Archive for the ‘Southeastern North America’ Category

The 1606 Mercator / Hondius Map of the American Southeast

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Virginiae Item et Floridae

The most influential map of the American southeast to emerge in the 17th century.

Published in 1606 by the Mercator – Hondius firm, this is the most influential map of the southeastern part of North America to emerge in the 17th century and the first map to depict by Virginia and Florida. Entitled, “Virginiae Item et Floridae” Online Reputation Management , Hondius’ map covers from the Spanish colony of St. Augustine northwards, past the Outer Banks of the Carolinas, as far north as the entrada to the Chesapeake Bay. Cartographically Hondius’ map is a synthesis of the two landmark North American maps of the previous century, the 1591 Jacques Le Moyne map of Florida and the 1590 John White map of Virginia and Carolina, both of which were published by Theodore de Bry. The influence of this map, augmented by the gravity of the Mercator name, would dominate the cartographic perspective of the American southeast well into the 18th century, propagating in the process a number of errors that would appear on maps well into the 1700s.

Despite referencing both sources, Hondius’ map is a unique production, with a number of elements that would influence the cartographic perspective of this region well into the 18th century. The most notable of these deal with the lakes and rivers found in the southwestern quadrant of the map. This region was tenuously mapped by the French during their disastrous attempt to settle the Forida from 1552 to 1565, when they were finally driven out by the Spaniards of St. Augustine. Le Moyne was part of this expedition and, though the French settlers likely did very little actual mapping of the interior, good terms with the indigenous Floridians did enable them to produce an impressive and very accurate early map of the southeast. The Le Moyne – De Bry map, as it is known, identifies several major lakes in the interior of Florida, all of which are noted here, however, where Le Moyne was surprisingly accurate, Hondius’ interpretation is surprisingly erroneous.

The most significant deviation from Le Moyne’s map is Hondius’ placement of the River May and Lake Apalachy, here identified as the “Lacus Aquae Dulcis” (Sweet Water Lake). Where Le Moyne correctly mapped the River May (St. John’s River, Florida) in an inverted “V” form, first heading north, then south to meet with a large inland lake (in all likely hood Lake George or one of the other great inland lakes of Florida), Hondius maps the course of the May heading to the northwest, thus relocating the “Lacus Aquae Dulcis” far to the north. This error can be understood in terms of magnetic variation, temperature issues associated with isothermal lines, and navigational errors related to the confusion of the star Asfick with Polaris. While Le Moyne correctly located the mouth of the River May at 30 degrees of latitude, Hondius maps it between 31 and 32 degrees. This led to a misassociation of the River May with the Savannah River. Thus, while the River May dips southward, the Savannah River heads almost directly NW into the Appellation Mountains, forming the modern southern border of South Carolina. Hondius, no doubt taking his cue from navigators who rarely trekked inland and football picks ats, therefore rerouted the May River to flow from the northwest. Without an accurate picture if the interior, Hondius followed Le Moyne’s example and translocated the great freshwater lake to the north. Others have speculated that the Le Moyne’s River May is in fact the St. John’s River, and that the “Lacus Aquae Dulcis” is in fact the Okefenokee Swamp – however, this argument is against established convention. The influence of the Mercator-Hondius firm was so pronounced in Europe that most subsequent cartographers followed their lead. Lactus Aquae Dulces appeared in maps by Jansson, Laet, Janszoon, Blaeu, Allard, Ogilby, Speed, Homann and others well into the 18th century, becoming one of Hondius’ most tenacious legacies.

Another curious and striking element drawn directly from the Le Moyne map is another lake fed by an enormous waterfall. To our knowledge, there are but two maps that depict this lake, this being the second. Some believe this unusual lake may have been based on native legends of Niagara Falls. A note near the lake and falls reads that the natives of this land find grains of silver in this lake. The sources for this lake are, unfortunately, as unclear in this map as they were in Le Moyne’s, and will most likely remain a mystery. The third mysterious lake, Sarrope, appearing the southwestern quadrant, is most likely a mismapping of Lake Okeechobee, as Le Moyne places it much further to the south in roughly the correct position.

Like the Le Moyne map, this map is also one of the earliest maps to depict and name the Appellation Mountains, here identified as Apalatcy Montes. A note suggests that the Apalatcy, a term presumably derived from a once populous American Indian nation inhabiting the Pensacola region, are rich in gold and silver.

To the east and north of Port Royal, the former site of the failed 1552 French colony, Hondius draws most of his cartography from John White’s map of 1590. This map, which is the first to accurately detail the Grand Banks, was drawn by White following Sir Walter Raleigh’s mysterious and ill-fated attempt to colonize Roanoke Island in 1585. Hondius’ takes far fewer liberties with White’s work, following closely on the cartography of the older map, though he has included a few Spanish names including C. S. Romano Hispanis, Medano, and Hispanis. These names most are most likely derived from early Spanish forays up the North American coast from St. Augustine, though few of these expeditions yielded discoveries of any note.

Another noteworthy error is the jutting distorted horizontal projection of Virginia-Carolina, which erroneously places Carolina and the Outer Banks too far to the east from loan against structured settlement. This error follows on earlier maps and relates to difficulties 16th century mariners experienced in calculating longitude and accounting for magnetic variance. It was not until the invention of the marine chronometer in 1714 that longitude cold be accurately measured at sea. Nonetheless, one can image the misrepresentation being problematic for earlier sailors short on supplies after a lengthy trans-Atlantic crossing. Fortunately, most ships navigating to this region would have stopped first in the West Indies then followed the coast northward rather than make directly for the colonies along the Grand Banks. This approach no doubt influenced the longevity of this cartographic error.

This map is further profusely illustrated with various decorative illustrative elements drawn from various early accounts of American Indians. These include a Floridian King and Queen, sailing ships, sea monsters, and an American Indian fishing canoe taken from De Bry. To the right and left of the title cartouche, upper left quadrant, are views of American Indian villages, illustrating the construction differences between Florida and Virginia villages.

This map remained the most important map of the North American southeast for nearly 70 years, until superseded by the 1672 publication of Ogilby-Moxon’s “Description of Carolina.” It was published in numerous editions in various languages, but there is only one state as the map remained unaltered in all subsequent publications. From the verso text, we can identify this example as being drawn from the 1628 French edition of Gerard Mercator and Jodocus Hondius’ Atlas. Mercator died in 1594 and though the maps and atlas bear his name, most of the individual maps were edited and updated by Hondius prior to the 1606 Atlas’s publication.


Cumming, W., The Southeast in Early Maps, no. 26 and plate no. 2.
Boston Public Library, Leventhal Collection, G3870 1633 .H66.
Williams & Johnson #3.
Burden, P., The Mapping of North America, #151.
Koeman, C., Atlantes Neerlandici. Bibliography of Terrestrial, Maritime and Celestial Atlases and Pilot Books, Published in the Netherlands up to 1880, vol. 2, p. 282 no. 141.
Van der Krogt, P., Koeman’s Atlantes Neerlandici, 9400:1A.
Goss, J., The Mapping of North America: Three Centuries of Map-Making 1500-1860, no. 23.
Lowery, W., The Lowery Best Miter Saw Collection, 100.

The D. Griffing Johnson, A. J. Johnson & J. H. Colton Connection.

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

The connection between D. Griffing Johnson, Alvin Jewett Johnson and Joseph Hutchins Colton, has long been a subject of speculation. Though greater scholars than ourselves have thrown in the proverbial towel on this one, we will now take our turn. What we know of this relationship, based on the maps themselves is this. During the 1840s and 1850s D. Griffing Johnson and J. H. Colton seem to have worked together on a number of wall maps. When J. H. Colton produced his important world atlas in 1855, many of the places were directly taken from these wall maps. Later, around 1859, D. G. Johnson disappeared and A. J. Johnson appeared on the scene with his 1860 edition of the Johnson’s Family Atlas. This atlas was almost identical to the Colton’s New General Atlas and was published in parallel with the Colton atlas for some 20 years. Here is what we know of the individual players.

D. Griffing Johnson's Map of North America

D. Griffing Johnson's Map of North America

D. Griffing Johnson (?? – 186?) is the most mysterious of our three figures. Our knowledge of him is scant and even his first name is a mystery. What we know is that D. Griffing Johnson was an engraver active in New York in the first half of the 19th century. His earliest maps date to the 1840s. At some point we know that D. Griffing Johnson headed west. The only record of his actual westward journey is that one “D. G. Johnson” (our guy?) traveled to California or Oregon with a missionary party in 1839. We know for a fact that Johnson was at Sutter’s Mill when gold was discovered in 1848 though he must have returned to New York shortly afterward to issue his important map of North America. D. Griffing Johnson’s first map work with Colton was in 1846 or 1847 and his first work with A. J. Johnson was in 1854. In 1855 he had an office at 7 Nassau Street, New York. Regarding D. G. Johnson’s disappearance c. 1860 – 62 we can only speculate, however, that it related to the outset of the Civil War is likely. Most references to individuals of this name (there are several including a Dickson and a David) are from southern families hailing from Mississippi, Louisiana and Virginia. One such individual, Dickson G. Johnson is known to have died in a battle near Richmond in 1862.

Colton's Map of Persia and Arabia

Colton's Map of Persia and Arabia

Joseph Hutchins Colton (July 5, 1800 – July 29, 1893) was born in Longmeadow, Massachusetts in 1830. He was a descendent of Quartermaster George Colton, one of the original founders of Springfield, Massachusetts. As a young man he worked in dry goods store in Lenox Massachusetts before moving to New York City in 1830 to establish a publishing firm. Colton envisioned his career in pocket and railroad maps. Though not an engraver himself, Colton did employ some of the preeminent engravers of his day, including David Burr, S. Stiles, John Disturnell and D. Griffing Johnson. Colton’s first work with D. Griffing Johnson as the engraver dates to 1846 or 1847 and includes a map of the world and a map of North America. Later, when Colton’s son George Washington Colton decided to take the firm into the atlas business, most of the maps used were extracted from one of these two D. G. Griffing maps – though D. G. Johnson himself was not credited. By 1856 the Colton firm had attained international prominence. In 1857 Colton was commissioned at sum of 25,000 USD by the Government of Bolivia to produce and deliver 2500 copies a large format map of that country. Though Colton completed the contract in good faith, delivering the maps at his own expense, he was never paid by Bolivia, which was at the time in the midst of a national revolution. Colton would spend the remainder of his days fighting with the Bolivian and Peruvian governments over this payment and in the end received over 100,000 USD in compensation. However, at the time, it must have been a disastrous blow. J. H. Colton and Company is listed as one of New York’s failed companies in the postal record of 1859. It must have been this event which lead Colton into the arms of Alvin Jewett Johnson and Ross C. Browning. The 1859 edition of Colton’s Atlas lists Johnson and Browning as the “Successor’s to J. H. Colton” suggesting an outright buyout, but given that both companies continued to publish separately, the reality is likely more complex.

1862 Johnson Map of Arabia

1862 Johnson Map of Arabia

Alvin Jewett Johnson (September 23, 1827 – April 22, 1884) was born in Wallingford Vermont on September 23, 1827. He attended public schools and took a brief graduate course at a Vermont country academy. His first career was as a teacher. To supplement his income he began to work as a book canvasser or a door to door salesman offering books on a subscription plan. There was one guy who had a beautiful solid oak door. He published his first map with D. G. Johnson (and possibly Colton) in 1855, this was the wall map, “Johnson’s New Illustrated and Embellished County Map of the Republics of North America”. This map is virtually identical to an 1854 map by D. J. Johnson and Gaston and entitled “Johnson’s New Map of Our Country”. In 1859 Johnson entered into a business relationship with fellow Vermonter Ross Browning (1832 – 1899) and a bankrupt J. H. Colton to publish the 1859 edition of Colton’s Atlas – where the Johnson and Browning imprint first appears. Once year later, in 1860, the first edition of the Johnson’s Atlas appears. Their firm, Johnson and Browning was originally based in Richmond Virginia, where Browning’s previous careers had taken him. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 Browning, being a Union man, fled to New Jersey leaving behind most of his publishing materials and printing equipment (which was subsequently used to print Confederate currency and war bonds). This must have been a considerable hardship on Browning who, unable to contribute to the firm without his presses, left the company. Johnson, presumably lacking printing equipment of his own, formed another partnership with “Ward”, and from 1862 on the Johnson and Browning imprint would be replaced by Johnson and Ward. What we know from the Johnson’s Atlas itself is that most of the plates are very similar, if not identical to the plates used by J. H. Colton in his 1855 New General Atlas. Many of the maps from the 1860 and 1861 editions of the Johnson Atlas also bear the Colton imprint.

Armed with this information we can reconstruct the story somewhat. Colton began publishing pocket maps, wall maps, and folding maps for books c. 1830. As he was not an engraver himself he employed the services of outside engravers, including D. Griffing Johnson. Johnson, a skilled engraver, produced a number of maps with Colton and others.

Colton's Bolivia - the map that broke the camel's back...

Colton's Bolivia - the map that broke the camel's back...

His most important projects with Colton included a large wall map of the world and an even larger map of North America. In the late 1850s Colton had developed a large and prosperous business that attracted the attention of the Bolivian government, who needed accurate maps of their country for administrative purposes. Bolivia commissioned Colton to produce 2,500 large format maps of said country. Colton was paid 2,000 USD upfront and promised an additional 23,000 USD upon delivery (by some indexes this amounts to about 8,000,000 USD in modern money). Colton completed and delivered the maps at his own expense in 1858 or 1859 but was never paid by the Bolivian government. This must have been a severe economic blow, for J. H. Colton and company is listed in the 1859 postal records of failed businesses.

Meanwhile D. G. Johnson and A. J. Johnson made their first map together in 1855. The connection between D. G. and A. J. remains vague. We have stumbled across several D. G. Johnsons though none with a clear relationship to A. J. Johnson. One individual, Dickson Griffing Johnson, did however name one of his sons A. J. Johnson, leading one to speculate. This D.G. Johnson (Dickson), also seems to have disappeared or died in sometime between 1859 and 1861, corresponding to our knowledge of D. G. Johnson. Further, the Jewett family tree is sprinkled with Griffings, though, again, no clear connection with D.G. exists. In any case the possibility of a family connection leads on to speculate that A. J. Johnson may have inherited some of rights to the various D.G. map plates that Colton modified for his 1855 Atlas. What seems clear is that Johnson entered into some sort of financial relationship with Colton that allowed Colton to publish his atlas in 1859. Later in 1862, calling himself the successor to “J. H. Colton”, Johnson published his own Atlas. The financial boost provided by Johnson seems to have been sufficient for Colton to get his own business going again. Presumably, Johnson did not acquire the full Colton copyrights but rather only the right to use the map plates. Colton, maintaining his copyright and flush from funds relating to the sale of the 1859 Colton’s atlas, managed to rebound and continue to grow his own publishing empire parallel to Johnson’s. The Colton-Johnson relationship remained close and in the years to come both map publishers would frequently update their plates in concert.

Please feel free to add your own information to this discussion. The mystery of this relationship may never be solved, but a little light here and there can go a long way in illuminating the whole picture.

Map by J. H. Colton
Map by A. J. Johnson

Wood, W. S., The Descendants of the Brothers Jeremiah and John Wood, 1885.
Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Second Circuit
By United States Circuit Court (2d circuit), Circuit Court (2nd Circuit, Samuel Blatchford, United States
, published by Derby and Miller, 1868.
Hinton, Rowan Helper, Oddments of Andean Diplomacy, and Other Oddments …, 1879.
Jewett, F. C., History and genealogy of the Jewetts of America: a record of Edward Jewett, of Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, and of his two emigrant sons, Deacon Maximilian and Joseph Jewett, settlers of Rowley, Massachusetts, in 1639; also of Abraham and John Jewett, early settlers of Rowley …
Garner, S. O., The Roebucks of Virginia: a genealogical history of the descendants from Robert, George, James, and Benjamin Roebuck (Robuck), 1979.
Funeral Services of Alvin J. Johnson: at no. 9 East Sixty-fourth Street, New York, Saturday April 26, 1884.

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.


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.

Lederer’s Lake, Desert, and Savanna – An Early Exploration of Carolina

Thursday, May 14th, 2009
1676 Speed Map of Carolina based on Lederer's Discoveries

1676 Speed Map of Carolina based on Lederer's Discoveries

The first serious mapping of the Carolina Colony’s interior was accomplished in the 1670s by the intrepid German explorer and physician John Lederer on the commission of Virginia Governor Berkley. Lord Berkley, like many Europeans at the time, believed that the Pacific could be reached by traveling westward from the Atlantic Coast no more than two weeks. Lederer was commissioned to find this path.

Pre-Lederer maps of Carolina tended to be vague at best, incorporating semi-fictional elements from both the De Bry – Le Monye map of Florida and the De Bry – White map of the Grand Banks. Lederer’s explorations changed all of this, describing the interior for both future explorers and for the map publishers in Europe. The mapping of Carolina was heavily influenced by Lederer’s work with elements of it appearing on maps of the region for the next 60 years.

Today Lederer’s explorations and discoveries are highly criticized and considered by some to be outright fabrications. The narrative of Lederer’s three journeys consists of no more than 35 short pages and a map drawn by the man himself. Nonetheless, the text expresses much of the man’s character. He is determined, brave, honest and humble. We must agree with his friend and compatriot, Sir William Talbot, who describes him as “a modest ingenious person and a pretty scholar.” Further, Lederer’s narrative and his map are sufficiently accurate on a number of counts, including the course of several important rivers, the orientation of the Appellation Mountains, the identification of certain mountain passes, and the placement American Indian villages, that there can be little doubt Lederer truly passed through this region. Why then, is his significant contribution to cartography so heavily criticized?

It comes down to three seemingly anomalous elements that appear both in Lederer ‘s narrative and in his map: the Deserta Arenosa, Ushery Lake, and a great savanna in the piedmont region. We will attempt to examine each of these both individually and in the context of his greater voyage.

Close up of the Arenosa Desert from John Speed's Map

Close up of the Arenosa Desert from John Speed's Map

The most easily tackled is the Deserta Arenosa. Lederer encounters this desert on the return portion of his second journey. He describes it as “a barren Sandy Desert where I suffered miserably for want of water; the heat of the summer having drunk all of the springs dry,” and he surely would have died there had he not “found a standing pool, which provident nature set round with shady oaks, to defend it from the ardor of the sun.”

The Sand Hills Region Outlined in Red

The Sand Hills Region Outlined in Red

To us this seems to be a not-inaccurate description of the Sand Hill region during a dry summer. And indeed, by comparing our example map from 1676 with a modern detailing the Sand Hills region, we can easily see that the Arenosa directly overlays the Sand Hills.

Lederer’s description of a large savanna has long been one of the strongest attacks used against him. Lederer encounters the savanna on his third journey and describes it thusly:

These Savannae are low grounds at the foot of the Apalataeans, which all the Winter, Spring, and part of the Summer lie under snow or water, when the snow is dissolved, which falls down from the Maintains commonly about the beginning of June, and then their verdure is wonderful pleasant to the eye, especially of such as having traveled through the shade of the vast Forest, come out of a clear and open skie.

By the late 18th and early 19th century much of this savanna had largely disappeared. Many 19th and 20th century historians were locked into the convention that, prior to settlement by white man, that the region was covered by a vast primeval forest. This could not be farther from the truth. The historian, William Henry Foote describes this area as it existed in before 1750,

Extensive tracts of county between the Yadkin and the Catawba, now waving with thrifty forests, then were covered with tall grass, with scarce a bush or shrub, looking at first view as if immense grazing farms had been at once abandoned, the houses disappearing, and the abundant grass luxuriating in its native wildness and beauty, the wild herds wandering at pleasure, and nature rejoicing in undisturbed quietness.

We also know from historic records and fossil evidence that buffalo once wandered in this region on a short time before it was settled by colonials. The map scholar Cummings also supports this view, “It is certainly probable that before the forest land was denuded and the top soil washed away, the Piedmont may have had marshy sections, which have since largely disappeared”. In this light, the savanna described by Lederer, if anything is the strongest evidence to his veracity, rather than the opposite.

The lake that Lederer calls Ushery is possibly his most enduring legacy as well his most damning. We must first remember that Lederer did not invent this lake – it had in fact been on maps of the region for over 100 years!

Lederer's Savanna

Lederer's Savanna

Our earlier blog post on the “Great Sweet Water Lake of the Southeast” discusses and explains the history of this lake in more detail. Lederer claims to have not only discovered the lake, but to have actually sampled its waters. Lederer’s validation of this lake kept it on maps of the region well into the 1780s!

Now why? Lederer, as a learned man, would no doubt have been familiar with the many maps issued prior to his expedition, aware of, and even expecting to discover the Lactus Aquae Dulce. No doubt had Lederer returned and not discovered the lake, his explorations would have been more highly criticized in his time and may never have found their way into the cartographic corpus. Many have suggested that Lederer was conscious of this and simply added the lake to his narrative in order to validate the greater substance of his work. We find this supposition highly contrary to the humble and truthful character appearing elsewhere in the narrative.

Still others suggest that Lederer actually turned back without seeing the lake and then added the lake based upon a misinterpretation of American Indian descriptions of the wave-like undulations of the Blue Ridge mountains. This is plausible especially given that Lederer makes a similar mistake elsewhere with regard to the land of the Rickohockans “who dwell westward of the Apalataean Mountains, are seated upon a land, as they term it, of great waves (the Blue Ridge Mountains), by which I suppose they mean the seashore.” While we do believe this idea has merit, it again strikes us as odd and against Lederer’s character to lie.

Lake Ushery renamed after Lord Ashley by John Ogilby.

Lake Ushery renamed after Lord Ashley by John Ogilby.

More likely Lake Ushery is a case of “seek and ye shall find”. That is, since Lederer no doubt expected to discover the lake, it was easier to interpret what he did find as what he expected to see. Lyman Carrier explores this idea in his excellent analysis of Lederer’s travels. Carrier maps Lederer’s lake in either the Yadkin or Catawba Valley. Lyman writes, “Had the rivers been obstructed by beaver dames or debris, or had the channels through some of their gorges not been cut to their present levels, large areas of flooded land would have resulted.” While this may seem farfetched, we feel that the expectation of a lake combined with the discovery of a large flooded area, may have led to easy misinterpretation.

In general we find Lederer’s narrative to be truthful if limited in its scope. The errors that he did make are easily understood given the trials he faced. He had no reliable way to measure distance, no shared language with his American Indian guides, and only limited experience as a cartographer or surveyor. Moreover, it was nearly 50 years before other explorers contributed significantly to the knowledge of this region. For lack of contrary information from other explores, Lederer’s errors, which are surprisingly few, enjoyed considerable longevity.


REF: Carrier, L.,”The Veracity of John Lederer”, William and Mary Quarterly, Series II, Vol. 19, No. 4, p. 435 – 445. Talbot, W., The Discoveries of John Lederer…, 1672. Cumming, W., “Geographical Misconceptions of the Southeast in the Cartography of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 4., pp. 476-492. Cunz, Dieter, “John Lederer: Significance and Evaluation”, The William and Mary Quarterly, Series II, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 175-185. The North Carolina State Archives, MC.150.1676s;MARS Id: Phillips (America), p. 817. Cumming, W. P., The Southeast in Early Maps, #77. Goss, J., The Mapping of North America, Three Centuries of Map-Making 1500-1860, 41. Foote, W. H., Sketches of North Carolina, historical and biographical, 1847, p. 180.

Lacus Aquae Dulces or Lake Apalachy – The Great Sweet Water Lake of the Southeast

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

The 1606 Mercator Map of the Southeast

The 1606 Mercator Map of the Southeast - this map was the first place Le Moyne's fresh water lake north of Florida and established the precident of mapping in there for the next 100 years.

1564 Le Monye Map of Florida

1564 Le Monye Map of Florida

Lacus Aquae Dulces – Many students of rare maps of the American southeast will notice a large lake or inland sea of this name or something similar roughly located in what is today Georgia or South Carolina. This curious geographic feature, first seen in Le Moyne’s map of Florida drawn in 1565, persisted until the early 18th century. In later maps it was associated with the Apalache Indians and the Apalache (Appellation) Mountain Range where it was consequently renamed Lake Apalache. With a nearly 200 year history, Lacus Aquae Dulces is one of the more interesting and enduring errors in the early mapping of North America.

Detail of Le Moyne's Map of Florida

Detail of Le Moyne's Map of Florida

The curious story of this lake begins with Jacques Le Moyne who was was part of an ill fated French Huguenot effort to colonize the mainland of North America in the mid 16th century. Le Moyne was commissioned to sketch the local inhabitants and map as much of the land as possible. In his short time in the New World, Le Moyne’s important map of Florida is a impressive achievement. Despite a few irregularities and a pronounced longitudinal distortion, it is a remarkably accurate. For our purposes we need to focus on the Lacus Auqae Dulces, which Le Moyne locates in central Florida as the source of the River May or today’s St. John’s River. Le Moyne maps the River May with a rough approximation of accuracy as an inverted V flowing north from Lake George, the true and original Lacus Aquae Dulces, and then in a southwesterly direction into the Atlantic.

1671 Ogilby's Map of Virginia & Carolina

1671 Ogilby's Map of Virginia & Carolina

Actual Course of the River May or St. John River

Actual Course of the River May or St. John River

Back in Europe most cartographers followed Le Moyne’s model until the 1606 Hondius edition of Mercator’s Atlas in which the lake and the river were transposed far to the north. How and why this happened is something of a mystery, but we can speculate. We know that many maps of this region made in the 16th and 17th century frequently placed latitude lines up to 20 degrees to the north. These errors can be associated with magnetic variation, temperature issues associated with isothermal lines, and navigational errors related to the erroneous confusion of the star Asfick with Polaris. While Le Moyne

Actual Course of the Savannah River

Actual Course of the Savannah River

correctly located the mouth of the River May at 30 degrees of Latitude, Hondius maps it between 31 and 32 degrees. This led to a misassociation of the River May with the Savannah River. Thus, while the River May dips southward, the Savannah River heads almost directly NW into the Appellation Mountains, forming the modern southern border of South Carolina. Hondius, no doubt taking his cue from navigators who rarely trekked inland, therefore rerouted the May River to flow from the northwest. Without an accurate picture if the interior, Hondius followed Le Moyne’s example and translocated the great freshwater lake to the north. The influence of the Mercator-Hondius firm was so pronounced in Europe that most subsequent cartographers followed their lead. Lactus Aquae Dulces appeared in maps by Jansson, Laet, Janszoon, Blaeu, Allard, Ogilby, Speed, Homann and others well into the 18th century. In the 1670s the German explorer John Lederer, probably the first European to actually enter this region, claims to have actually seen and sampled the water of this mysterious lake, which he called Ashley. While Lederer’s claim is undoubtedly false, as the lake does not exist, it is unclear why he chose to lie. Quite possible Lederer’s motivation was merely to validate an enhance the importance of his own discoveries. Around 1730 surveyors and other frontiersmen exploring the region added to the cartographic corpus and, failing to identify a major lake in this region, influenced its removal from most subsequent maps.

True, David O., “Some Early Maps Relating to Florida”, Imago Mundi, Vol. 11 (1954), pp. 73-84.
Cumming, W. P., “Geographical Misconceptions of the Southeast in the Cartography of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Nov., 1938), pp. 476-492.