Archive for the ‘Pacific Northwest’ Category

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

Antique Map of the Week: 1839 David Burr and Jedediah Smith Map of the United States

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Map of the United States Of North America With parts of the Adjacent Countries

Burr's extraordinary map of the United States.

Entitled “Map of the United States Of North America With parts of the Adjacent Countries”, this is David H. Burr’s all but unobtainable 1839 wall map of the United States. Burr’s map is an accomplishment of staggering significance and is considered the culmination of one of the most dramatic and romantic periods in the mapping of the American West. It is further one of the most significant maps in the opening of the American West to the Gold Rush that, in just a few years, would transform the nation. Between the expedition of Louis and Clark in 1804 – 1806 and the work of Fremont in the 1840s, the exploration of the Transmississippi experienced a kind of dark age. Nevertheless, while no official teams were pushing cartography westward, trappers and fur traders were slowly penetrating the region. Most of these figures were illiterate and did little to extend cartographic knowledge. The exception was Jedediah Smith, a trapper whose wanderings in the west and subsequent cartographic innovations the historian C. I. Wheat considers a “tour-de-force unprecedented and never equaled in the annals of Western exploration”. Smith spent roughly 9 years, between 1821 and 1830, exploring the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada, the Rocky Mountains and the valleys of California, but sadly perished before his important work could be published. Smith’s now lost map was taken by his partner and friend, Missouri Congressman William H. Ashely, and eventually made its way into the hands of David H. Burr, who was then composing his own important map of the United States – offered here. Smith’s work must have seemed a revelation to Burr who struggled to reconcile conflicts between the mappings of Humboldt, Pike, Miera, and of course, Lewis and Clark. Burr, realizing the importance of Smith’s work, incorporated it throughout his map, thus redefining the cartographic representation of the region. Shortly after Burr published this seminal map, Smith’s original manuscript was lost, making Burr’s map the sole printed representation of Smith’s work. Curiously and somewhat inexplicably, this map never attained significant popularity in its day, leading to a very small publication run and, today, extreme rarity.

Our survey of Burr’s map must begin in the east. Burr, having just competed individual state plates for the 1835 issue of his New Universal Atlas had a relatively easy task of assembling the individual mappings into a cohesive whole. However, several elements do bear note. Burr identifies the nation’s fledgling rail network, which is strongest in the northeast, with bold blue and red lines. In the state of Maine both the disputed British boundary, roughly along the 47th parallel, and the far northern boundary claimed by the state of Maine are noted.

Heading west the territory becomes less settled and the character of the map changes. Particularly in Wisconsin and what would soon become Iowa, towns are few and far between, instead the map shifts its focus to notating American Indian Nations as well as the locations of forts, mills, lakes, portages, rapids, and waterfalls. Several land exchanges and treaties with various American Indian groups including the Sioux, the Sacs and Foxes, and the Chippewa are also identified.

When Burr drew this map, Missouri was the westernmost state and the jumping point for most significant journeys westward. Beyond the borders of Missouri the territory is dominated by the American Indian Nations recently relocated to western lands by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. These includes the Osages, Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw. Further north the territories of the Otoes, Kansas, and Shawnees are noted. The map also identifies important landmarks on the route westward including the fur trapping forts on the Arkansas River (Gant and Bent), various springs, Pikes Peak, James Peak, and the Spanish Peaks. Where known military routes through the region are sketched in, including Major Long’s Route and more importantly the Route of the Dragoons under Col. Dodge who, just a few years previous in 1834, initiated the first official contact between the U.S. Government and the Plains Indians.

As Burr took up the pen to draw this map, Texas was in the process of declaring its 1836 independence from Mexico. Years earlier the Mexican government offered significant land grants to those with the means and interest to settle Texas – which in accordance to Humboldt, many considered to be a wasteland. Nonetheless, many citizens felt that the United States had been cheated of Texas, which according to some treaties should have been included in the lands acquired under the Louisiana Purchase. Burr notes this border, along the Rio Grande or Rio del Norte, as the “Ancient Boundary of Louisiana as possessed by the French.” Consequently, when Mexico began offering grants, land hungry adventurers from north of the border seized the opportunity. The result is etched upon the Texan landscape to this day – Austin, Dewitt, McGloin, Burnett, Williams, McMullen, Wilson, Padilla, Chambers, and Cameron received grants to large swathes of territory that they were eager to develop. Many of these grants Burr notes with care, perhaps predicting the Mexican American War and the annexation of Texas that, as more expansionist Americans flooded into the newly independent region, seemed inevitable. Himself uncertain of the outcome of the Texas independence movement, Burr offers a curious compromise. On the Texas – U.S. border, Burr pens a distinct line with color coding that suggests a separate nation distinct from both Mexico and the United States. The Mexican border with Texas is, on the other hand, noted only as the aforementioned ancient Louisiana border. Ever the cartographic diplomat, Burr is thus able to appease both the U.S. recognition of an independent Texas and the Mexican denial of the same.

To the north and west of Texas from the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River to the modern Mexican border, Jedediah Smith’s cartographic work comes to the fore. Clearly composing this map with Ashley’s copy of the Smith map in hand, Burr delineates Jedediah’s nine years of wandering throughout the region. Most of the copious notations and commentary are drawn directly from Smith’s map, as are the corrected courses of many of the region’s river systems. It was Smith’s significant study of this vast area that ultimately united the discoveries of the 18th century Escalante-Miera map to the more contemporary mappings of Louis and Clark – finally brining the entire region into context. Smith also accomplished the first successful crossing of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada range. In the Sierra Nevadas he identifies Mount Rogers (likely Mt. Shasta) and, just to the South, Mt. Joseph. This map, via Smith, is the only published period example of Smith’s trailblazing work in this region, the extent of which is far too broad and significant to fully embrace in this simple medium, but which ultimately played a significant role in the American expansion westward. (With regard to further research on Smith’s cartographic significance we refer you to Wheat’s classic study, Mapping the Transmississippi West where an unprecedented entire chapter is dedicated to Smith’s travels) In 1849, when settlers and prospectors flooded into the region in response to the Gold Rush, they traveled along passages that “Old Jed” Smith had trail-blazed years before as a trapper and fur trader.

In the northwestern quadrant of the map Burr leaves the Oregon border open to the north, extending well into modern British Columbia. The British believed this territory fell into the land controlled by the Hudson Bay Company, while expansionist Americans asserted a claim to the region as far north as Russian America (Alaska). Five years following the Burr’s construction of this map this conflict would escalate into the 54°40′ dispute. The turmoil ultimately gave rise to slogans like “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” and the catchphrase “Manifest Destiny”. However, exhausted with war following the Mexican-American conflict, the two sides finally signed the 1846 Oregon Treaty, settling the border along the current 49th parallel.

Wheat considers this map “in every respect a towering example especially in the Far West” and an essential chapter in the cartographic history of America. Burr composed this map in preparation for inclusion in his impossibly rare 1839 American Atlas. Most of the maps in the American Atlas were dissected and mounted linen – a common procedure at the time. This map, however, though clearly issued from the same printing plate, was a contemporaneous, but entirely independent issue. Though a few lucky libraries and museums, including the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the David Rumsey Collection, do possess examples of this map from the American Atlas, none possess a wall map issue. We have been able to identify no other examples of this map in wall map format in any collection, public or private, nor, as far as our records indicate, has it ever been offered at auction or in any dealer catalog. This is a once in a lifetime collecting opportunity.

Links:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/UnitedStates-burr-1839

Theoretical Cartography and the Sea of the West or Mer de l’Ouest

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The idea of a great inland sea occupying a vast part of the American west and opening into the Pacific attained the height of its popularity in the middle part of the 18th century under the patronage of the influential French cartographers Guillaume de l’Isle and Phillipe Buache. Under Buache and De l’Isle’s influence the Sea of the West, Mer de L’Ouest, or Baye de l’Ouest reached its fullest expression and commonly appeared on maps from about 1740 to 1790.

The source of Sea of the West, however, precedes both Buache and De l’Isle by several hundred years. The idea of a Sea of the West is intimately related to the hope of either a Northwest Passage or a River passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Such a passage was actively sought after almost from the earliest days of American Exploration. The idea had at its core the commercial interests of British and French traders who, unlike the Spanish, had no easy access to the Pacific and the rich trade with Asia.

Munster's iconic 1841 Map of America.  Verrazano's Sea is seen extending from the north towards Carolina.

Munster's iconic 1841 Map of America. Verrazano's Sea is seen extending from the north towards Carolina.

In it most embryonic form, the Sea of the West can be associated with Verrazano’s sea. This great sea, pictured here in Munster’s classic 1540 map of the Americas, was identified by the Italian navigator Verrazano. Sailing along North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1524, Verrazano saw the sound on the eastern side of the isthmus and postulated that it must be the Pacific.

. . . where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which, from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay …

This concept was taken up by various cartographers back in Europe and, subsequently, a great indentation along the western coast of America starting just north of California was a common characteristic of many early maps of the continent. Even in the 1670s, when John Lederer made his famous explorations of Virginia and North Carolina, most colonial settlers believed that the western sea was only about 10 or 15 days inland from the coast.

Nonetheless, Verrazano’s Sea was largely discredited in the late 18th century when prominent cartographers like Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, and Blaeu removed it from their maps. It was not until the 17th century that it began to reappear on maps though reformatted to a reduced size and moved farther west.

Jansson's 1631 Map of America showing a mysterious inlet...

Jansson's 1631 Map of America showing a mysterious inlet...

The next serious first hand evidence of the Sea of the West appears in the account of Juan de Fuca’s voyage along the western coast of America published by Samuel Purchas in his 1625 book Purchas His Pilgrimes. The veracity of de Fuca’s account has been the subject of significant debate over the last 100 years or so. Most argue that de Fuca’s account was fabricated by the Englishman Michael Lok to promote his own ideas of a Northwest Passage. However, we find a grain of truth in the narrative. De Fuca was supposedly a Greek Captain active in the Americas in the late 1500s. Colonial records to indicate that such a figure did in fact exist and was an active pilot in New Spain from about 1585 to 1600. De Fuca’s account does ring somewhat of truth if we assume that he actually sailed into the strait now named after him:

…until he came to the Latitude of fortie seven degrees, and that there finding that the land trended North and north-east with a broad inlet of sea, between 47 and 48 degrees of Latitude; he entered thereinto, sayling therein more than twenty days, and found that Land trending sometime North-west and North-east, and North, and also East and South-eastward, and very much broader Sea than was at the said entrance, and that he passed by divers lands in that sayling…

Regardless of any actual veracity De Fuca’s account may or may not have, what is important for our purposes is the effect this report had on European cartographers who widely trusted it. In accounting for De Fuca’s 20 days of sailing, European cartographers, began mapping a large open inlet extending well into the continent – though perhaps not so far as the 16th century Verazanno’s Sea.

Janvier's 1762 Map of North America Showing Buache's Sea

Janvier's 1762 Map of North America Showing Buache's Sea

The next incarnations of the Sea of the West – and perhaps it fullest realization – came through the work of the aforementioned Guillaume de l’Isle and his brother in law Philippe Buache. In the early 17th century it became increasingly important for French and English settlers along the northeastern coasts of North America to find a passage to the Pacific in order to compete with the Spanish for the lucrative East India trade. Both nations sent out several expeditions both by sea and by river. By this time, most agreed that an Arctic route was unfeasible and instead turned their attention to the lake and river systems of the continent. Some believed they would find a river system extending westward from the Hudson Bay along the passage mapped out by Juan de Fuca. Others postulated a more southerly route through the Lake of the Woods and Lake Winnepeg. Still others believed that a route could be found by following the Missouri River.

Such was the competition to get to the Pacific that, when De l’Isle and Buache “discovered” the Sea of the West, they chose to keep it a secret for the benefit of France and never published it in any of their works. It was left up to the competing map publisher Nolin to abscond with a copy of De l’Isle’s map and publish the first Buachian “Sea of the West” map. De l’Isle subsequently filed a law suit against Nolin for copyright infringement,

Il (Nolin) a represente une Mer a l’Occident de la Louisiane, qu’il appelle Mer de l’Ouest. Cette mer estoit une de mes decouvertes, mais comme il n’est pas toujours a propos de publier ce que l’on scait, ou que 1 ‘on croit sqavoir, je n’ai pas fait graver cette Mer sur les ouvrages quej’ai rendus publics, ne voulant pas que les Etrangers profitassent de cette decouverte quelle qu’elle pft estre, avant que l’on eut reconnu dans ce Royaume si l’on en pourroit tirer quelque avantage..

Even so, the damage was done and the Sea of the West began to appear on a number of influential maps of the period.

Of course, one wonders at De l’Isle and Buache’s sources. On this we have some certain evidence and a great deal of speculation. Reports from American Indians of a salt sea far to the west were hardly uncommon in the 18th century. De l’Isle would have had access to numerous missionary reports that were, at the time, streaming into Paris from the new world. At the very least, he would have had access to the narrative of Lahonton (who heard about the Great Salt Lake from his American Indian Guides), Juan de Fuca’s legend, the De Fonte letter, the influential though possibly fabricated tale of the American Indian traveler Moncacht-Ape, as well as the explorations of Pierre de La Verendrye.

Vaugondy's 1772 Map of America Showing the Sea of the West

Vaugondy's 1772 Map of America Showing the Sea of the West

With so many sources and such a history, one might be tempted to ask why De l’Isle and Buache claim to have “discovered” the Sea of the West. The stems from the a cartographic approach embraced by Buache. Cartographers had the difficult job of piecing together legends, missionary reports, astronomical observations, and nautical references into a cohesive whole. It was their job to present the known world in a comprehensible manner. Even with reports from navigators and missionaries coming in from all over the world – much was unknown and much else was unreliable. In these instances cartographers resorted to a number of different strategies. Some filled the space with sketches, drawings, text or cartouches. Others simply left unknown areas blank. Some coped the speculations of other cartographers. By early 18th century, a new movement had evolved in France to address these problems. Though undefined at the time, today it is called “theoretical cartography”. Buache was the leading theoretical cartographer of his day. Theoretical cartography attempted to used known geographic patterns and scientific theories to fill in blank spaces when little else was known. The Mer de la Ouest is the perfect example Though a salt water inlet from the Pacific had long been speculated upon and hoped for, Buache and De l’Isle embraced the theory because it supported both the ambitions of the French crown in the New World and the theoretical geographic theory that Buache was developing.

The Sea of the West remained on map until the end of the 18th century. The late 18th century explorations of James Cook and George Vancouver finally defeated the theoretical cartographers.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NorthAmerica-janvier-1762
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/DeFonteAutres-vaugondy-1772
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-latter-1762
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Amerique-clouet-1785
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NouvellesDecouvertes-vaugondy-1772
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Amerique-brion-1786
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Florida-debry-1591

REFERENCES:
Lucie Lagarde, “Le Passage du Nord-Ouest et la Mer de l’Ouest dans la Cartographie Française du 18e Siècle, Contribution à l’Etude de l’Oeuvre des Delisle et Buache, Imago Mundi, Vol. 41 (1989), pp. 19-43.
Hayes, Derek, Historical atlas of the Pacific Northwest, p. 18-27.
Petty, C. M., When France was King of Cartography, p. 113 – 164.
Kellog, L. P., The French Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest.
Winsor, Justin, The Mississippi Basin: The Struggle in America Between England and France 1697 – 1763.

Fou-Sang or Fusang, a 5th Century Chinese Colony in Western America?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

1776 Zatta Map of the Pacific Northwest Showing Fusang

1776 Zatta Map of the Pacific Northwest Showing Fusang

East of the Eastern Ocean lie
The shores of the Land of Fusang.
If, after landing there, you travel
East for 10,000 li
You will come to another ocean, blue,
Vast, huge, boundless.

This ancient poem, written by a 3rd century Chinese poet, describes a place that is often referred to in Chinese folklore as the “Birthplace of the Sun”. It was a place well known in ancient China. It appears frequently in poetry and around the 2nd century BC, one Han emperor is said to have sent an expedition to colonize this land. Where was the legendary land of Fusang? Eighteenth century mapmakers placed it in North America, usually near what is today Washington or Vancouver. These cartographers, most notably De L’Isle and Zatta, mapped Fusang based on a popular essay written by the French orientalist historian Josepth de Guignes in his 1761 article “Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l’Amérique? ” De Guignes was a dubious historian at best, but with this he may have been on to something. Fusang is most fully described on by the 6th century itinerant monk Hui Shen.

Hui Shen is said to have been a mendicant Gondaran monk and to have appeared in the court of the Emperor Wu Ti at Jingzhou in Southern Qi in 499 AD. His adventures, which are described by Yao Sialian in the 7th century Book of Liang, describes his voyage in both known and unknown lands. Starting around 455 AD, he traveled to the coast of China, to Japan, Korea, to the Kamchatka Peninsula, then to Fusang. Fusang, he reports is some 20,000 Chinese Li (about 9,000 km) east of Kamchatka. This would place it somewhere around what is today British Columbia, roughly where Zatta and De L’Isle map the colony of Fusang.

While it is a subject of ferocious debate, numerous scholars and historians have embraced the idea that the Chinese not only visited the New World but maintained regular contact with it. We have long known that, given the advanced stated of shipbuilding and navigation in ancient China, the Chinese were capable of launching expeditions across the Pacific. The real question is, did they? The story of Hui Shen is one of the few actual documents that describe such an voyage. Hui Shen’s tale, which offers anthropological and geographic commentary consistent with Pacific Coast of America, describes Fusang in considerable detail. Over the past 200 years numerous scholars, both eastern and western, have broken down the Hui Shen text. Some have declared it a fabrication, but most have embraced the idea that the Chinese did in fact not only visit America, but maintained a minor but active back and forth communication.

1772 Vaugondy Map of the Pacific Northwest showing Fou-Sang

1772 Vaugondy Map of the Pacific Northwest showing Fou-Sang

Though many scholars agree that the Fusang tale does have some element of truth, few agree on where it may have been. Some point to Peru (Hui Shen describes the leader of Fusang as the “Inki”), others to Mexico (Fusang = Maguey), and still others to British Columbia (most likely arrival point sailing east from Kamchatka with the easterly North Pacific Current). The name Fusang itself is derived from Chinese mythology where it is a land or tree in the east from which the Sun is born. This kind of plant, or something similar, is described as common in the Land of Fusang. Fusang is billed as a kind of all purpose plant which can be eaten, made into clothing and made into paper, etc. There is considerable debate as to what Fusang may have been, with some identifying it with the Maguay of Mexico, others with various types of Cactus, and still others ancient varieties of corn (which were common along the Pacific Coast of North America).

There is some, but not significant, historical evidence to support the idea that the Chinese were active in Ancient America. Ancient Chinese coins, ship anchors (James R. Moriarty of the University of San Diego), and other relics have been discovered along the American coast – some dating back as much as 2,000 years! Also, Hui Shen’s descriptions do correspond somewhat with what we know of the New World around 450 AD. It is far too much for this short blog post to breakdown the details of Hui Shen’s narrative, especially when it has been done so well and so well by others, however, our list of references below can offer significant further reading.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NouvellesDecouvertes-vaugondy-1772
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AmericaWest-zatta-1776

REF:
San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 1979.
Guignes, Jospeh, de, “Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l’Amérique?”, Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, tome 28, Paris, 1761
Mertz, Henriette, Columbus Was Last, Hyperion 1992.
Wei Chu-Hsien, China and America -Volume One, Shuo Wen Shu Dian Bookstore, 1982.