillsborough River and Bay were later named. “But here’s the thing,” notes Rodney,” Lord Hillsborough was never given any land in Florida, nor did he ever come to Florida, or to any of the colonies.” Why, then, was this map dedicated to the earl, and why were places named after him? Because at that time the Earl Lord Hillsborough, who lived in Ireland, was Secretary of State for the British colonies and mapmakers in England were always on the lookout for ways to curry favor with their higher-ups. (Another example is Egmont Key, named for the Earl of Egmont.)
And indeed, Lord Hillsborough was such an important man in his day that many locations in the U.S. were named after him (i.e. Hillsborough, N.C., Hillsborough, N.H., Hillsboro Inlet, an abbreviated version). “There are all kinds of Hillsboroughs!” declares Rodney, “but remember, there was no Hillsborough County until 1834, which was named years later after the river and the bay.”
Another interesting story about Lord Hillsborough involves Benjamin Franklin who, before the revolution in about 1762, was sent to Ireland to meet with the British Secretary of State/earl. At that time, Franklin was on the fence about whether or not the colonies should rise up against the British. However, after spending just a short time with the earl, Franklin realized that if this guy was the one in charge, there was no choice but to revolt! And that’s the message he brought back when he returned home.
Now the Hillsborough story takes a more modern turn. In the 1950s, the Sixth (or Seventh) Earl of Hillsborough and his wife visited Tampa during Gasparilla and it was then that they presented the New Map of East Florida to Hillsborough County, in appreciation of the county being named for their family. Then some 50 years later, in about 2000, the then-current Earl of Hillsborough, a 45-year-old man named Nick Downshire, was planning a trip to Florida with his family and wanted to pay a visit to Hillsborough County. “He got in touch with us,” recounts Rodney, “and we planned to show him the map, which he had never seen. But before he got here, his uncle the Marquis of Downshire had died, and that title was then conferred upon Nick. And so, Nick’s 8-year-old son became the new Earl of Hillsborough, and when the family arrived in Florida, I got to meet the new lord …a little kid! I wonder if he even remembers his visit to Hillsborough County.” -- Sara Baker, TBHC Volunteer
This article originally appeared in print in TBHC's Volunteer Voice newsletter, Issue 13, fall 2013.