Nicholas Sanson’s Amerique Septentrionale was arguably the most influential European map of North America in the 17th century. Created under the auspices of Louis XIV, and focusing on the French Crown’s North American possessions, the map was the first to publish many features.
In the history of cartography, the map is notable as the first to publish many features of North America, as well as one of the first to use a sinusoidal projection (sometimes called Sanson-Flamsteed projection), with scale constant along a central meridian.
There are three states of the map: the first state, of which only two examples are known, which has no land to the north-west of California; the second state (our map), also quite rare, adds coastline to the north and west and eliminates a few place-names north of California; the third state is the same as the second, except that Lake Ontario has been shaded to match the other Great Lakes. It was officially published in 1658 as part Sanson’s atlas, Cartes générales de tout les parties du monde, which was France’s first comprehensive atlas, and which presaged France’s growing influence in cartography, which had been dominated by the Dutch for a century.
This work is the first atlas map to show and name several features in the Great Lakes from the Jesuit Relations, records of Jesuit missionaries that were published/written in 1649. It is the first to include Montréal, which had only become a permanent settlement in 1642. Lake Superior and Lake Ontario are first named on an atlas map and Lakes Michigan and Huron are accurately mapped for the first time.
Additionally, using the 1630 account of Spanish Father Alonso Benavides Memorial, it shows many important features in the Southwest, including Santa Fe—inappropriately placed on the Rio Grande, which is shown to flow southwest—as well as areas marking the Apache, Navajo, and Taosij (Taos).
The map still reveals some famous geographic myths that had not yet been dispelled. California is shown as an island and the map depicts a hypothetical Northwest Passage—an outlet from Hudson Bay leading to an area labeled “Mer Glaciale.” It would not be until the 1780s that the records of Samuel Hearne’s 1771 journey up the Coppermine River would be published, proving that there was no outlet from Hudson Bay leading to the Pacific. [cf. Cook’s Lost Chart]
Other features appearing on an atlas map of North America for the first time include New Amsterdam—as an island distant from coast, though in the approximately correct location—and New Sweden, the 1638 colony established on the site of what is now Wilmington, Delaware.