John Speed, An Epitome of Mr. John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (1676)

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John Speed, An Epitome of Mr. John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain. London, 1676.  Folger 236- 024q

John Speed (1552?-1629) was one of the most important early English cartographers. His Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was first published in 1612 and many times thereafter, both as a folio-sized volume and eventually as a smaller book, called An Epitome of . . . [the] Theatre, easy to hold in the hand or carry in a pouch. It contains county maps as well as descriptive text to go with each.


The 1676 edition seen here importantly included for the first time maps of the New World, including New England, New Netherlands “now called New-York,” Carolina, Jamaica and Barbadoes. The map of New England and New York shows part of Maryland (on the lower left) but not yet Pennsylvania.

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A woman named Sarah Walker noted the omission in 1826 when she recorded the presence of this book in her library.

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She writes: “Sarah Walker has just now (May 15th 1826) re[?] that at the time of the publication of this Book, it could be little suspected it would be preserved in a Library to be collected in a country not yet known by name. Pennsylvania was not then granted to its great and good Founder.”

This “Founder” was, of course, William Penn ( 1644-1718), son of Admiral Penn to whom Charles II owed an old debt. In 1681 the King paid off this debt through a land-grant of about 40,000 square acres south of New York and west of Delaware to the Admiral’s son. By this time, William Penn had joined the new religious sect of Quakers, and he established his colony as a place of religious freedom for all.

Sarah Walker may have been Sarah Miller Walker (1799-1874), a single woman, who lived at Woodburne in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Her commonplace book is in the Lamb-Booth-Miller papers at Swarthmore College. During the 1820s and 30s, she appears to have corresponded with her friend Deborah Norris Logan from another Quaker family. (These papers are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Note the word “Logan” written on the title page of the Speed volume, as seen above. It is hoped that further research comparing the handwriting of the inscription with that in the commonplace book will confirm the attribution.

Source: Folger 236- 024q. All photos by Georgianna Ziegler.

One thought on “John Speed, An Epitome of Mr. John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (1676)

  1. Pingback: William Penn, et al., The Harmony of Divine and Heavenly Doctrines (1696) – Early Modern Female Book Ownership

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