The 1606 Mercator / Hondius Map of the American Southeast

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”, 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, 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. 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.

Links:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/VirginiaeItemetFloridae-mercator-1606

References:
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 Collection, 100.

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