Documenting the World of Outlander #5: Mapping Colonial North Carolina

[This post was written by Alison Thurman and Josh Hager, Reference Archivists]

This blog is intended as a “bonus feature” for fans of Outlander who want to explore the world of Jamie and Claire through original documents housed at the State Archives of North Carolina. SPOILERS for the first 9 episodes of Season 4!

Outlander, the hit series from Starz, has officially arrived in colonial North Carolina. This season, Jamie and Claire will traverse the state from Wilmington to the mountains. The State Archives of North Carolina will join them on this journey as we showcase documents that provide a window into their world. Welcome to our biweekly series, Documenting the World of Outlander, wherein each new entry in our series will focus on one topic that appears on screen in Outlander.

With a few weeks left to go in Season 4, Jamie and Claire have now traveled from the bustling colonial port of Wilmington through Cross Creek and up to Fraser’s Ridge. Our intrepid adventurers have traversed the colony from ocean to mountains, seeing the varied landscapes that make North Carolina such a geographic wonder. To parallel with their journey’s end at Fraser’s Ridge, we would like to showcase our map collections to get a better handle on Jamie and Claire’s Carolina voyage.

We’ll start with a map of the Wilmington area, where Jamie and Claire first arrived in the colony in the first episode of Season 4.

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Map Collection. MC.195.W743.1743v. (Vault Collection No. 4). A plan of Wilmington scituate [sic] on the east side of the north-east branch of Cape Fear River agreable [sic] to the original survey by Jeremiah Vail, c.1743.

This map, dating to circa 1743, is the earliest map in our holdings that shows the city of Wilmington. Prepared by cartographer Jeremiah Vail, this map was the earliest plan of the city of Wilmington as laid out by the city’s proprietors in 1733. No place names, street addresses, or property owners appear on this map due to its early date. However, you can use the Cape Fear River’s placement to map out the equivalent current areas of the still-bustling port city. It’s possible that Jamie and Claire may have used a map such as this example to navigate their way through Wilmington’s streets when they first arrived in North Carolina.

Our next example takes us up the Cape Fear River to the town of Cross Creek, site of Jamie’s aunt’s plantation and the harrowing events of the second episode of Season 4.

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Map Collection. MC.195.F284.2014ma. Fayetteville, N.C. about 1770 (after Sauthier), by Dan MacMillan, 2014.

A couple of characteristics about this map should jump out at you immediately. The first idiosyncrasy is that the map shows Fayetteville, not Cross Creek. Fayetteville became an incorporation city in 1783 when Cross Creek and the neighboring town of Campbellton merged and named the new city in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. The fact that Fayetteville appears on this map rather than Cross Creek, in addition to the modern type face, is a giveaway to the second peculiarity; this map is not actually from Jamie and Claire’s time but rather is a contemporary depiction of the Fayetteville area circa 1770. Fayetteville resident Dan MacMillan painstakingly created this map of Fayetteville in 1770 using land records from the State Archives of North Carolina, including deeds and land grants. Many of the property owners shown on this map could have interacted with the Frasers as they made their way through Cross Creek. Notice that the Cape Fear River snakes right through the middle of the city, thus connecting Fayetteville to Wilmington. It should therefore come as no surprise that Fayetteville would later become one of the most prominent distribution centers in North Carolina, especially after the advent of railroads allowed Fayetteville to become a transfer point of goods from the Cape Fear River to all points inland.

We end our pictorial journey with a map of the entirety of the colony from 1770.

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Map Collection. MC.150.1770c1. A Compleat Map of North-Carolina from an actual Survey, by John Bayly, William Churton, John Abraham Collett, and Samuel Hooper (publisher), 1770.

In this map, colloquially known as “the Collett map,” we see the colony from the Atlantic to the Appalachians. Unlike earlier maps, the Collett map utilizes surveyed information to create what was in 1770 the most accurate map of the colony ever produced. The summary of the map from our online catalog MARS provides further information:

This map was prepared by Captain John Abraham Collet (1756-1789), a Swiss-born army officer and commander of Fort Johnston at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and [it] was based largely on surveys conducted by William Churton (1749-1767), surveyor of the Granville Land Office. It was engraved by John Bayly and published in London by Samuel Hooper. The map portrays all of North Carolina west to the Blue Ridge Mountains near present day Morganton. The Collet map is far more accurate and comprehensive than any previous map of North Carolina and depicts for the first time the roads and settlements in the growing western part of the colony.

From Cross Creek, Jamie and Claire would have taken the rivers and roads depicted on the Collett map as they journeyed further west toward Frasers Ridge. What modern features can you spot on this map?

If you’re interested in further map research, your best resource is NC Maps, an award-winning website collaboration between the State Archives of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Outer Banks History Center. You’ll find maps sorted by location, date, and more. Plus, you can view maps in different sizes and zoom in to the smallest detail to find that one elusive town, road, or body of water.

Now that we’ve mapped the Frasers to their new homesite, we’ll now turn our attention to a slightly more dangerous topic. Join us in our next entry as we look at piracy in the world of Outlander!