A very attractive example of the seminal 1556 / 1606 Giacomo de Gastaldi and J. B. Ramusio map, considered the first specific publishing map of New England and incorporate the term New France or Nuova Francia
. Although hard to easily comprehend from a modern cartographic perspective, this early woodcut map covers the Atlantic coastline roughly from New York Bay and Harbor to Labrador, inclusive of the New England / Boston / Maine / Nova Scotia / Newfoundland coast. The map is extensively decorated with illustrations of indigenous peoples, Europeans, local flora and fauna, sailing ships, sea monsters, and fishermen. Gastaldi derived the basic cartographic outline from the northern half of his 1548 map Tierra Nueva
, which he then augmented by synthesizing the epochal French-sponsored voyages of Giovanni Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier. To some extent the shortcomings of this map are an excellent illustration of just how hard it was for cartographers to interpret often misleading and poorly documents reports of early navigators.
The reader is best oriented by New York Bay and Harbor, which appear in the lower left corner and are identified as Angloulesme, a term that never attained popular support but was intended by Verrazano to flatter his French sponsor, Francis I. The Hudson River extends north of the bay to erroneously meet with the St. Lawrence. The notoriously dangerous and rock strews waters of Upper New York Harbor are illustrated by numerous tiny islands. Angloulesme itself is the western tip of Long Island, modern day Brooklyn! Continuing eastward along the coast, Flora
is most likely the eastern tip of Long Island, Montauk. Port Real
is Newport Bay and Port de la Refuge
is most likely either Narragansett Bay or Buzzard Bay, with the former being most likely given the profusion of small islands. This would suggest that the island of Briso
is an early depiction of Block Island and the dual Isola de Brertoni
, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The coast form here eastward is highly compressed although Cape Breton Island is identifiable and so labeled. As is Terra Nouva
or Newfoundland. The snakelike band wrapping around the coast line is most likely an attempt to identify the Grand Banks and the square area, identified as Isola d'ella Rena
or 'Island of Sand,' can only be Sable Island.
Reconciling Verrazano and Cartier
The curious constriction of the coastline between Narragansett Bay and Cape Breton is the result of Gastaldi's attempt to reconcile Verrazano and Cartier. He made the erroneous assumption that the northernmost point of Verrazano's exploration, Narragansett Bay or Port de la Refuge
was close to the southernmost point of Cartier's voyage, Cape Breton Island, thus squishing the two together and altogether missing Cape Cod!
Another evident error is the assumption that the Hudson and St. Lawrence Rivers meet, thus turning La Nuova Francia
into an island. Though his reasoning is unclear, Gastaldi doubtless extracted this idea from data associated with the second voyage of Cartier. Although incorrect at the time, Gastaldi was remarkably prescient regarding the practicality of such a connection. Today a network of canals, including the Champlain Canal and the Chambly Canal, do indeed connect the two rivers, creating an important navigable corridor between the St. Lawrence and the Hudson.
Norumbega: the El Dorado of New England
The New York/Connecticut coastline is presented on a disproportionately large scale. While this may also be a misinterpretation of its extensive treatment in Verrazano's journals, it may also reflect European fascination with the legend of Nurumbega
(Norumbega), an apocryphal land here occupying much of that coastline. This mysterious land appeared on many early maps of New England starting with Verrazano's 1529 manuscript map of America. He used the term, Oranbega
, which in Algonquin means something on the order of 'lull in the river.' The first detailed reference to Nurumbeg, or as it is more commonly spelled Norumbega, appeared in the 1542 journals of the French navigator Jean Fonteneau dit Alfonse de Saintonge, or Jean Allefonsce for short. Allefonsce was a well-respected navigator who, in conjunction with the French nobleman Jean-François de la Roque de Roberval's attempt to colonize the region, skirted the coast of south of Newfoundland in 1542. He discovered and apparently sailed some distance up the Penobscot River, encountering a fur rich American Indian city named Norumbega - somewhere near modern day Bangor, Maine.
The river is more than 40 leagues wide at its entrance and retains its width some thirty or forty leagues. It is full of Islands, which stretch some ten or twelve leagues into the sea. ... Fifteen leagues within this river there is a town called Norombega, with clever inhabitants, who trade in furs of all sorts; the town folk are dressed in furs, wearing sable. ... The people use many words which sound like Latin. They worship the sun. They are tall and handsome in form. The land of Norombega lies high and is well situated.
Though Roberval's colony lasted only two years, Andre Thevet, writing in 1550, records encountering a French trading fort at the site of Norumbega.
A few years later in 1562, an English slave ship wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico. David Ingram, one of the survivors, claimed to have trekked overland from the Gulf Coast to Nova Scotia where he was rescued by a passing French ship. Possibly inspired by Mexican legends of El Dorado, Cibola, and other lost cities, Ingram returned to Europe to regale his drinking companions with boasts of a fabulous city rich in pearls and built upon pillars of crystal, silver, and gold. The idea caught on in the European popular imagination and expeditions were sent to search for the city - including that of Samuel de Champlain.
The legend of Norumbega thus seems to have transitioned from Allefonsce's most likely factual description of a lively American Indian fur trading center, to Thevet's French trading fort, to Ingram's fabulous paradise dripping in wealth. Allefonsce's description of the American Indians he encountered in Norumbega corresponds well those of Hudson, who also met a tall well-proportioned people. Sadly only a few years later many of these tribes began to die off at extraordinary rates (over 90% of the population perished) due to horrifying outbreaks of small pox and other diseases carried by the unwitting European explorers. It seems reasonable that Allefonsce may have stumbled upon a periodic or semi-permanent indigenous fur trading center on the Penobscot. It also seems reasonable that French colonists may have set up their fur trading post at the same site, for it was fur, not gold that was the real wealth of New England and Norumbega. Alas, it was Ingram's fictitious account, which though wholly the product of drunken sailor's imagination, produced the most enduring image of Norumbega.
Centuries later, in the 19th century, some armchair theorists, most notably Eben Norton Horsford, postulated based upon Allefonsce's descriptions and their own questionable research that Norumbega was a term derived from Norvegr (Norwegian), and that it was in fact a Viking city that Allefonsce discovered. We find this highly unlikely; however, Horsford's work inextricably linked Norumbega with speculations relating to Viking settlements in North America.
Publication History and Census
This map exists in two states. The first state appeared in 1556 and can be identified by its round bulbous trees. The second state was produced in 1565 after the first woodblock was destroyed by fire. This plate is easily identifiable by the addition of willow trees. The second state was issued twice, in 1556 and 1606 (this example). At some point the plate suffered from worm damage and this is evident from small worm-shaped blank areas on most examples of the map. This map was drawn by Giovanni Battista Ramusio and engraved by Matteo Pagano for the third volume of Giacomo Gastaldi's Navigationi et Viaggi
Very good. Two minor wormholes, repaired on verso, near centerfold. Smudge above 'Parte Incognita.'