Carte de la Louisiane cours de Mississippi et Pais Voisins
An important and rare map of the Mississippi Valley from the Gulf of Mexico in the South to the Great Lakes region in North, by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, the pre-eminent cartographer of the 18th Century. The map was originally published in François Xavier de Charlevoix's Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France in 1744. It has been argued that Charlevoix's Histoire et description générale proved influential as one of the most comprehensive works on North America prior to the Seven Year’s War 1756-63. As such, this map would have been of particular interest to Europeans as it would have depicted a region where European powers, notably France, Spain and Britain, would eventually compete and clash for supremacy and control of the vast riches of the North American continent.
Bellin’s map is based on
Guillaume De L'Isle's influential map of 1718. However, it has also been argued that Bellin’s map “offers a wealth of new material throughout” thus making this example worthy of study. Some of the new material includes the drawing of new sites of the various fortifications and native villages, as well as new depictions for the Great Lakes region and Florida and corrections to the Ohio and Wabash Rivers.
The map also provides an important reminder of the different approaches between the French and the British in the colonization and exploration of North America. Bellin depicts the region from the Appalachians in the East to the Rivière du Nord (Rio Grande) in the West including Texas and New Mexico in the South as being part of the French territory commonly know as La Louisiane. Much of the Louisiana territory is based on land claims for the French Crown made by René-Robert de La Salle during his various expeditions in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys in the mid to late 1600’s. In stark contrast, the English colonies are relegated to the Appalachians and the Eastern sea board. Whereas, the English concentrated their efforts to exploring maritime routes to Asia via the Northwest or Northeast Passage, the French focused their efforts in finding a river route through the interior of the North American continent. As such, Charlevoix, who was a Jesuit missionary, was commissioned to enquire in his travels, which would later be published in his Histoire et description générale, as to the possible existence of a Western Sea and inland water routes to the Pacific. The French Crown also became interested in the region as early as 1700 for future colonization and settlements to counter balance the growing power of the English colonies to the East.
It has also been observed that the map offers an interesting insight into the different relationship that existed between the French and British towards Native Americans. Whereas the Native presence in the English colonies is sparse, the french territory in La Louisiane depicts many Native villages. With a vast territory to administer, it was imperative for the French to maintain peaceful co-existance with the Native population not only economic reasons, but for defensive and survival purposes.
Bellin’s map is thus of interest as it helps in the understanding of some of the forces that helped shape the socio-political landscape of the interior of the North American continent in an age of conflict and exploration.
(Sources: This map is offered for sale co-jointly with Geographicus Rare Antique Maps.)