Throughout the 18th century, competing empires used maps to claim territories in North America. To accomplish this, British, French, and Spanish officials sought as much information as possible about the continent’s geography. Colonial surveyors, naturalists, and Native American informants provided intelligence about the people, lands, and resources to officials who used their reports as the foundation for maps of North America.

Though maps seem to show stable boundaries and territorial claims, they represent people, objects, and borders in motion and hide the instability of empire. The mapped boundaries between empires meant little to the people who lived within them, particularly Native Americans, whose claim to and knowledge of the land predated European settlement. Nonetheless, the knowledge that maps contained made them important tools of colonization—and rebellion.