The Jesuit scholar and explorer Pierre François-Xavier de Charlevoix (1682-1761) was sent to America in 1720 by the duke of Orleans to record events in New France and Louisiana and to determine the best route to the Pacific Ocean. Charlevoix gathered geographic information from fur traders in Quebec and also traveled through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi talking to anyone who had information about the western country. In 1723 he recommended two strategies to reach the Pacific: one by ascending the Missouri, the other by establishing a mission among the Assiniboine Indians along the present-day U.S.-Canadian border and then pushing westward from that base. Charlevoix favored the first but the French government opted for the second. Back in France, Charlevoix published his views on North America in Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1744).
“A Map of the British Dominions” is included in A Voyage to North-America published in Dublin in 1766 after the death of Father Charlevoix. The map gives an Anglo-centric view of North America. The English colonial possessions of North Carolina and Virginia extend across the Mississippi River. Charlevoix also named four fictitious islands in Lake Superior in honor of his patron.
Charlevoix promoted the pyramidal height-of-land theory and hypothesized that the Mississippi, Missouri, and Minnesota rivers originated in close proximity to each other. He believed that from the source of the Missouri River a traveler could reach, possibly by wagon, another river that ran to the Western Sea. Charlevoix estimated that the Western Sea was about 2,100 miles as the crow flies from the Sioux Nation. He described the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as “the finest Confluence in the World.” Although the rivers were about the same width, Charlevoix concluded that “the Missouri is by far the most rapid, and seems to enter the Mississippi like a conqueror.”
Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of Charlevoix’s Histoire et description générale (1744). He recommended it, along with accounts written by Hennepin and Lahontan, as a “particularly useful species of reading” and referred to it as he developed his ideas on Louisiana and the Northwest. The book contains the map of North America “Carte de l’Amerique Septentrionale” by Jacques Nicolas Bellin. This map represents Charlevoix’s belief that a series of lakes and rivers connected Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean.