An excellent old color example of Pieter Schenk’s edition of the ground-breaking North America map by French master-cartographer Guillaume de l’Ilse.
Originally published in Paris in 1700, de l’Isle’s map was fundamental to the development of geographic understanding of North America in the 18th century. Its most enduring legacy is perhaps that it was the first European map to begin correcting the commonly accepted myth that California was an island. The map also constituted a new endeavor to cover all known areas of the uncharted continent, with information gleaned from French, English, Dutch, Spanish, or Italian sources. Consequently, we find detailed early renditions not only of California but also of the Great Lakes region based on the maps of Coronelli and the inclusion of critical locations in the French territories of both Florida/Louisiana (e.g. Boulaye and Biloxi) and Canada (e.g. Quebec, Fort Sorel, Tadousac, and Montreal).
Starting in the east, we find a detailed coastline from Baffin Bay down to the Spanish Main. A significant portion of the Atlantic has also been included, particularly the Sea of Sargasso and the archipelago of the Azores. This inclusion was not coincidental but rather added because among de l’Isle’s many cartographic innovations in this map was the reconfiguration of North America’s longitudinal positions, as calculated from the Azores. As a result, de l’Isle was the first mapmaker to create a printed map focussing on the Sargasso Sea.
There are many other exciting details to note along the eastern seaboard. As with most American maps from this period, de l’Isle’s map had an overtly political dimension in that authoritative maps often helped cement contested borders. We see this emphasis on the current state of borders in the depiction of English settlements along the coast. These are mainly hugging the coast and are generally confined to an area east of West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. This subtle but important emphasis on borders is also seen in the inclusion of the fort and river named Kinibeki, which despite lying well within British domain, often served as the functional border between the colonies of New England and French Acadia. The gorgeous original coloring makes this dividing line even more apparent in our specific example.
In the south, the correctly placed Mississippi Delta follows the recent explorations of Sieur de La Salle and Sieur d’Iberville. From the Gulf, the great river cuts like a spinal column through the American continent until we locate its origins in the Sioux-dominated frontier of northern Minnesota. As in the north, French dominance in Greater Florida is made palpable by the inclusion of key outposts like Sieur d’Iberville’s settlement at Bilochy (a.k.a. Fort Maurepas/Old Biloxi) and important frontier forts like Boulay (de St Esprit) and St Louis. These strongholds were established in 1699-1700, following the latest French exploration of the delta the year earlier. Thus, their inclusion on this map demonstrates how well-informed he was as a cartographer. Further to the west, we find the Rio Bravo delta, which extends far inland, reaching the villages of interior New Mexico.
The west coast is in many ways even more exciting than the east and south, partly because this region of the Earth remained so poorly understood by Europeans at this time. North America’s western coast extends from the Panama isthmus in the south to Cape Mendocino in the north. The latter is clearly labeled and only constitutes the westernmost bluff of California. It lies far enough north to cement the notion that California was a peninsula rather than an island. Beyond Cape Mendocino, one ventures into the vast unexplored frontier of the Pacific Northwest.
Schenk published this edition in Amsterdam only eight years after de l’Isle’s original, reflecting the map’s landmark importance. While Schenk may have appealed to Dutch and English markets, French interest remained just as steady; thus, we see Pierre Mortier of Paris also issuing a new edition of de l’Isle’s map the same year as Schenk. Today, scholars studying the history of geographic awareness consider de l’Isle’s map (and by proxy Schenk’s and Mortier’s new editions of it) a milestone in the history of cartography. It was a map that would prove pivotal in defining cartography’s role in the new century, and it is not surprising that a renowned expert like R.V. Tooley refers to it as ‘a foundation’ in his French Mapping of the Americas (1966).
Neatline’s copy of this seminal map is particularly attractive. And not just because it has been preserved in excellent condition, but because it retains a vivid original coloring that brings the map to life.