Bellin, Carte des Lacs du Canada
Published 1744, Paris
Size: 17.5" X 11.25"
An important rare map of the Great Lakes by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, the pre-eminent cartographer of the 18th Century. This map was published in François Xavier de Charlevoix's Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France in 1744. It has been argued that Charlevoix's history proved exceptionally influential as one of the most comprehensive works on North America predating the Seven Year’s War in 1756-63.
As such, this map, would have been of particular interest to Europeans as it comprised an important fur trading area, especially at Michilimackinac near one of the oldest missions located at St. Ignace that was explored in 1720 by Charlevoix on behalf of his Jesuit order .
It has been further argued that Bellin’s map “dominated the cartography of the Great Lakes region for a number of years” due to its marked improvement on the series of maps that tenuously began with the likes of Champlain, Boisseau, Du Val and Sanson to depict this vital and strategic region to the interior of the fur trade. The region’s importance, to cartographers and explorers alike, was not only important because of its association with the fur trade, but also because of the possibility of the Great Lakes being part of an internal river system that led to the Pacific. This idea of an internal river system to the Pacific began in earnest in 1703 when Baron de Lahontan famously published Carte que les Gnacistaress ont Dessiné… that drew a fictitious “Rivière Longue” emanating from West from the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi. Lahontan’s work was given credence when it was picked up by Guillaume de l’Isle in his landmark map Carte du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France et des Découvertes qui y ont été faites…published the same year. Although De l’Isle was the first cartographer “to present the whole of the Great Lakes correctly” it was Bellin who improved the configurations of the Great Lakes and added considerable details such as native villages, forts, trading posts, rivers, etc., from the information gathered from Charlevoix in his explorations of the region in 1720. It should be noted, however, that Bellin erroneously added the fictitious islands of Pontchartrain, Philippeux, Maurepas and St.Anne in Lake Superior that continued to be published for many years afterwards. It has been argued that these fictitious islands “nonetheless significantly influenced the structuring of post-Revolutionary War borders between British Canada and the fledgling United States.” In fact, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 used Philippeaux Island as a marker for the border between the former belligerents.
Bellin’s map therefore is important not only for the cartography of this vital region, but serves as a reminder of the power of the cartographer to enlighten as well as to err. Its importance also lies in that the region depicted had both military and economic significance in the early days of European colonization.
(Sources: Kershaw 947)