IMAGES OF THE NEW WORLD, 1507-1669.
By the 1600s, hope for a Panama-like isthmus crossing in North America faded. Moreover, once the Spanish gained control of the southern sea routes, French and English efforts to reach Asia shifted northward in the quest to find a Northwest Passage. Seamen from several generations—including Jacques Cartier, Martin Frobisher, Henry Hudson, Samuel de Champlain, and others—searched for this route across the continent. These explorers made several discoveries of “passages”—which were later proven false or nonviable, but their efforts added the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and the Hudson Bay to the maps of North America. All of the maps in this section show some form of Northwest Passage. The quest to find this route persisted until Captain James Cook finally disproved the existence of the Northwest Passage in 1778.
At the dawn of the sixteenth century, the leading centers of European cartography were in Italy and Germany. Cartographic expertise soon shifted, however, first to the Low Countries, and then to France. The exploring nations Portugal and Spain treated their new geographic discoveries as state secrets and protected those secrets under penalty of death. Nevertheless, some geographic information was smuggled out of Spain and still more was obtained from maps seized from captured Spanish galleons. Around 1540 several Spaniards, including Fray Marcos de Niza, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, and Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo, explored the interior of the present-day United States and the coast of California. By the 1560s Spanish place-names such as “Cibola,”—“Quivira,”—and “Sierra Nevada”—began appearing on maps of America. One example is the 1570 map of Abraham Ortelius (Item 3).
Despite growing European knowledge about the New World, a considerable number of aberrations on the maps of the late sixteenth century demonstrated the limitations of geographic knowledge in this period. The Sea of Verrazano and the Northwest Passage proved to be two New World geographical fantasies. Other erroneous representations long influenced explorers and mapmakers. The map of Cornelius Wytfliet (Item 4) places “Quivira”—on the Northwest coast instead of in the middle of the continent. Similarly, Nicolas Sanson’s map (Item 7) depicts California as an island and shows the “Rio Del Norte”—(Rio Grande) emptying into the Gulf of California.
In the mid-1500s, Gerhard Mercator developed his famous projections which significantly improved cartographic science. Mercator’s approach, as refined by Edward Wright, is examined in Item 5.
|1. MARTIN WALDSEEMÜLLER.
Cosmographiae Introductio. Strasbourg, 1509.
|2. SEBASTIAN MÜNSTER.
“[Die Nüw Welt] Tavola dell’ isole nuove.” c.1571.
|3. ABRAHAM ORTELIUS.
“Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio.”
In Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp, 1570.
|4A. CORNELIUS WYTFLIET.
“Limes Occidentis Quivira et Anian, 1597.”
In Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum. Louvain, 1598.
|4B. CORNELIUS WYTFLIET.
“Granata Nova et California.”
In Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum. Louvain, 1603.
|5. EDWARD WRIGHT.
“A Chart of the World on Mercator’s Projection.” c.1599.
In The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, compiled by Richard Hakluyt. London, 1598-1600.
|6. JOHN FARRER.
“A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye Hills.” 1651.
|7. NICOLAS SANSON.
“Amerique Septentrionale.” 1669.