Partie Meridionale de la Riviere de Mississippi, et ses Environs dans l'Amérique Septentrionale.
NICOLAS DE FER
A rare and important map of the Mississippi River Valley from the Gulf of Mexico to the lower reaches of the Great Lakes region. This map was separately issued and was part of a four sheet wall map that was commissioned by the French Controller General, John Law, to promote the Compagnie d’Occident. Law’s Compagnie d’Occident was part of scheme, that eventually led to the Mississippi Bubble, were the French treasury attempted to promote land sales in french controlled Louisiana, and thus help raise funds to offset its mounting debts following the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). In essence, John Law hoped to stimulate economic activity through the increase in the money supply and a subsequent reduction in public debt by recapitalizing the debt with the issuance of new shares into the Compagnie du Mississippi that was originally formed in 1684. The Compagnie du Mississippi, one of the first corporate structures to be quoted on the nascent Bourse de Paris, would be renamed Compagnie d’Occident and would acquire and merge with the Compagnie des Indes Orientales and la Compagnie de Chine, amongst others, and thus create a de facto monopoly on foreign trade.
In order for Law’s scheme to work, he stoked investor interest into the Company by exaggerating the economic potential of the Mississippi River Valley region which had been ceded to France by Spain following the cessation of the War of the Spanish Succession. Nicolas de Fer’s map, which was originally published in 1715, was re-issued with the current state of 1718, and made important updates that highlighted the prospective nature of the region, as well as incorporating details and the cartography derived from the manuscript work of Father François le Maire and Louis Jucherau Saint-Denis. De Fer went so far as to rename Florida from Presque Isle de la Floride to Presque Isle de la Louisiane and thus increase the size and portrayal of Louisiana which was originally claimed by the discoveries of René-Robert Cavalier de La Salle in 1682 and 1684 as well as those of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in 1698.
However, with the excessive creation of the money supply and the resulting devaluation of the currency by the Banque Générale Privée that had been created in 1716 as part of Law’s scheme, coupled with the unrealizable profit expectations of the Mississippi River Valley, inflationary pressures mounted and led to the Mississippi Bubble and to the eventual economic crash in 1720 when the Banque Générale was no longer able to convert paper money into coins.
De Fer’s map thus offers an interesting glimpse into the nefarious nature of the delusion of crowds and the herd mentality sometimes associated with unrealistic promises of riches backed by airy foundations in the deepest recesses of Louisiana. That being said, De Fer’s map, which helped stoke the fires of investment greed, also allowed for the human capital, in the form of dreamy eyed colonists, to seek out new opportunities in the New World. It has been estimated that of the 700 colonist present in 1718, 800 more would be shipped to the region the following year by the Company d’Occident in the hopes of attaining success. As such, economic crashes based on airy bubbles and the misappropriation of capital, sometimes creates the very conditions for future development to occur in earnest based on strong foundations.