Auchagach’s maps were, of their type, quite good, but by the time his water system made it onto Bellin’s map, it was far from reality. Auchagach’s maps had neither orientation nor scale indicated and Bellin erred in both these aspects when he copied them to his map. The actual river systems to the northwest of Lake Superior have a much more Northwest-Southeast orientation than the almost straight West-to-East alignment shown by Bellin, and Bellin shows the river systems as much larger than they are in reality. While Bellin does not show a definite Pacific coast in the west, his River of the West extends very close to wherever that coast would be, presenting what appears to be an easy water route to the Pacific. As good as this looked on Bellin's map, failed French attempts in pursuing this route to the Pacific in the following years soon demonstrated the fallacy of Bellin’s depiction.
“I discovered recently a river flowing to the west... That the river appeared to go, according to the compass, south west by south...the lower part may go to the sea to the south west by west.”That is, the river may flow to the Pacific Ocean.
According to a scholarly study, the Vérendrye sons had probably visited a Hidatsa village [though the names are similar, the Mantannes were almost certainly not Mandans, as they are often thought to be]. The village was located just south of the conjunction of the Little Knife River with the Missouri, on a part of the Missouri where it looks like the river flows south/southwest. The perceived direction of the river flow, combined with information gathered from conversations with the Indians interpreted through the lens of their hopes, led the Vérendryes to conclude the river might be the much desired River of the West. Philippe Buache included his take on their "discovery" in his 1754 map of western New France shown above.
Buache tried to merge this Vérendrye information with previous beliefs, so he has another river, which flows out of a "L. du Brochet," merge with the dotted-line River of the West [this coming from Delisle's 1722 map shown in the previous blog] and this river in turn flows into our old friend the Sea of the West.
Basically, the French were still confused, not sure if there was a Sea of the West, River of the West, or some other water route to take them from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. Unfortunately for them, they were never able to figure it out, for as a result of the French & Indian War, in 1763, they gave up all their possessions in New France to the British.
Sea of the West
From 1695 to about 1700, Guilluame and his father Claude drew a series of manuscript maps of that region which include a large “Mer de l’Ouest,” that is, a “Sea of the West.” This Sea of the West is a distant cousin of the Sea of Verrazano, though as Delisle noted it was based on a number of Indian reports recorded by the French in the second half of the seventeenth century. A viable path to the Pacific had been a focus of the French from the beginning of New France, so they were always questioning Indians they met about possible water routes to the west. Communication was, of course, imperfect, and probably neither party really understood what the other said, with the French always interpreting what they heard in light of their pre-existing notions.
The French understood the Indians tales as indicating that there was a large body of water not too far to the west, which could be reached by river and which would provide access to the Pacific. In the Jesuit Relations of 1659-60 there is the report of a sea lying just ten days journey to the westward of the Great Lakes, and this sea was mentioned in other Indian reports recorded in the Relations in the following years. These reports claimed that the Indians mentioned various characteristics of this sea—-such as having tides and with Europeans living along it—-which indicated that the sea was connected to the Pacific.
Later in the century, French explorers in the western parts of New France heard similar tales. For instance, in 1685 Daniel Greyselon, Sieur Duluth reported hearing from some Indians “that it was only twenty days’ journey from where they were to the discovery of the great lake whose water is not good to drink,” that is a lake of salt water. In 1688, Jacques de Noyon explored the river systems to the northwest of Lake Superior meeting some Assiniboines who, when he enquired about the Western Sea, told him they would take him in the spring to that sea, upon which there was a great city with walls of stone and a race of men who were white and bearded. Noyon did travel with the Indians as far as Lake of the Woods, and there they told him that a river flowed from that lake into the Western Sea.
Besides all these Indian and explorer reports, the possibility of a Sea of the West was supported by a 1625 story by one Juan de Fuca, who said that in 1592 he been sent by the Viceroy of New Spain north along the California coast searching for the “Strait of Anian,” which was the supposed entrance to the passage across the north of America from the Pacific Ocean. Fuca said at between 47 and 48 degrees north he found a bay which he sailed into, thereafter finding a large sea which led further to the east. After sailing for more than twenty days, Fuca thought that he had reached the “North Sea” (that is the Atlantic), thus achieving what he had been sent to do.
Whether Fuca’s tale was a complete fabrication or a confused account of an actual voyage has never been determined for certain. However, there are no archival records of such a voyage, and there is no knowledge of a Spanish ship ever having reached beyond 43° N in that period. Whatever the truth of this tale, it was another “first-hand” account which seemed to indicate the possibility of a large sea to the west of the Great Lakes.
The Fuca tale, along with the Indian & explorer reports enthused the French so much that near the end of the sixteenth century the governor and intendant of New France recommended to the King that they establish posts in the western part of the colony as bases from which to explore for the Western Sea. The Fuca tale, along with the Indian and explorer reports, also stimulated Claude and Guillaume Delisle to consider the possibility of a Sea of the West.
Delisle’s Sea of the West did, however, find a believer in another French cartographer, Jean Baptiste Nolin, who in 1700 produced a double hemisphere world map showing this sea in a form essentially similar to Delisle’s. Delisle claimed that Nolin copied his geography from a manuscript globe he had produced for the Chancellor of France, which did show the Sea of the West. Delisle won his suit in 1706, which forced Nolin to remove any of the “offending geography” from all his coppers plates and also to destroy all copies of the wall map in existence (resulting in the fact that only three copies on the Nolin map are known to have survived).
About the same time as the mythical Sea of the West first appeared, another non-existent body of water was introduced to the geography west of the Mississippi River, this time probably based more on a deliberate falsehood than on mistaken interpretations of Indian reports.
This new myth was of a “Riviére Longue,” perpetrated by Baron Louis de la Hontan. As an officer in the French military, in 1683 Lahontan went to New France and traveled extensively throughout the colony. In 1703, he wrote about his travels in Noueaux Voyages de M. le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amerique Septentrionale. In that work, Lahontan claimed that during a six month period in 1688, he explored from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, going as far south as the Missouri River, then heading north along the Mississippi until he came to this Long River.
While the River Long soon passed from the scene—-Delisle never again showed this river--the notion of a river flowing into the Mississippi with its source in some mountains to the west, over which lay a westward flowing river—-a notion introduced by Marquette in the previous century (see previous blog to read about this)—-which emptied into a salt lake or sea, was reinforced by Lahontan’s imaginary geography.
In the beginning of the 18th century, the search for the Western Sea became an important focus for the the French. In 1717, the French Council of the Marine wrote that:
“If the Western sea is discovered, France and the Colony could derive great benefits in trade,... The navigation would be brief, compared with European vessels and subject to far fewer risks and costs, which would provide such great benefit over the trade of that country that no European nation could compete with us.”The Governor and Intendant of New France recommended to the King that a number of posts be established to the west of the Great Lakes as bases for the search for the Sea, and in 1720, Father Charlevoix was sent out “to proceed to the principal posts of the upper country in order to make inquiries there respecting the Western Sea.”
About this time, Father Bobé presented to the King a “Memoir for the Discovery of the Western Sea,” in which he argued that this shouldn’t be a difficult search, for the Western Sea was not far distant from New France and could be reached by a number of feasible routes. He thought that the suggested route up the Missouri then across the mountains to a western flowing river provided an easy route, though it was possible the westward flowing river might end up in the Bay of California rather than the Western Sea. Also feasible was a practical portage west from the headwaters of the Mississippi to a westward flowing river which would empty into the Western Sea.
Click here to read the next stage in the search for a route to the Pacific.
In deciding on what value I would put on the map for ARS, I chatted with a friend who is also a map seller. We knew of only one instance where the map had been for sale in the last several years, where it was listed at $25,000, but my friend said he thought that price was high. He commented that the map isn’t (geographically speaking) that important and $25,000 is really quite a high figure for most American maps of the nineteenth century. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought $25,000 was a fair price.
What makes this even more relevant is that this is the only use of the eagle for a map of the United States. Joseph Churchman wrote about how it was the happenstance of the way a map of the United States was hanging in his apartment which caused the light and shadows to create the impression to him which suggested a bird. Combine this with the fact that soon the shape of the United States changed—-with the addition of Texas in 1845—-so that the eagle shape no longer fit the country. Thus, this really delightful concept and design only appear on this single map.
The final factor increasing the value of this map is its extreme scarcity. Scarcity by itself does not create value, but when an object is particularly desirable, scarcity can ratchet up the value by considerable amount.
Given this history, it is somewhat remarkable that any of these maps survived in good shape. Almost all copies of the book which come on the market are missing the map or have only a fragment, and the map itself very rarely comes onto the market.
So, combining the fact that this is a very rare map with an appearance and symbolic power which appeals to a very wide body of buyers, creates a strong value for this map. Basically, the map almost never comes on the market and when it does everyone wants to own it. I think $25,000 would be a fair retail value, but would not be surprised if one came up at an auction and brought even more!
The Chicago printmaking firm of Kurz & Allison is well known for its production of commemorative prints of American historical scenes. Founded in 1880, the firm's avowed purpose was to design "for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship." Elaborate they certainly were: the majority of their prints are bright and dramatic, with action throughout the image, though others were of a more restrained character, often issued in black and white. Drawn in a broad, graphic style that developed from Kurz's background as a muralist, their prints have a striking appearance.
Early in this voyage of discovery, Verrazano came upon one of the barrier islands of North Carolina. He did not see any of the gaps between the islands, but did see what looked to be a vast body of water across what he took to be an isthmus of land. As the whole point of his exploration was to find a route past the Americas, the Pacific Ocean was very much in the front of Verrazano’s mind, and thus he jumped to the conclusion that that body of water was the Pacific. As he wrote in a letter to King Francis:
We called it Annunciato from the day of arrival, 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 [corrected from ‘east’ in the text] 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.”
By the end of the sixteenth century, most European geographers had rejected the idea of a large Sea of Verrazano lying across the middle of the North American continent, so the general consensus was that the two most likely possibilities for a water route west from Europe to China and the Indies were either by a “Northwestern Passage” around the northern coast of America, or by a route which began with the St. Lawrence River. It wasn’t clear to geographers if that route would end up in the supposed North Sea or would lead right across the middle of the continent to a “Western Sea.” This Western Sea would, of course, either be the same as or would lead to the Pacific Ocean.
This was a widely held belief at that time, and in particular it had become the “ever-constant opinion of a school of contemporary geographers, that the great river of Canada [St. Lawrence] issued from a lake which also poured its waters by another channel to the South Sea.” (Justin Winsor, Cartier to Frontenac, p. 99) That is, the thought was that if one went far enough up the St. Lawrence, one would come to a lake which not only was the source of the St. Lawrence, but also of a river which flowed westward to the Pacific.
In the early seventeenth century, French explorers and missionaries continued to make inroads in exploring the Great Lakes and the river systems feeding the St. Lawrence. At some point the French heard of a “Nation of Stinkards,” who came from a body of water which smelled foul and which rose up and down. This sounded to the French an awful lot like the Western Sea they were seeking, bringing them, they hoped, into contact with traders from Cathay.
In 1634, Jean Nicolet was sent to find these “People of the Sea,” sailing from Lake Huron into Lake Michigan and on to Green Bay, wearing a damask robe for his anticipated contact with the Chinese. While he didn’t find the Western Sea, he was convinced that he would have found it if he had been able to sail just three more days journey up a river which flowed into Green Bay. His belief in this may have come from rumors he heard about the Mississippi River, which one could get to by sailing up the Fox River, which flows into the southern end of Green Bay, then down the Wisconsin River, with only a short portage between them.
The Mississippi seems to have been the source of a number of tales, reported in the Jesuit Relations, which the French missionaries heard from the Indians in the following decades about a large river which lay to the west of Lake Superior. This river supposedly lay not too great a distance west of the Great Lakes, maybe eight days journey, though the distances varied. The French understood these tales as indicating that this river flowed into a salt water sea where could be found men who were like the French. While it is possible that there might have been some reports, which traveled along the Mississippi River, of contacts with the Spanish on the Gulf of Mexico, it is more likely that these reports came from a wishful-thinking misinterpretation of reports provided by eager-to-please Indians.
By 1669, the French had received clearer reports of the “Messipi” River, which flowed southward. They hoped it would flow to the Vermillion Sea, thus offering them a route to the Orient. Thus, Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette were sent out in 1673 to explore the river and see where it went. Jolliet and Marquette canoed down the Mississippi to its confluence with Arkansas River, at which point they realized it likely flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, and so they turned back.
All was not lost, however, for when they passed by the mouth of the Missouri River, flowing into the Mississippi from the west, the explorers thought that this might be the real route to the Western Sea. The Relation of 1672-73 (written by Father Dablon) gives this account from Marquette
“Pekitanoui (as they named the Missouri) is a river of considerable size coming from the Northwest from a great distance and it discharges into the Mississippi; there are many villages of savages along this river and I hope by its means to discover the Vermilion or California Sea....It would be a great advantage to find the river leading to the southern sea toward California and as I have said this is what I hope to do by means of the Pekitanoui according to the reports made to me by the savages. From them I have learned that by ascending this river for 5 or 6 days one reaches a fine prairie 20 or 30 leagues long. This must be crossed in a Northwesterly direction and it terminates in another small river---one which one may embark for it is not very difficult to transport canoes through so fine a country as that prairie. This second river flows toward the Southwest for 10 or 15 leagues after which hit enters a lake, small and deep. [That lake is] The source of another deep river which flows toward the west where it falls into the sea. I have hardly any doubt that it is the Vermilion Sea and I do not despair of discovering it some day.” (Vol. 59, p. 143)
This concept was confirmed by Louis Hennepin, who in 1680 was sent by La Salle down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River. On his trip Hennepin saw the Missouri, about which he wrote, in 1683, that the Indians informed him that “its source was found by ascending ten or twelve days journey to a mountain from which all these streams are seen flowing, that then form this river. They added that beyond this mountain the sea is seen and great vessels....” (From Louis Hennepin, A descripton of Louisiana. New York: John G. Shea, 1880, p. 344) In a book published in 1697, which expanded on his 1683 publication—much of the expansion being fabrication—Hennepin expanded on this with the assertion: “They told me further than from that Mountain [emphasis added] one might see the Sea, and now and then some great Ships..” (From English edition A New Discovery of a Large Country in America by Father Lewis Hennepin, 1698).
By that time, hope in a route to Cathay by heading to the north of the Great Lakes had faded both because of the lack of success in finding any western outlet from Hudson’s Bay or other northern waters, and also because by then the British had seized control of the area to the north with their Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670.
As for the third alternative, a sea route heading west from the Great Lakes, there was no clear evidence, though there were suggestive reports. Whether such a route existed simply was not known, as Delisle shows by leaving the area west of the Great Lakes totally blank. Most maps had left this area blank, and making this a convenient place to put cartouches and inset maps—a common thing demonstrated in the Delisle map. Of course, it is such blank spaces on maps that allowed for continued, unfettered speculation, and this is exactly what we will find in the following decades. It is just in this hitherto blank area to the west of the Great Lakes that myriad conjectures about water routes to the Western Sea would appear in the eighteenth century.