- News & Events
- Browse Maps
- Exhibits and Reference
- Contact Us
As maritime exploration and discovery gave way to settlement and conquest, details of the coast and the vast interior areas of the New World were gradually uncovered. Continuing surveys were motivated by desire for conquest, potential economic gain from the land and its resources, compulsion to convert the heathen savages, or pure intellectual curiosity. Whatever the reason, the result was increasing knowledge of the land. Detailed regional maps were produced to document and disseminate this knowledge, to advance territorial claims, and to promote settlement and development. The following are examples of some of the early regional maps of North and South America.
This map of New France was made by its founder, Samuel de Champlain, the first scientific cartographer of the northeastern region of North America. His detailed and remarkably accurate map is based largely on his own extensive explorations and meticulous observations of the River and Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy, and the coasts of northern New England. The only significant inaccuracies are in the renditions of Lakes Ontario and Erie, taken from Algonquian accounts and sketches. Inscriptions in the upper corners explain that the map was made to facilitate navigation "according to French compasses which vary to the northeast." The panel at the lower left center contains Champlain's own observations of the declinations of the compass at various locations in the region. The engraver David Pelletier has included an inset at the lower left containing four Indian figures. As was frequently the case in portrayals by European artists, the Indians resemble Europeans except for their scanty garments and native utensils. Other illustrations are more faithful and include native habitations, various forms of marine life, land animals, and a virtual catalog of fruits, vegetables, and other plant life. Strangely lacking are two of the most important indigenous crops, maize and tobacco, both of which are mentioned in Champlain's accompanying narrative.
Carte Geographique de la Nouvelle Franse Faictte par le Sievr de Champlain Saint Tongois Cappitaine Ordinaire Pour le Roy en la Ma-Rine, faict len 1612.
Samuel de Champlain.
Captain John Smith was in many respects Champlain's English counterpart. Both were zealous explorers, perceptive observers, prolific writers, and vigorous promoters of their respective nations' colonial enterprises. While Champlain was exploring the northeast, Smith was similarly engaged in the region surrounding the first permanent English settlement of Jamestown; both recorded their discoveries in astonishingly accurate maps made in 1612. Smith participated in early exploratory surveys of the land and its resources in accordance with instructions from the sponsoring London Company. A persistent belief in a narrowing of the North American continent — the Verrazano misconception portrayed in the Munster map of 1540 (map No. 6) — prompted Smith's westward probing in search of a nearby Pacific Ocean and easy water route to the Orient. Later expeditions were undertaken to obtain food and provisions for the hard pressed colonists, either by bartering with the Indians or by force. During one of these ven¬tures, Smith was captured and brought before the great Chief Powhatan for judgment. His. life was spared, according to Smith's narrative, by the intercession of the chief's daughter Pocahontas. The map is oriented with West at the top. The limits of Smith's extensive explorations are indicated by small crosses; "the rest," according to Smith's account, "was had by information of the Savages, and are set downe according to their instructions." The inset of Powhatan's lodge in the upper left corner contains a figure of Powhatan modeled after De Bry's engraving of the Indian idol "Kewas" or "Kiwasa," and the statuesque Indian chieftain in the upper right is also taken from De Bry. In both cases the De Bry images were copied from watercolor drawings of John White, an artist on the ill-fated Roanoke expeditions of the 1580's.
Captain John Smith.
London, 1624 (First state, 1612). Engraving.
Culiacane Americae Regionis Descriptio Hispaniolae, CDubae, Aliarumque Insularm Circumiacientium, Delineatio.
Antwerp, 1579. Engraving.
These maps depict the principal regions of Spanish colonial activity in the late fifteenth century. La Florida is the earliest printed map of what is now the southeastern region of the United States and the first to show De Soto's explorations. The other maps reveal hitherto closely guarded information regarding Spanish discoveries including, incredibly, the gold-producing regions of Peru and Colombia. One of Ortelius' prime sources, Hieronymo Chaves, was hydrographer to the king of Spain, and thus had access to the secret reports and charts of Spanish explorers.
La Florida Guastecan Peruviae Auriferae Regionis Typus
Antwerp, 1584. Engraving.
By the time this map was made (1635) the geography of the Caribbean basin was well known to the European maritime powers. This decorative example of the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography depicts the coastline from Chesapeake Bay to the mouth of the Orinoco River, along with a detailed representation of the offshore islands.
Insulae American ae in Oceano Septentrionali,cum Terns adiacentibus.
Amsterdam, 1635. Engraving.
This group of maps depicts several South American regions as they were known in the seventeenth century. As might be expected, geographical detail is largely confined to the areas and major inland waterways. The map of Guiana (Number 18) is of particular interest for its depiction of the fictitious large salt lake "Parime Lacus," with the legendary city of gold, "El Dorado," on its north-western shore. The descriptive text from the English edition of the Mercator-Hondius atlas in which this map appeared describes the topography and climate, the natives and their customs, and the fauna and flora. In the final paragraph of the text, the tale is told of a Spanish explorer who is said to have visited El Dorado. The last two maps are noteworthy for their portrayal of natives and their activities.
London, 1671. Engraving.
17. Terra Firma et Novum Regnum Granatense et Popayan
Amsterdam, . Engraving.
18. Venezuela, cum parte Australi Novae Andalusiae
Amsterdam, 1630/40. Engraving.
19. Guiana sive Amazonum Regio.
Amsterdam, 1633/36. Engraving.
20. Paraguay Provid. Rio de la Plata cum regionibus adiacentibus Tucuman et Sta.Cruz de la Sierra
Amsterdam, 1633. Engraving.
21. Tabula Magellenica Qua Tierrae del Fuego
Amsterdam, c. 1652. Engraving.
This is an example of a Dutch sea chart of the type actually used for navigation in American waters in the late seventeenth century. It is oriented with west at the top and it covers the region from Labrador to the mouth of the Amazon River, an area included in the "West Indies" as the term was originally used [to distinguish the New World from the East Indies]. The radiating lines represent compass courses and are called "rhumb lines" or "loxodromes." The profuse coastal detail and lack of interior information are typical of sea charts.
Pas kaart Van West Indien...
Johannes van Keulen.
Amsterdam, 1682. Engraving.