Carte Particuliere du Fleuve Saint Louis Dressee sur les Lieux avec les noms des Sauvages du Pais
An intriguing and very informative rare map of the Great Lakes region that encompasses the Northern reaches of the Mississippi, Hudson's Bay, and the Gulf of the St-Lawrence. This rare map appeared in Henri Chatelain's Atlas Historique that was first published in 1719. The Atlas Historique has been described as "an ambitious and beautifully presented work... intended for the general public, fascinated in the early eighteenth century by the recently conquered colonies and the new discoveries.”
Chatelain’s map is derived from Baron Lahontan’s important Carte Generale de Canada that was initially published in 1703. It has been argued that Lahontan’s map “is the first map of Canada that was generally available to the public, and was one that defined, at least for the southern and eastern parts of the country, the fur-trading routes.” However, it has also been remarked that Lahontan’s work was somewhat fanciful based on native claims that could have been pure fabrications. That being said, it should be noted that Lahontan was also basing his depictions of the Great Lakes region on actual travels he made to the upper Mississippi River valley in 1688 whilst leading French forces in their conflicts with the Iroquois Nations. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain whether Lahontan’s distorted depictions of the region are the result of misunderstanding or wilful deceit.
Another salient aspect of Chatelain’s map is the information that borders the cartographic image. The different lists record the Natives tribes, their locations, the languages spoken and their tribal affiliations. They also describe the different fauna, trees and plants that could be found in this bountiful country. Furthermore, furs and their trade value with different items are catalogued giving the viewer an appreciation of the socio-economic context in which early exploration took place. Furthermore, it is interesting to mention that the map has a note describing the limits of the French territory which followed the route used by different native tribes, such as the Illinois, when going to war with the Iroquois near the Mississippi River valley.
It is also important to note that Chatelain’s Atlas Historique and the maps relating to North America in particular were published at the height of the speculative frenzy that has been described as the Mississippi Bubble. The Mississippi Bubble was a financial and stock market bubble that originated in France as a result of the machinations of John Law. In order to increase French finances, as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession, Law devised a scheme where the Banque Générale, with the power to issue paper money was established in conjunction with the formation of the Compagine d’Occident in 1717 which later became the Compagnie des Indes in 1719. In essence, shares of the Compagnie d’Occident, with its monopoly over the riches of the Mississippi territory were sold to the public. When hard economic facts collided with hopeful greed, a financial collapse ensued but not before the public’s appetite for information, including various books a maps, was sated.
As such, Chatelain’s Map is a reminder both of the potential of the Great Lakes region and dangers that come with capitalizing on new ventures in the New World.
(Sources: Swaen, Henri Chatelain's and his " Atlas Historique”, Kershaw#307and 289.)