Historical maps are useful primary sources because they can give information about how people thought about places in earlier times. When looking at a map, ask questions such as “When was this map made?” and “Who created it?” and “Why was it made?” Such questions can help you learn to better interpret maps. The map below shows Sir Francis Drake's attack on Saint Augustine, Florida, on May 28 and May 29, 1586.
Source: State Archives of Florida.
Baptista Boazio, an Italian cartographer, or mapmaker, worked in London. He made this engraved, hand-colored map in 1589. It was just one of a series of maps he created to show Sir Francis Drake's explorations in the New World. Boazio made the Sir Francis Drake maps for Walter Bigges, a writer who used the maps to illustrate his book about Sir Francis Drake. In this map, Boazio shows Sir Francis Drake's journey to the Caribbean and his attack on the Florida fort and city of St. Augustine. The many ships at the lower part of the map represent Sir Francis Drake's fleet. Historical maps often include pictures of ocean animals, such as the one that appears in the lower left-hand corner of this map.
Cartography, or mapmaking, is a specialized trade. It requires complex skills such as drawing, measuring, and calculating. Most mapmakers worked in studios, rather than aboard ships of discovery or exploration. Nonetheless, we consider maps such as this one as primary sources even though the cartographer himself was not present during the voyage. As long as the cartographer relied upon firsthand testimony from a person or people who actually visited the places shown on the map, the map is considered to be a primary source.