Friday, September 22, 2017

Musings on Selling Confederate Prints

We have recently acquired a couple of important historical prints with a Confederate theme: a portrait of Robert E. Lee and an image of a Confederate encampment. Both of these are rare, significant images, the type of prints I have always been proud to handle. However, the recent controversy related to the statues of Confederate “heroes” has given me pause to consider just how pleased I should be to be selling such prints.

Personally, I believe that the statues of Confederate figures should be removed from general public display, where they are presented as glorifications of a cause essentially based on the preservation of slavery, and put into places where they would be presented instead as historic artifacts to be understood as part of our history. That is, where they will be objects which we can learn from rather than glory in.

So, how does this belief relate to my shop selling Confederate prints to the general public? After considerable thought, I believe that it is fine to sell the images, even though they do, in their own way, present aspects or individuals of the Confederacy in a positive light.

To decide this, I looked at what I consider to be the main arguments for removing the Confederate statues from prominent public display.

  • The Confederacy was based on the belief of white supremacy, with the aim of maintaining slavery, and this should not be honored by our society or members of our society.
  • The statues are sanitized symbols of a horrible part of our nation’s history and to place them in an honored, public space ignores the evil which the Confederacy embodied.
  • While the Confederacy is a part of our nation’s history and we should not try to “erase history,” the statues are a glorification of this loathsome part of that history, not simply a recognition of its existence.
  • In almost all cases, the statues were created and erected specifically to venerate the Confederacy and to promote its concept of white supremacy. The majority were built not just after the Civil War—when most monuments related to the war were memorials to individuals—but between the 1890s and the 1950s, erected specifically in response to Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement.

So, how do these arguments apply or not apply to prints of the Confederacy? There are many prints which present a negative view of the Confederacy, and these are not at issue. The prints which are at issue are those which present aspects or figures of the Confederacy in a positive light.

Most of these prints have their genesis in the notion of “The Lost Cause of the Confederacy.” This was a conception, which appeared soon after the war, based on a wishful reimagining of the history of the Civil War in order to vindicate the actions of the Confederacy and restore some sense of pride to Southerners. The “Lost Cause” model presented the Confederate cause as a heroic one, where overwhelming odds led to the defeat of a noble South. The war was presented as a struggle to maintain the Southern way of life, which was more Christian and civilized than the greedy Northern life-style.

Part of the “Lost Cause” idea was a denial of the significance and horror of slavery. Slavery was not supposed to be central to the Confederate cause, and it was often presented as a relatively benign institution. The prints issued as part of the “Lost Cause” idea were published not as a reaction against civil rights and equality of the races, but rather an avoidance of those issues totally in an attempt to reestablish a sense of pride in a culture which had suffered abject defeat.

A great example of the “Lost Cause” concept is William D Washington’s image of the “Burial of Latane.” This painting, and the print based on it, show the burial of Captain William Latane, who was killed while on a raid with J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. In the image of Latane’s burial there is a stark absence of any men; the burial party is composed solely of women, children and “faithful” slaves, celebrating both the devotion of Southern women and their bond with the slaves. This print was issued in 1868 and would have hung in many Southern homes, allowing the population there to retain some sense of pride in their history and culture.

The print of the Confederate encampment by Conrad Wise Chapman had a similar role. Chapman, a sergeant in the Confederate army, made many sketches of his experiences in the war, including one upon which this print was based. It clearly expresses aspects of the “Lost Cause” concept, with the proud Southern soldiers going around with bare feet, while several blacks are shown happily at leisure, even while the soldiers cook or otherwise work, a highly unlikely state of affairs.

One can look at these prints not as glorifications of slavery and white supremacy, as are the statues, but rather as unfortunate attempts at Southern self-respect. The claim has been made that this is the case also for the statues, but that just is not true. A look at the history of their erection makes it clear that the original intent of the statues was to glorify the Confederacy and promote its defense of white supremacy.

However, I do not think that the original intent is the essential difference between the statues and the prints. That, I think, lies instead in the way the present impact of the prints, compared to the present impact of the statues. I do not think that all, or even most, of the citizens in the communities where the statues now stand would endorse white supremacy, but given their history and their prominent locations, where they loom over public spaces, these statues silently yet expressively make a statement that can and is read by members of those communities as an endorsement of that abhorrent position.

The prints, in contrast, are almost exclusively used in a private or an academic setting, where the reasons for their display can be understood benignly, and where there is no similar deleterious public impact like that of the statues. Now I am sure that there were instances where Confederate images were put on display in a court house or other pubic location, where they were intended to have an impact similar to the statues. If such a situation exists today, for instance with a portrait of a proud General Lee hanging in a court house, I think that is a situation which does mirror that of the statutes and the portrait should be removed.

However, most of the uses of Confederate prints are in private homes, collections, or in museums and libraries, where they do not have a general public impact. If a Confederate statue is placed in a similar setting, for instance if someone has a statue of Lee in a private home, perhaps because an ancestor fought under the general, I would argue that there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I think having the statues on display in a historic setting, say in a museum, is important, for it would be a mistake to ignore our history, and it is important to understand our past in all its complexity.

I would like to say that owning Confederate images is ok as long as one’s intent is “pure,” that is, as long as one is not intending to promote the odious aims of the Confederacy, but instead where one is treating the images as artifacts, part of the multifaceted fabric of our history. However, it is an impossible and probably incoherent to try to judge the intent of a buyer (though if I knew that a potential buyer was intending to use a print to promote white supremacy I would not sell it to that person).

In the end, however, I think the original and current use of prints is quite different than the original intent and current effect of the statutes, and I do think that they are important artifact of our past (the statues too are important artifacts of our past, just ones that should not hold places of public honor), so it is ok for our shop to be selling them.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A few "interesting" maps

I love history and I love maps, so naturally I love my job! Just handling the old maps, researching them and chatting with fellow cartophiles makes my career a wonderful one. However, I do get extra enjoyment when I find some fact or bit of information on a map which makes it even more fun than usual. I thought I would share three such stories which I have come across recently.

In February 1844, a fairly obscure magazine, The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, issued a map entitled "The Indian Territory." This was issued as part of an article about the U.S. Government's policy of creating a territory west of the Mississippi where all the Native Americans, including those from the East, would be confined. This small map (which is oriented to the west) illustrates that territory, with the location of each tribe marked out, from the Sioux in the north to the Choctaws in the south.

Though the U.S. government claimed that this policy was for the benefit of the Indians, really it was to get the Native Americans out of any land which might be useful to "Americans" and place the Indians on land which was (at the time) considered to be essentially worthless.

When we got this map the other day, I was surprised and fascinated by the dashed line across the middle of the map labeled "Western habitable limit." What is interesting about that is that a fair bit of the land set aside for the Indian Tribes (including most of the land marked for the Pawnees) is west of that habitable line. This means that not only were the Indians given land that wasn't of use to "Americans," but much of it wasn't even considered habitable!

Looking closely at maps often reveals interesting tidbits. Such is the case on a map issued in the Illustrated London Times on June 1st, 1861. This is just after the beginning of the Civil War, and this map features that event by indicating with its different tints those states which are slave and those which are free states.

1861 was also the year in which three official and one unofficial new U.S. territories were created: Nevada, Dakota, Colorado and Arizona. It appears that the cartographer, Theodor Ettling, received information on these new territories, as all three are depicted. Both Nevada and Dakota are shown properly, and Ettling also shows the territory of Arizona--carved out of the southern part of the Utah Territory, but never recognized by the U.S. government. Colorado is also depicted, but very incorrectly.

Ettling must have heard that a territory of Colorado was being created, but not the reason for this (i.e. Pikes Peak gold rush). He did know of the Rio Colorado located in Texas, so it appears he assumed that is where the new territory would be located. Thus he drew a border around a territory labeled “Colorado” in the southern part of Texas!

The final map which I'll write about today is a map of Central Asia which appeared in the 1804 A New and Elegant General Atlas jointly produced by Aaron Arrowsmith and Samuel Lewis. The American maps were on the whole drawn by Lewis, while the maps of the rest of the world were by Arrowsmith. Aaron Arrowsmith was at the time the leading cartographer in the world, very concerned to make his maps as up-to-date and accurate as possible. He compiled many maps himself, but also used the maps by other cartographers if they were the best source available to him. As a conscientious scientist, Arrowsmith would often note at the bottom of a map when he used someone else's mapping.

I had a good chuckle when I looked at the attribution on this map of Central America, for there Arrowsmith put “From Du Halde, D’Anville Islenieff &c.&c. but Imperfect and inaccurate authorities." I guess even though Arrowsmith didn't think the source was very good, it was the best available to him. Still, I have never seen a map before where the mapmaker labeled it as "imperfect and inaccurate"!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Itinerary Maps

I have always loved maps of all sorts. As a kid I studied maps in books and magazines, poured over automobile maps from gas stations, and then when I realized that one could actually get hold of them, became entranced by antique maps. Back in the sixties, when my family would go on a road trip, we would use the famous AAA “triptiks.” I would love to follow along the routes, noting the intersections and sites that appeared on either side of the route we were following.

The triptiks are a good example of itinerary or directional map. That is a map the primary concern of which is to follow an itinerary or route from point A to point B, noting the places, rivers, bridges, intersections one would come across in following that route, but not showing anything further afield than what one might see along the way.

These maps are in contrast to “area” maps, which show cartographic information for an entire area—-usually rectangular but sometimes circular—-without predetermining a starting or ending point, nor a route to take (though one can, of course, draw a route onto an area map).

[ Facsimile part of the Peutinger Table centered on Rome ]

The earliest directional map I know of is the famous “Peutinger Table.” In the late first century B.C., Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa produced a road survey and map of the world for Emperor Augustus. None of the original maps has survived, but a later version was found near the end of the fifteenth century and eventually found its way into the library of Konrad Peutinger (fl. 1508-47). Though that map is now lost, copies of various cartographers and modern facsimiles have been made.

[ Detail of facsimile of area around Rome, with roads in yellow ]

The Peutinger Tables consist of eight sections depicting the world along the primary roads of the Roman Empire. The area shown extends from the southeast corner of England—part of the first section showing the rest of Britain having been lost—to Ceylon, the eastern edge of the known world. Reflecting its source in Agrippa’s road survey, the map is drawn around the roads, which are laid out in a schematic fashion—not dissimilar to the way the lines are laid out on the famous tube map of London—though here the roads are put down mostly in a horizontal direction, creating a map that is essentially a long, narrow strip. The Roman roads are given in detail, each notched to indicate a day’s march, with the places and camps one would come to if traveling on those roads. Really, very similar in intent and execution to a triptik.

The notion of itinerary map appeared again in the middle of the thirteenth century in the work of Benedictine month Matthew Paris. Paris worked in the monastery of St. Albans and he was one of the greatest mapmakers of the medieval period. He produced maps of England, Palestine, and itinerary maps for the Pilgrim route to the Holy Land. Written itineraries for pilgrims were well known in the Middle Ages, and they contained descriptions of what one would find along a pilgrimage route. Paris went further and presented much of this information in map form, showing the route from England to Apulia, each day’s journey marked out and important topographical and social features noted along the way. As an aside, the cartographers for a number of the area maps produced in the medieval period, such as the Hereford world map, used written itineraries to create the maps, though presenting them in an area rather than itinerary format.

The next examples of directional maps are the strip maps issued by John Ogilby in his Brtiannia of 1675-76. Ogilby (1600-1676), one of the more colorful figures associated with cartography, started life as a dancing master and finished as the King’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer. In the course of an eventful life he built a theater in Dublin, became the Deputy Master of Revels in Ireland, translated various Greek and Latin works and founded a book publishing business. In the process he twice lost all he possessed, first in a shipwreck during the English Civil Wars and then in the Great Fire of London. Even this disaster he turned to advantage by being appointed to a Commission of Survey following the fire.

After the fire, Ogilby organized a survey of all the main post roads in the country, and then published a road atlas, Britannia. In this atlas, the maps were engraved in strip form, essentially like a series of triptik pages put next to each other on the same sheet. The maps give details of the roads themselves and descriptive notes of the country on either side. Intersections of other roads are indicated and each strip has a compass rose to indicate changes in direction. Topography is shown using the molehill style, and uphill or downhill is illustrated by inverting the picture of a grade on the page. A number of other publishers later followed the Ogilby model, which was particularly popular in Great Britain.

[ One of four sections of Simpson map ]

Another place one finds itinerary maps is from explorers, who would make maps they surveyed along their routes. These surveys would often be amalgamated into area maps, but they also were sometimes issued as itinerary maps. James Hervey Simpson mapped a route from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Santa Fe, producing a map in 1849 which was intended as a wagon road itinerary map for emigrants and traders.

[ One of seven sections of Preuss map ]

Another example of that is the seven sheet map drawn by Charles Preuss based on the surveys and notes made during John Frémont’s expedition along the Oregon Trail in 1842-43. These maps were combined into the Preuss/Frémont map of 1845, but the seven sheets were very much in the tradition of an itinerary map intended for use by the many emigrants along the Oregon Trail, as well as 49’s heading off to the gold fields of California.

In the twentieth century, AAA was not the only firm to produce itinerary maps, though their triptiks were by far the most commonly used. Today, in the twentieth century, itinerary maps are even more common, though now they are not on paper, but rather appear as ephemeral digital maps on car dash boards and on smart phones. Google maps and Waze both are programs which produce itinerary maps in a modern and incredibly detailed form.

On a personal note, though I still love maps in all different formats, I am a bit sad to see the relative demise of the use of area maps. So many people use the digital directional maps, that area maps—especially printed ones—have become almost obsolete. This is a shame, as while one can follow a route most easily using an itinerary map, area maps put those routes into a wider context. They also allow one more easily to stray from the planned itinerary—either physically or just mentally—and the loss of that is I think a sad one.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Foolish men jumping

One of the great things about antique prints and maps is that even after 35 years in the business, I still am surprised and delighted on a regular basis by things we come across. Just yesterday, while organizing some of our prints here in the shop, we came across two prints with remarkably similar images of foolish men jumping. No connection at all between the prints, but a pretty funny coincidence.

The first print is from a delightful series of illustrations of Mother Goose rhymes by Frederick Richardson. These prints, issued in 1915, are fun both because they include many of the rhymes I learned as a child, but also because of the charming illustrations. This print has a rhyme I am not so familiar with, but the drawing is a hoot. This man is definitely foolish though he seems to come out of his trials ok.

The second print was issued over four decades before and it shows French journalist and "demagogue," Henri Rochefort. The print was issued in Vanity Fair on January 22, 1870 and the description of Rochefort by the magazine is anything but flattering.

It may be total coincidence that the two images are so similar, but we might speculate that perhaps Richardson was familiar with this image from Vanity Fair and decided to borrow it for the nursery rhyme print. Whatever the case, another of the many fun things we've run into over the years.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Provenance of prints and maps

Anyone who has read about the huge prices on oil paintings will have heard of the importance of their provenance. The provenance of a item is a record of its ownership/location since it was first created. This is important for some expensive items such as paintings mostly to establish their authenticity. As a painting can be reproduced by a skilled forger, knowing that the painting was, say, in a family estate since it was originally purchased from the painter, gives one assurance that it is an original.

Provenance can also be important if the item in question was owned by someone famous. So, the earrings worn by Katherine Hepburn in a famous movie would be worth more than the same items never owned by anyone famous, so having a solid provenance can be important in established their value.

Interestingly, rarely does provenance matter for antique maps and prints. For the vast majority of such items, not only is the provenance not important, but it is unknown. A dealer might know the immediately previous owner of something in her stock, but almost never any of the owners before that. There are a number of reasons for this relative lack of importance of provenance for antique maps and prints.

The main reason for that is that the authenticity of the items is determined not by tracking their ownership since creation, but rather simply by looking at the physical objects. If the process is right and if the paper is right, then the print is almost certainly authentic. It would be possible, by getting hold of old paper and using the proper process to create the object, to fake an antique prints or map, but prints and maps usually do not have the value to warrant the effort it would take to do this. When some antique maps started getting very expensive towards the end of the 20th century, some pretty good fakes started appearing, but these could be identified by a close physical examination. There are also some known "good" fakes of some of the old master prints, but such good fakes are very rare in the antique print and map world. Because of this, the main purpose of provenance just does not apply to most old prints and maps.

Secondly, in very, very few cases is the provenance known. Unlike paintings, prints were rarely considered "important" enough to be tracked and recorded through the years. Much like the history of most books, people bought prints and maps for decoration or interest, but didn't write down or pass on the history of that purchase for future generations. It is very rare that someone who owns a print can tell you its provenance beyond perhaps the person they got it from.

There are a few cases where a print was owned by someone famous or, perhaps, appeared in a movie, and that can add some value, but rarely a lot, so again that provenance is relatively unimportant.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Vérendryes search for a route to the Pacific Ocean

As discussed in the previous blog, the French were very focused on finding a "River of the West", which would provide a water route from the western part of New France to the Pacific Ocean. The search for it became the obsession of a family of French trappers, the patriarch of which was Pierre Gaultier de la Varennes, Le Sieur de la Vérendrye. At his post at Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, Pierre Vérendrye heard from Native Americans of a great river which would lead to the Pacific, and with backing from French Canadian merchants, he and his sons built a series of trading posts to the northwest of Lake Superior as bases from which they could explore for this hoped-for river.

Vérendrye’s initial information on this river came from some maps of the region west of Lake Superior he was given by local Indians, including by a Cree named Auchagach in 1728. Auchagach’s maps showed the system of rivers and lakes which flowed into Lake Superior from the northwest, which were shown as arising in a “River of the West” which started near some Mountains of the Bright Stones, flowed into Lake Winnipegosis and then on to the Lake of the Woods. Vérendrye had Auchagach’s maps copied in manuscript, and one of those was copied by Bellin onto his map of North America from 1743.

Auchagach’s maps were, of their type, quite good, but by the time his water system made it onto Bellin’s map, it was far from reality. Auchagach’s maps had neither orientation nor scale indicated and Bellin erred in both these aspects when he copied them to his map. The actual river systems to the northwest of Lake Superior have a much more Northwest-Southeast orientation than the almost straight West-to-East alignment shown by Bellin, and Bellin shows the river systems as much larger than they are in reality. While Bellin does not show a definite Pacific coast in the west, his River of the West extends very close to wherever that coast would be, presenting what appears to be an easy water route to the Pacific. As good as this looked on Bellin's map, failed French attempts in pursuing this route to the Pacific in the following years soon demonstrated the fallacy of Bellin’s depiction.

The Vérendrye family influence on the story of the River of the West, however, extended further than this. In 1738, continuing to look for a water route to the Pacific, the Vérendryes traveled west from Lake Winnipeg along the Assiniboine River, then dropped south into what is today North Dakota. There they came to a village of a tribe they called the Mantannes. The sons then visited a village further on which they said was located on the “Riviere des Mantannes.” About this river Pierre later wrote:
“I discovered recently a river flowing to the west... That the river appeared to go, according to the compass, south west by south...the lower part may go to the sea to the south west by west.”
That is, the river may flow to the Pacific Ocean.

According to a scholarly study, the Vérendrye sons had probably visited a Hidatsa village [though the names are similar, the Mantannes were almost certainly not Mandans, as they are often thought to be]. The village was located just south of the conjunction of the Little Knife River with the Missouri, on a part of the Missouri where it looks like the river flows south/southwest. The perceived direction of the river flow, combined with information gathered from conversations with the Indians interpreted through the lens of their hopes, led the Vérendryes to conclude the river might be the much desired River of the West. Philippe Buache included his take on their "discovery" in his 1754 map of western New France shown above.

Interestingly, though by the time it was issued, Buache included another version of Auchagach's map in a panel at the top of the map. This is similar to the one shown on Bellin's map, but by 1754 it was not something that was generally believed by the French.

In the main part of the map, Buache shows his take on the Vérendryes' discoveries. The Assiniboine River is shown flowing east-west below Lake Winnipeg, and along its side is a trail labeled as ‘warrior’s route to the River of the West.’ This path crosses a ridge of mountains and comes to an “Ouachipouanes” village (the Cree name for the Mandan), which is located on a river which shortly makes a large bend to the west. Soon after it turns west, this river becomes a dotted line labeled “Riv. de l’Ouest.”

Buache tried to merge this Vérendrye information with previous beliefs, so he has another river, which flows out of a "L. du Brochet," merge with the dotted-line River of the West [this coming from Delisle's 1722 map shown in the previous blog] and this river in turn flows into our old friend the Sea of the West.

By the middle of the century, the Vérendryes seem to have discounted the idea that the River of the Mantannes was a true “river of the west,” but that river did hang around on maps for a number of years, sometimes shown as flowing to the west and sometimes depicted as possibly being connected with the Missouri, as on this Bellin map from 1755. Here Bellin shows a "Riv des Manton" connected with a lake similar to Delisle's Brochet Lake, but without a clear indication of whether that river flows east or west. Belling includes a note by the river which indicates that the river might be the source of the Missouri. Bellin didn't commit one way or the other to the River of the West, also including a note by the Assiniboine River indicating it might lead to the River of the West.

Basically, the French were still confused, not sure if there was a Sea of the West, River of the West, or some other water route to take them from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. Unfortunately for them, they were never able to figure it out, for as a result of the French & Indian War, in 1763, they gave up all their possessions in New France to the British.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The French seek a route to the Western Sea: 1700-1722

Guillaume Delisle’s map of North America from 1700 left the area to the west of the Great Lakes blank, demonstrating that the French really didn’t know what was going on in that region. However, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t theories of what might be there, including some considered by Delisle himself.

Sea of the West

From 1695 to about 1700, Guilluame and his father Claude drew a series of manuscript maps of that region which include a large “Mer de l’Ouest,” that is, a “Sea of the West.” This Sea of the West is a distant cousin of the Sea of Verrazano, though as Delisle noted it was based on a number of Indian reports recorded by the French in the second half of the seventeenth century. A viable path to the Pacific had been a focus of the French from the beginning of New France, so they were always questioning Indians they met about possible water routes to the west. Communication was, of course, imperfect, and probably neither party really understood what the other said, with the French always interpreting what they heard in light of their pre-existing notions.

The French understood the Indians tales as indicating that there was a large body of water not too far to the west, which could be reached by river and which would provide access to the Pacific. In the Jesuit Relations of 1659-60 there is the report of a sea lying just ten days journey to the westward of the Great Lakes, and this sea was mentioned in other Indian reports recorded in the Relations in the following years. These reports claimed that the Indians mentioned various characteristics of this sea—-such as having tides and with Europeans living along it—-which indicated that the sea was connected to the Pacific.

Later in the century, French explorers in the western parts of New France heard similar tales. For instance, in 1685 Daniel Greyselon, Sieur Duluth reported hearing from some Indians “that it was only twenty days’ journey from where they were to the discovery of the great lake whose water is not good to drink,” that is a lake of salt water. In 1688, Jacques de Noyon explored the river systems to the northwest of Lake Superior meeting some Assiniboines who, when he enquired about the Western Sea, told him they would take him in the spring to that sea, upon which there was a great city with walls of stone and a race of men who were white and bearded. Noyon did travel with the Indians as far as Lake of the Woods, and there they told him that a river flowed from that lake into the Western Sea.

Besides all these Indian and explorer reports, the possibility of a Sea of the West was supported by a 1625 story by one Juan de Fuca, who said that in 1592 he been sent by the Viceroy of New Spain north along the California coast searching for the “Strait of Anian,” which was the supposed entrance to the passage across the north of America from the Pacific Ocean. Fuca said at between 47 and 48 degrees north he found a bay which he sailed into, thereafter finding a large sea which led further to the east. After sailing for more than twenty days, Fuca thought that he had reached the “North Sea” (that is the Atlantic), thus achieving what he had been sent to do.

Whether Fuca’s tale was a complete fabrication or a confused account of an actual voyage has never been determined for certain. However, there are no archival records of such a voyage, and there is no knowledge of a Spanish ship ever having reached beyond 43° N in that period. Whatever the truth of this tale, it was another “first-hand” account which seemed to indicate the possibility of a large sea to the west of the Great Lakes.

The Fuca tale, along with the Indian & explorer reports enthused the French so much that near the end of the sixteenth century the governor and intendant of New France recommended to the King that they establish posts in the western part of the colony as bases from which to explore for the Western Sea. The Fuca tale, along with the Indian and explorer reports, also stimulated Claude and Guillaume Delisle to consider the possibility of a Sea of the West.

Like all French geographers, they were trying to figure out what was going on beyond New France. By the late sixteenth century, they had a better idea of the width of the continent, so the closeness of the sea mentioned in the Jesuit Relations seemed to give support to the notion that there was an arm of the Pacific extending into the continent. Based on all of this, between 1695 and 1700 the Delisles drew a number of manuscript maps showing a Sea of the West lying between the Great Lakes and the northern coast of California. Interestingly, they must have had doubts about this sea, for it appears on none of Guillaume’s printed maps.

Delisle’s Sea of the West did, however, find a believer in another French cartographer, Jean Baptiste Nolin, who in 1700 produced a double hemisphere world map showing this sea in a form essentially similar to Delisle’s. Delisle claimed that Nolin copied his geography from a manuscript globe he had produced for the Chancellor of France, which did show the Sea of the West. Delisle won his suit in 1706, which forced Nolin to remove any of the “offending geography” from all his coppers plates and also to destroy all copies of the wall map in existence (resulting in the fact that only three copies on the Nolin map are known to have survived).

However, the Nolin map had already been copied by Dutch publishers Pierre & David Mortier, and their world map included the Sea of the West depiction. This map was beyond the reach of the French courts so it was circulated in Europe, giving wide distribution to the Sea of the West notion. Besides this, Nolin produced other maps with a smaller, modified Sea of the West, and by these means this non-existent geographic feature appeared on a number of maps in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Long River

About the same time as the mythical Sea of the West first appeared, another non-existent body of water was introduced to the geography west of the Mississippi River, this time probably based more on a deliberate falsehood than on mistaken interpretations of Indian reports.

This new myth was of a “Riviére Longue,” perpetrated by Baron Louis de la Hontan. As an officer in the French military, in 1683 Lahontan went to New France and traveled extensively throughout the colony. In 1703, he wrote about his travels in Noueaux Voyages de M. le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amerique Septentrionale. In that work, Lahontan claimed that during a six month period in 1688, he explored from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, going as far south as the Missouri River, then heading north along the Mississippi until he came to this Long River.

Lahontan recounted how there he met a tribe of Mozeemlek Indians, who told him that the Long River arose in some mountains well to the west, and that on the other side of those mountains lay another river flowing westward, which is where they had their home. Furthermore, Lahontan recorded that the Indians stated that that river flowed about 500 miles to the west where it emptied into a great salt lake, about 300 leagues (1,000 miles) in circumference. This geography was boldly illustrated on this map published in the Nouveaux Voyages.

While Lahontan did travel around New France, the consensus is that his tale of the Long River and his meeting with the Mozeemlek was made up. Though it is possible that this episode did occur, in which case the Long River was probably the Missouri, the geography presented in the map is very mistaken. However, a ‘first hand’ report from someone who had explored in the region was not to be dismissed lightly, and Lahontan’s Long River appeared on a number of maps, such as Guillaume Delisle’s Carte du Canada [1703] and Gerard Van Keulen’s Carte de la Nouvelle France [1720].

While the River Long soon passed from the scene—-Delisle never again showed this river--the notion of a river flowing into the Mississippi with its source in some mountains to the west, over which lay a westward flowing river—-a notion introduced by Marquette in the previous century (see previous blog to read about this)—-which emptied into a salt lake or sea, was reinforced by Lahontan’s imaginary geography.

In the beginning of the 18th century, the search for the Western Sea became an important focus for the the French. In 1717, the French Council of the Marine wrote that:

“If the Western sea is discovered, France and the Colony could derive great benefits in trade,... The navigation would be brief, compared with European vessels and subject to far fewer risks and costs, which would provide such great benefit over the trade of that country that no European nation could compete with us.”
The Governor and Intendant of New France recommended to the King that a number of posts be established to the west of the Great Lakes as bases for the search for the Sea, and in 1720, Father Charlevoix was sent out “to proceed to the principal posts of the upper country in order to make inquiries there respecting the Western Sea.”

About this time, Father Bobé presented to the King a “Memoir for the Discovery of the Western Sea,” in which he argued that this shouldn’t be a difficult search, for the Western Sea was not far distant from New France and could be reached by a number of feasible routes. He thought that the suggested route up the Missouri then across the mountains to a western flowing river provided an easy route, though it was possible the westward flowing river might end up in the Bay of California rather than the Western Sea. Also feasible was a practical portage west from the headwaters of the Mississippi to a westward flowing river which would empty into the Western Sea.

These concepts are shown nicely in our old friend Guillaume Delisle’s map of 1722, which shows a “Grande Rivier coolant a l’Ouest,” probably the first mention specifically of a “River of the West,” which would soon take center stage in the search for the waterway to the Pacific.

[ Go to previous blog about the quest to find a water route to the west ]

Click here to read the next stage in the search for a route to the Pacific.