Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

How Good Cartographers Make Big Mistakes: The River of the West in Bellin’s 1743 Map of North America

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Bellin’s 1743 Map of North America showing Verendrye’s waterways to the Pacific.

Cartography in the 18th and early 19th century can be understood as a race to reveal the unknown with global political and social consequences. Mapmakers, operating primarily from offices in Amsterdam, London, and Paris, did very little exploration themselves, rather, it was their onerous task to extrapolate from often sketchy reports brought back by mountain men, commercial and naval vessels, gentleman explorers, missionaries, and various other itinerants. These often conflicting and sometimes spurious accounts then had to be reconciled with established cartographic convention, political ideology, and commercial expectations. This short blog post will illustrate one example of how this can easily go wrong – even for master cartographer.

This map was issued by France’s premier cartographer of middle 18th century and one of the most meticulous and conscientious cartographers in the world, Jacques-Nicholas Bellin. The map, Carte de L’Amerique Septentrionale Pour servir a L’Histoire de la Nouvelle France, covers all of North America from the Arctic to the Spanish Main, including modern day Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Bellin prepared this map to illustrate Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France. Charlevoix was a Jesuit missionary and traveler commissioned by the French Crown and the Duke of Orleans to reconnoiter French holdings in the Americas. The French had just lost control of the Hudson Bay and were actively in search of a profitable route to the Pacific, which many believed lay in the network of rivers and lakes to the west of the Great Lakes. Charlevoix thus had the secondary commission to ‘inquire about the Western Sea, but [to] still give the impression of being no more than a traveler or missionary.’ While in the Americas, Charlevoix befriended Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery, a French Canadian military engineer active throughout French America in the early 18th century. Gaspard passed on numerous manuscript reports and maps, most likely including some of the manuscript maps referenced below, to Charlevoix, who in turn passed them on to Bellin, the official IngĂ©nieur de la Marine.

Close up of Bellin’s use of the Auchagah / Verendrye Map.

By far this map’s most striking feature is the broad open water route extending westward from Lake Superior, through the Lake of the Woods (Lac des Bois), and continuing via the River of the West (Fleuve de L’Ouest) through Lake Winnipeg (Ouinipigon) to the mysterious Mountain of Radiant Stones (Montagne de Pierres Brillantes). This remarkable passage is based upon a manuscript, below, drawn by the American Indian Cree river guide Auchagah in 1728 or 1729 for the French Fur trapper Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Le Sieur de La Verendrye. The connection between the two maps is obvious, especially in the western quadrants where the topography, text, and river networks are drawn direction from Auchagah’s map.

Auchagah Cree Indian Map of the Portages Between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg.

Auchagah Cree Indian Map of the Portages Between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg.

In a manner not atypical of American Indian cartographic perspectives, Auchagah’s map is a practical illustration of river routes he would have been familiar with between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg. It identifies various large lakes as well as numerous portages and some topographical features such as the “Montagne de Pierres Brillantes.” What it fails to convey are distance and direction. In the eyes of a western cartographer, used to maps with a uniform directional orientation and scale, this appears to be a pretty good map illustrating a passage west possibly as far as the Pacific. What Auchagah’s map in fact shows is an approach to Lake Winnipeg, here described as Ouinipigon that extends westward from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods before turning northwest to Lake Ouinipigon. A synthesis of incompatible cartographies thus caused Winnipeg / Ouinipigon to be mapped twice, both in the Sioux lands to the west of the Lake of the Woods as suggested by the Auchagah map, and, more properly, to the north as Lake Assiniboels. Assiniboels is notably and correctly also connected to the Hudson Bay by the Nelson River (R. de Bourbon).

Lahonton’s Longue Riviere, 1702.

The cartography derived from Auchagah’s map would not have seemed the least unusual to Bellin. In fact, it would have been a confirmation of previously established cartographic conventions based upon c. 1700 voyages of the Baron de Lahonton, see below. Both maps are suggestive of a navigable river system extending westward an unknown distance. Lahonton’s map is akin to Auchagah’s in that it is also based, at least in part, on river maps drawn by indigenous river guides.

Close up of the Pacific Northwest from Bellin’s 1743 map of North America.

Compounding issues relating to widely divergent cartographic perspectives is the complete lack of surveyed reference points. As such, cartographers relied on educated speculation to incorporate sketchy reports by trappers like Verendrye and adventurers like Lahonton into their maps. In our primary example above, most of the North Americas shorelines are somewhat known based upon earlier nautical positioning. Though pre-Cook maritime survey work was at best inexact, it was sufficient to drawn general boarders, as above. Here Bellin references the work of Martin d’Aguilar, a Spanish navigator who sailed up the west coast of America in 1602. He reported sighting a ‘rapid and abundant’ river emptying into the Pacific, which Bellin identifies here. (As a side note, it is generally assumed that Aguilar made it no further than Coos Bay, however, this description sounds uncannily like the Columbia River, much further north. While there are other rivers emptying into the Pacific closer to Coos Bay, none have a dangerous discharge comparable to the Columbia). Other landmarks, such as Cape Mendocino, were well known as landmarks on the Manila – Acapulco trade route.

The vast distances Bellin suggests that Auchagah’s map covers are hence merely speculation, but not random speculation. Although Bellin was considered the most meticulous of cartographers and is known to have written scathingly against the tendency for political influence to trump cartographic fact, he cannot have been immune to the political and mercantile aspirations of his nation. The need for a westward route to the Pacific was profound and a matter of life and death for the French colonies in the Americas. Without such a route the French in America were well aware that they would soon lose their commercial advantage in the region to the British who had just seized control of the Hudson Bay. The cartographer who successfully mapped such a route would be guaranteed everlasting frame and glory – perhaps a risk worth taking.

Links:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NorthAmerica-bellin-1743

Did this 1715 Map Influence the First Appearance of the Name “Oregon”?

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

1715 Lonhontan Map of the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi

Did this 1715 Map attached to the French edition of Lahonton's travels influence the first use of the name "Oregon"?

While researching Lahontan’s Carte Generale de Canada (above) we discovered an obscure 1944 article by George R. Stewart of the University of California that, if he is correct, lends additional significance to this already important map by shedding more light on the mysterious origins of the name “Oregon”.

The debate over the term “Oregon” has been ongoing for over a century. Most scholarship ascribes its first known use to a 1765 manuscript petition by Major Robert Rogers to the King of England’s Privy Council requesting financing for an expedition to discover a river based “Northwest Passage” from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. Variants later appear in Jonathan Carver’s 1778 Travel’s Through the Interior Parts of North America. Carver was an associate of Rogers from whom he no doubt derived the term. Modern scholars have delved deeper into the term associating it with various American Indian languages. The most recent scholarship on this subject by anthropologist Ives Goddard and linguist Thomas Love (Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Summer, 2004), pp. 238-259) traces the etymological root of “Oregon” to Abenaki term “wauregan” meaning “good” or “beautiful”. The Abenaki (and later the French in the form of Le Page’s Map), with whom Rogers was intimate, used this term to refer to the Ohio River – a westward flowing waterway that empties into the Mississippi. The most interesting remaining question seems to be, ‘How did this term become associated with a river that emptied into the Pacific?’

The first step in deciphering this process is understanding Robert Rogers – a complicated fellow to say the least. Though not rich in formal education Rogers was a skilled frontiersman and bold commander, qualities that earned him ephemeral fame following his extraordinary exploits leading “Rogers Rangers” during the French and Indian War. In contrast to his skills as a military commander, Rogers was frequently at odds with authority, once accused of treason, and invariably deep in debt. He was a charismatic charmer and, when it suited him, a clever conman.

Rogers interest in the Northwest Passage seems to have been inspired by Arthur Dobbs, an Anglo-Irish politician and from 1754 to 1765 the colonial governor of North Carolina. Dobbs was famously obsessed with notions of the Northwest Passage and personally sponsored several failed expeditions of discovery. He acted as a kind of clearing house for any and all information regarding the Northwest Passage. In the way of intelligent men with a mission, Dobbs cobbled together an assortment of data to correspond to his preconceived vision for the largely unexplored TransMississippi.

The scholar Malcolm H. Clark, in his article “Oregon” Revisited correctly, to our mind, identifies the sources for Roger’s description of the “River Ourigan” in well-worn legends of the previous decades. Rogers describes (note Rogers is a notoriously poor speller)

.. this great River Ourigan . . . discharges itself into an Arm or Bay of the Sea at near the Latitude of fiftyfour and [which] bends Southerdly anid entys the Pacifick Ocean about forty eight, nine or fifty, where it narrows, but to the Northwest .. . at the Entrence of the River Ourigan the Bay is wide, and supposed to have a communication with the Hudsons Bay, above the latitude of Dobsie’s point …

1760 De L'Isle Speculative Map of the North America, the Arctic, and Siberia (Sea of the West)

Some early ideas about the American Pacific Northwest are illustrated here, including the Sea of the West and the Passage of DeFonte.

Clark soundly argues that this is an amalgam of legends related to the mythical explorer Bartholomew de Fonte and the French fur trader Nicholas Jeremie. De Fonte supposedly discovered a great inlet somewhere along the American northwest coast that led inland via a series of navigable lakes, channels, and rivers, to an outlet in the Hudson Bay – this is Rogers’ “Arm or Bay of the Sea at near the Latitude of fiftyfour and [which] bends Southerdly anid entys the Pacifick Ocean”. De Fonte’s legend was widely accepted until the very end of the 18th century, counting Benjamin Franklin and other intellectual greats among its adherents. Nicholas Jeremie, who was based out of Fort Bourbon, wrote in his c. 1720 “Relation de la Bale de Hudson” of river that supposedly extended from Lake Winnipeg to another stream that flowed westward – this would be Rogers’ “River Ourigan”. Jeremie admitted to have gleaned this information third-hand from American Indian contacts. Soundly connecting the matter to Dobbs, who was likely the first to put this altogether, Rogers identifies the eastern end of his passage as “Dobsies Point”.

Rogers’ later descriptions of the Oruigan River (which he actually offers several different spellings for) generally follow the river systems delineated in Antoine-Simone Le Page du Pratz’ map which illustrate the possibly mythical travels of the Yazoo Indian Monchcht-ape, who supposedly traveled northwest of the Mississippi on a river referred to by the local Indians as the “Beautiful River” – echoing the term given to the Ohio River by the Abenaki – ‘Wauregan’.

This alone may have been sufficient to convince Rogers to name his great river of the west the Oruigan. However, returning to Lahontan’s map, above, and to Stewart’s short article, there may have been another element in play. The “Carte Generale de Canada” published along with Lahontan’s narrative covers the Great Lakes basin between the Mississippi River and the Pacific, extending northwards to the Hudson Bay and southwards as far as the Missouri River.

The Ouariconsint is here divided into two lines "Ouaricon" and "sint".

The Ouariconsint is here divided into two lines "Ouaricon" and "sint".

This map features a westward flowing river called the “R. de Ouariconsint”. No doubt this is the Wisconsin River, and although represented inaccurately by modern standards, it does in fact follow the period convention for the portrayal of this system. The publisher, seemingly for want of space, has here broken the Ouariconsint into two words, “Ouaricon” and, following on the second line “sint”. The Longue River, Lahontan’s mythical route to the west, appears just north of this river. Could a misreading of this map’s westward flowing river, with an easy-to-misread name curiously close to Rogers’ Ourigan, have influenced his adoption of the term? Though Lahontan’s map does not show the Ohio River, the Wauregan of the Abenaki, it does show the Ouariconsint. Rogers was doubtless familiar with the Ohio, La Page’s Belle Rivere, and with the Abenaki name for it, thus he may well have associated the Carte Generale de Canada’s Ouaricon / Ouariconsint, due to a similarity in pronunciation, with the Ohio, and thus with the Belle Rivere of Le Page. The term was later adopted by H. S. Tanner, no doubt without being aware of its complex history, to describe the Oregon Territory.

It is noteworthy that this particular way of labeling the “Ouariconsint”, that is divided onto two lines, appeared in the second French edition of Lahontan’s narrative, 1703, and was reproduced in most subsequent French editions to 1715. The choice to break the word into two lines was no doubt a space saving measure taken to accommodate the smaller format 1703 French edition. The English editions of Lahontan’s work were engraved by Hermon Moll and do not feature the divided name.

While simple answers are always the easiest, we tend to believe that history is more often than not the result of a happy conjunction of unrelated factors that propel and idea forward. Elliot, Clark, Stewart, Byram, Lewis, Goddard, Love, and others are just some of the scholars who have tackled this puzzle, each making significant contributions to the corpus. The name ‘Oregon’ may not have derived from a single source, as most suggest, but rather been influenced by numerous similar sounding words, from different languages, that managed to converge, consciously or unconsciously, in Rogers’ (or Dobbs) questing mind.

RELATED MAPS:

http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/CarteGeneraledeCanada-lahontan-1715
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NouvellesDecouvertsArctic-delisle-1730

REFERENCES:

Bracher, F., ‘”Ouaricon” and Oregon’, American Speech, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Oct., 1946), pp. 185-187.

Clark, Malcolm, ‘”Oregon” Revisited’, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Jun., 1960), pp. 211-219.

Elliott, T. C., “The Strange Case of Jonathan Carver and the Name Oregon”, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Dec., 1920), pp. 341-368

Elliot, T. C., “The Origin of the Name Oregon”, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Jun., 1921), pp. 91-115.

Ives, Goddard and Love, Thomas, ‘Oregon, the Beautiful’, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Summer, 2004), pp. 238-259.

Snow, V. F., “From Ouragan to Oregon”, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Dec., 1959), pp. 439-447.

Stewart, G. R., “The Source of the Name ‘Oregon’”, American Speech, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1944), pp. 115-117.

Taube, Edward, “Turn Again: The Name Oregon and Linguistics” Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2 (Summer, 1978), p. 211.

Walker, James V., “Henry S. Tanner and Cartographic Expression of American Expansionism in the 1820s”, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 111, No. 4 (2010), p. 416-443.

Widder, K. R., “The 1767 Maps of Robert Rogers and Jonathan Carver: A Proposal for the Establishment of the Colony of Michilimackinac”, Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 30, No. 2, Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region [Part 1] (Fall, 2004), pp. 35-75

Samuel Hearne and Alexander MacKenzie’s Discovery of the American Arctic

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
Pinkerton's 1818 Map of Canada

The discoveries of Hearne & MacKenzie in the Canadian Arctic

In the late 18th century two transcontinental journeys, today little known, redefined the popular conception of the North American interior. These were the explorations of Samuel Hearne and Alexander MacKenzie, fur traders both, who, in search of profit and glory, separately penetrated the Canadian interior and in doing so became the first Europeans to see the Arctic Ocean from the shores of the North America. By traveling northward along an overland route from known territories, the work of these important explorers finally put an end to European ambitions for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific via inland waterways. Once news of their discoveries reached Europe, cartographers were quick to update their charts, filling in a significant part of the Canadian Northwest and redefining the cartographic perspective of the region.

Hearne's Trek to the Arctic

Hearne's Trek to the Arctic

The first of these two journeys was made by Samuel Hearne. Hearne was a young Londoner who, after seven years at sea, transferred to the Hudson Bay Company. The vastly profitable Hudson Bay Company enjoyed a royal charter and for over 100 years maintained a near monopoly on the Canadian fur trade. Despite their astounding profits, or perhaps because of them, the Hudson Bay Company had long neglected the secondary provisions of their charter which involved exploring and developing the natural resources of their territory. Meanwhile, competition had emerged further west in the form of the rival North West Company. The North West Company had no royal charter, but was founded a gaggle of ambitious frontiersmen on the principal of exploration and exploitation. The NWC’s energetic exploration of northwestern America quickly opened a number of new regions to the fur trade. The HBC consequently began to notice a diminishment in their own profits. It was perhaps pressure from investors to keep competitive with the NWC that motivated the officers of the HBC to initiate an exploratory expedition of their own. Rather than compete directly with the NWC for fur profits, the HBC determined that it would leverage its vast financial reserves to diversify into whaling and minerals. Moses Norton, then the HBC’s chief factor at Prince of Wales Fort on the Hudson Bay had a near obsession, which he inherited from his father who held the same position, with legends of a copper mine far to the north from whence the indigenous Chipewyans often brought copper samples. Seeming the ideal target for diversification, the HBC thus sent one of its newest factors, the young trapper Samuel Hearne, on a quest for the mine, as well as for the whale rich Arctic Sea, in the unexplored north. In the process it was further hoped that Hearne would discover a waterway that might ultimately open a new Pacific trade route through the Northwest Passage.

Samuel Hearne

Samuel Hearne

Hearne, just 24 at the time, could not have been less prepared for the journey ahead. The young man had no experience in Arctic travel, had never undergone a similar journey, had no idea what to pack, and only a basic midshipman’s understanding of surveying and positioning. Hearne’s first attempt at this journey lasted but 30 days during which he was deserted and robbed by the local Indians he hired to guide him. His second attempt, though lasting nearly 8 months, also met with disaster when his quadrant, without which any proper surveying and positioning work is possible, was knocked to the ground and shattered by an unexpected gust of wind. Nonetheless, Hearne, ever persistent, prepared a third trip. This attempt, with some experience under his belt and a new trustworthy Indian guide in the form of the Indian chief Matonabbee, who had in fact traveled through and mapped out the region a decade earlier, proved that indeed “the third time is charmed”.

It was most likely Matonabbee whose able leadership and experience in the Arctic made the mission a success, but as with so many early explorations in the Americas, it is the handsome young European Hearne who ultimately received the lion’s share of credit. Between 1771 and 1772 Hearne and Matonabbee traveled steadily northwards, making maps and notations along the way, until they finally reached the Arctic Sea in July of 1771. This was doubtless Coronation Gulf though Hearne, through lack of experience using a sextant, mismapped it at 71 55 N, some 300 miles northward of his actual location. Nonetheless, the exploration was complete in that the Coppermine River as far as the Arctic had been explored. Hearn even found a gigantic ingot of pure copper with which to impress his superiors. Hearn, Matonabbee, and their entourage returned to their starting point, arriving at Prince of Wales Fort in June of 1772, having spent 19 months completing the mission.

In an act of greed and lethargy typical of large corporations even today, the Hudson Bay Company chose to suppress Hearne discoveries lest others take advantage of them first. It was not until 1782, when the Frenchman La Perouse captured Prince of Wales Fort, that information about Hearne’s achievements spread beyond the HBC. Perouse allowed Hearne, who was still stationed at Prince of Wales Fort, to take his maps and journals back to England. There Hearn compiled and published his accounts and maps.

MacKenzie's Trek to the Arctic

MacKenzie's Trek to the Arctic

Meanwhile, further west, on the opposite shore of the Great Slave Lake, the NWC was sending out its own Arctic expedition. The North West Company was an amalgam of independent traders who made it their mission to explore and exploit fur trading opportunities in the American northwest. One of these was figures was the outrageous Peter Pond. Pond was an old school fur trader, that is to say: a hot head, a misanthrope, an adventurer, a liar, an egoist, an explorer, and an outright greedy bastard. He was the first to exploit the rich fur resources around Lake Athabasca and in the process he seems to have killed off most of his competition in the region. Nonetheless Pond began the work of mapping out the area around Lake Athabasca including the river systems in the vicinity of Great Slave Lake. From indigenous reports he was also able to sketch out the possible courses of several important rivers heading north and west of the Great Slave Lake.

Despite falling out with most of his peers, Pond seemed to have a fairly amicable and unlikely relationship with is second in command and apprentice in the fur trade, a young British nobleman named Alexander MacKenzie. It was possibly from the educated MacKenzie that Pond learned of the results of Cook’s third voyage in 1779. He was fascinated by references to Cook Inlet, in Alaska, which Cook did not explore fully and mistakenly took for a river estuary. Vastly underestimating the distance between Alaska and the Great Slave Lake, Pond immediately assumed that the great river leading westward from his lake could be none other than the same river that Cook discovered. Pond sketched out his vision of the region and of the river leading to the Pacific in 1787, only one year before he would retire, leaving his post and his legacy to his second, Alexander MacKenzie. A year later, before the results of MacKenzie’s own explorations around Great Slave Lake were known, Pond confessed his theories to friend Isaac Ogden, who wrote “There can be no doubt but the source of Cook’s River is now fully discovered and known.”

Alexander MacKenzie

Alexander MacKenzie

MacKenzie set out, in 1789, to prove Pond’s theory and finally discover the inland Northwest Passage. Sadly and to his dismay, the river identified by Pond heading westward from Great Slave Lake turned sharply north. MacKenzie and his team, fighting against the current, powered their canoes upward along the river, sometimes traveling 17 hours a day, before ultimately reaching a tidewater which they associated with the Arctic Ocean. MacKenzie named the river Dissapointment, but it was later renamed the MacKenzie River in his honor. Though MacKenzie considered his voyage a failure it was quickly publicized in Europe, reaching the public within a year of Hearne’s journals.

MacKenzie’s expedition had very much the same results as Hearne’s but from the opposite direction. Both proved that no watery Northwest Passage existed through North America’s inland river systems. The journals of Hearne and MacKenzie filled in many of the blank spaces in the American west and would be the most significant accountings of their respective regions for the subsequent 100 years. It was not until the mid to late 19th century that explorers and cartographers were able to reconcile these important explorations with new data to develop a full map of the region.

1796 Mannert Map of the Americas

Mannert's 1796 Map of the Americas - one of the first to show Hearne & MacKenzie's Discoveries

Of the two explorers, both had distinguished follow-up careers. Hearne retired from exploration and became an important and eccentric figure in the Hudson Bay Company. He was later mentioned in the works of Darwin and was known for collaborating with naturalists in an effort to further science through his discoveries. He also, it is said, inspired Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. MacKenzie continued to search for a route to the Pacific and ultimately became the first European to cross North America north of Mexico and reach the Pacific.

REF:
Helm, June, “Matonabbee’s Map”, Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 25, No. 2 (1989), pp. 28-47.
Hayes, I. I., “Arctic Exploration”, The North American Review, Vol 118, N. 242 (Jan. 1874), pp. 23-69.
Hearne, S., A Journey to the Northern Ocean: The Adventures of Samuel Hearne, foreword by Ken McGoogan, 2007.
McGoogan, Ken, Ancient Mariner: The Arctic Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor Who Inspired Coleridge’s Masterpiece, 2004.
Mowat, F., Coppermine Journey: An Account of Great Adventure Selected from the Journals of Samuel Hearne, 1958.
Speck, Gordon, Samuel Hearne and the North West Passage, 1963.
Mears, R., Northern Wilderness, chapters 4-6.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-mannert-1796
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-t-1815
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NorthAmerica-pinkerton-1818
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-cary-1806
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AmericaNS-pinkerton-1818
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/WesternHemisphere2-pinkerton-1818
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NorthAmerica-tardieu-1810
http://www.geographicus-archive.com/P/AntiqueMap/Canada-pinkerton-1818