Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Franquelin's Map of Louisiana

Jean Baptiste Louis Franquelin was the first official cartographer in Canada. He mapped the interior of North America in great detail in order to bolster French claims to the region. In 1684, he prepared this remarkable map recording the explorations of Jolliet and La Salle. The map is one of the first to contain many common place names, most of which started as rivers, such as Chicago (Chekagou), Illinois (both a lake and a river), Wisconsin (R. Misconsing), Kansas (Cansa), Ohio and the Wabash (Ouabache) among others.

The original map has been lost. This later facsimile is available from the Library of Congress. Below is a detail showing the eastern Great Lakes, "La Pennsylvanie," "Virginie," and the Ohio River referred to as the "St. Louis" but with a tributary called Ohio.

The map shows the Mississippi River flowing west into Texas before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. According to Louisiana: European Exploration and the Louisiana Purchase (see page 14) from the Geography Division of the Library of Congress, the course of the river was fraudulently altered to gain royal support for a fort at its mouth. By being closer to Mexico, the fort would have been more economically viable by serving as a staging ground for incursions into Spanish territory and attacks on the silver mines of Mexico.

From the Geography Division publication:
Having gained French support for his project, La Salle attempted to return to the Mississippi by way of the Gulf Coast in 1684-85, but his ships missed the mouth of the river and the expedition landed at Matagorda Bay, Texas. Two years of starvation and disease followed and subsequently a mutiny took his life. La Salle failed to establish a permanent colony in the lower Mississippi Valley but he did plant French claims over the vast region that eventually became the Louisiana Purchase.

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