THE great geographer and mathematician Gerhard Mercator (1512-1594) revolutionized cartography with his development of an isogonic cylindrical projection which mapped a sphere onto a flat plane. Mercator expected that his projection would be a valuable tool for navigators but he neglected to provide practical guidelines on how use it. Edward Wright (1558?-1615), a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, modified Mercator’s system and published his results, The Correction of Certain Errors in Navigation, in 1599 and again in an improved edition entitled Certaine errors in navigation, detected and corrected (London, 1610). Wright’s book contained new mathematical tables and instructions on plotting straight-line courses on maps based on the Mercator projection. The system developed by Wright contributed to the supremacy of the British Navy and is still in use today.
Wright published “A Chart of the World on Mercator’s Projection”— in 1600 based on his projection of a globe engraved by the English globe maker Emery Molyneux in 1592. It was the first map to use Wright’s improvements on Mercator’s projection. This map, sometimes designated the “Wright-Molyneux Map,”— was also published in The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (London, 1598-1600) compiled by Richard Hakluyt. A 1610 edition of Wright’s book and a copy of the Hakluyt compendium containing a second-state Wright-Molyneux Map are on display. Considered a sixteenth-century cartographic landmark, the Wright-Molyneux Map is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
Unlike many maps and charts of the era which represented the often fantastic speculations of their makers, Wright’s “Chart of the World”— offers a minimum of detail and even leaves areas blank wherever geographic information was lacking. These undefined areas are especially evident along Wright’s coastlines. For example, the coast of California above Cape Mendocino is blank.
Wright’s world map depicts a wider Pacific Ocean than other maps of its time. On the American continent, Wright labels upper California “Nova Albion”—; other maps designated this area “Anian”— but Wright adopted the name given the region by Sir Francis Drake. “Quivira”— still appears on the West coast. Further to the east, the map also shows a “Lake of Tadouac”— reminiscent of the Sea of Verrazano. This lake is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a river that appears to run south of the St. Lawrence River. It is also connected to a large body of water to the north. Lake Tadouac is apparently an early reference to either the Hudson Bay or to the Great Lakes, neither of which were “discovered”— by Europeans until eleven or twelve years after Wright’s map was published. Wright’s map is also one of the earliest maps to use the name “Virginia.”