Nicolas Sanson’s (1600-1667) involvement in cartography began with the maps and illustrations he drew for publication in his own historical books. His career coincided with a period of bold French exploration and expansion. As the French were building up their store of geographic knowledge and skills, Sanson’s work came to the attention of Louis XIII. Much impressed, the King became Sanson’s patron and appointed him géographe ordinaire de roi around 1630. Nicolas Sanson was the outstanding French cartographer of the mid to late seventeenth century and is considered the founder of the French school of cartography. Due largely to the Sanson family map-publishing business, the patronage of Louis XIV, and the work of the newly-formed Académie royale des sciences, the seat of cartography shifted from the Low Countries to France in the latter part of the seventeenth century.
“Amerique Septentrionale”— was first published in 1650 and revised in 1656 and 1669. It was published in atlases in 1658 and 1667. The French used this map and Sanson’s “Le Canada ou Nouvelle France, etc.”— (1656) in their explorations of the interior of North America. Sanson’s map is the first to show all five Great Lakes. A ring of mountains surrounding the southeastern portion of North America limits the length of the Mississippi River. Sanson’s map suggests the possibility of a Northwest Passage, is the first to label Santa Fe (“S. Fe”—), and locates “Quivira”— to the east of New Mexico for the first time. It also depicts the “R. del Norte,”— or Rio Grande, originating in a lake and emptying into the Gulf of California.
The most notable feature of this map is its representation of California as an island. Sixteenth-century maps had typically, if not accurately, shown lower California as a peninsula. In 1620, however, the Dutch found a chart, drawn about 1602 by Father Antoine Ascension, that showed California as an island. This chart, along with written reports from Ascension and the Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate, led Henry Briggs and many other cartographers to represent California as an island. California continued to appear as an island on New World maps even after the explorations of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino proved otherwise around 1700 (for example, see Item 11). Finally, in 1747, King Ferdinand of Spain issued a royal decree that California was not an island!
The 1669 map on display differs from the 1650 map in its detail of the Gulf of California and its labeling of oceans.