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Rare First State of the 1715 De Fer-Delisle Map

Showing French Pretensions in North America

Choice Copy with Contemporary Coloring & Gold Highlights

<p>FER, N[icolas] de (after Guillermo Delisle). <em>La Riviere de Missisipi et ses Environs….</em> Paris, 1715.</p>

[MAP]. FER, N[icolas] de (after Guillermo Delisle). La Riviere de Missisipi et ses Environs, dans l’Amerique Septentrionale. Mis au jour par N. de Fer, Geographe de sa Majesté Catolique, 1715. [above lower neat line] A Paris dans l’Isle du Palais sur le Quay de l’Orloge a la Sphere Royale avec Prive. du Roy 1715. Paris, 1715. Copper-engraved map on two joined sheets of laid paper with large watermark (LL and circle of beads), original color, settlements and some decorative elements highlighted in gold, showing the southeastern portion of the North American continent including Lake Erie in the northeast, a portion of Virginia to the east, the Florida peninsula, the Mississippi River to “les Illinois,” the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, and portions of Cuba and the Bahamas, “Nouvelle Espagne,” and “Nouveau Mexique”; neat line to neat line: 46.6 x 64 cm; overall sheet size: 54.5 x 69.1 cm; upper left corner with crown-topped circle with three stars and chevron; compass rose, fleur-de-lis, and rhumb lines at lower center; site of La Salle’s French settlement in Texas noting it is now destroyed. Very light browning where joined at centerfold, a few minor stains and short repaired tears (no losses) at top right, otherwise fine with beautiful original coloring and gilt highlighting, lower blank margin untrimmed. A highly desirable copy. OCLC locates copies at University of Texas at Arlington, Newberry Map Catalog (Ayer 133-F34-1715), and Bibliothèque de France. Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec also has a copy. A copy reported at the University of Kentucky in Lexington is a photocopy.

First edition, separately issued map, first state. Jack Jackson in Flags Along the Coast (p. 120) comments on the present map: “According to Philip Burden, a map dealer and specialist on various printings, the map first issued in 1715 with the title La Riviere de Missisipi. It was also incorporated into De Fer’s four-sheet La France Occidental dans l’Amerique Septentrionale.” This 1715 state is meagerly documented in the cartobibliographical sources, but see:

Arkway & Cohen & Taliaferro, Catalog 62, Fine Antique Maps, No. 17 (uncolored): “One of the earliest maps to show a delta for the Mississippi, and to reveal the importance of the Missouri River.”

Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Quèbec No. 2663110 (contemporary color).

Cumming 131n, documenting Delisle’s original 1701 manuscript map, from which the present map was printed, and commenting that the map is notable for its early representation of the Carolina Trading path from Charlestown to “la Mobile R,” details on Native Americans along the Little Tennessee River, the Red River, the Upper Rio Grande, etc. Cumming locates Delisle’s original 1701 map in Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France. Bibliothèques de la marine, 1907, p. 224, #4. See also Lowery 252.

Elkhadem, et al., Cartes des Ameriques dans les Collections de la Bibliothèque Royale Albert Ier, cat. 30 (on p. 78, contemporary color).

Goodspeed, Vol. 32, No. 4, 19 (uncolored): “Perhaps we have overlooked it, but this does not seem to be described in Phillips nor in Wheat’s Mapping the Transmississippi West.”

Newberry Map Catalog 13523 (uncolored)

University of Texas at Arlington (image on The Portal to Texas History (colored, contemporary?)

The second state of De Fer’s 1715 map was published in 1718, under his own name and re-issued by his successor Jacques-François Benard, with alterations and additions, serving as part of De Fer’s 1718 edition in four sheets, easily distinguished by the presence of ships in the Gulf of Mexico, added place names, reworking of the Texas River system, and many decorative elements (flora, fauna, etc.). For De Fer’s 1718 map, see Cumming 169 (entry for second state but mentions this 1715 version). Karrow & Buisseret, Gardens of Delight: Maps of Travel and Accounts of Illinois, No. 8. Lowery 286. Newberry Map Catalog, Ayer 133.F34. Verner, The Northpart of America, pp. 52, 242-243.

According to Cumming (131), the present printed map by De Fer is a close copy of Delisle’s manuscript map “Carte des environs du Missisipi,” ca. 1701, the latter considered to be the foundation map for all future maps of the region. See also Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 48-51, with illustrations of Delisle’s 1701 manuscript map and his 1718 printed map.

By its coloring this map indicates French pretensions to territory in North America. In the east English colonies are cut off at a line from “Apalaclicoli” north to approximately Virginia. In the west, New Spain is cut off well south of the Rio Grande, apparently based on the strength of La Salle’s failed colony, which is specifically mentioned as having been wiped out by Native Americans. In the northwest, however, Nouveau Mexique is named, a seeming nod to Spanish possession of the area. That part is surmounted with a beautifully painted French crown. This is an early depiction of what would later become Louisiana and the Louisiana Purchase, showing French ambitions to vast swaths of interior North America. Dozens of towns and Indians settlements are highlighted by gold. The map centers on Matagorda Bay, here called “Baye St. Louis,” the site of LaSalle’s colony and which is connected to the east coast by a long road through the interior taken by the English to reach “Chicachas” and to Mexico by a route terminating in the same location, but coming from the south. In other examples of subsequent editions that fell into English hands, the coloring indicates far vaster East Coast English possessions than are shown here and diminished French possessions in the Mississippi River Valley. For an example of such political coloring, see the copy at Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec.

Theories abound regarding the genesis and subsequent use of the present 1715 map by De Fer. Nothing can ever displace the status of Delisle’s Carte du Mexique et de la Floride (1703), Carte de la Louisiane (Paris, 1718), and his other renditions of New France and the American West, which Wheat (Mapping the Transmississippi West 99) describes thus: “All in all, Delisle’s early eighteenth-century efforts, with their correct course of the Mississippi and many items farther west, are towering landmarks along the path of Western cartographic development.” Ironically, the present map by De Fer, which draws so heavily upon Delisle’s 1701 manuscript map, is infinitely more difficult to find than either Delisle’s 1703 or 1718 map. If one collects maps in the Delisle sequence, De Fer’s 1715 map would be among the most difficult printed maps to acquire. Delisle and De Fer were the two leading cartographers in France at the time, and because French mapping was held in great esteem, their work greatly influenced mapmakers (and geopolitical perceptions) in Europe and England. Jackson (p. 37) comments on De Fer and Delisle, their sources, and working relationship:

Guillaume Delisle and Nicolas de Fer must have examined the map of Juan Bisente del Campo, with Iberville’s first voyage, with keen interest, because they were not long in adopting many of its features into maps of their own. Notwithstanding the service that both cartographers rendered for the king and his minister, Pontchartrain, it is difficult to judge their working relationship and say where cooperation between them ended and competition began. Both enjoyed access to official documents and manuscript maps in producing maps for publication. It is often hard to tell which man is responsible for the various sketch maps in the French archives. De Fer, on several occasions, issued in his own name manuscript maps drawn by Delisle. The latter did not sue him—as he did Nolin, who copied and released a Delisle sketch map of North America as part of Nolin’s Le Globe Terrestre of 1700. Perhaps Delisle and De Fer worked jointly in preparing the Marine Ministry maps that resulted from Iberville’s explorations and had an understanding as to how the information would be shared. Yet, they were rivals for the king’s largess and also competitors in the business of selling maps.

Jackson (pp. 39-40) also compares the styles of Delisle and De Fer, the former very precise, and the latter prone to embellishment. What comes to mind is De Fer’s 1705 map with ornamental pictorial cartouche depicting the disenchanted Pierre Duhaut murdering La Salle east of the Trinity River in Texas in 1687 (Les costes aux environs de la rivière de Misisipi découvertes par Mr de la Salle en 1683 et reconnues par Mr le chevallier d’Iberville en 1698 et 1699):

Nicolas de Fer, for all his prodigious output of maps, was not the key player with respect to how the Bisente map and Iberville’s discoveries shaped the Gulf region on French maps. This credit must go to the Delisles, for their maps relied more heavily on Bisente and were profoundly more influential than De Fer’s, whose productions featured “ingenious ornamentation” over “geographical exactitude.” Put bluntly, De Fer was at his best when he had a good map to copy, whether first-hand sources such as those of Kino and Bisente or the manuscript maps of scholarly compilers like the Delisles. Given such a map, he had the artistic flair to embellish dramatically and tastefully, which more scientific cartographers like the Delisles disdained to do.

Or, as Hossam Elkhadem comments in the exhibit of the present map at Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique: “En quelques années, il en fait une affaire prospère. Il ne se pose pas en topographe, mais en vulgarisateur.”

Native American villages are located, and a few of the tribes in the Spanish Southwest are noted as being either friends or enemies of the Spanish.

Selected references to Delisle’s 1703 printed map: Cumming, Southeast in Early Maps #137. Martin & Martin, p. 50 (color plate) & p. 92 (black & white plate), p. 93 & #14. Schwartz & Ehrenberg, Plate 82 & pp. 137-138: “Earliest printed map to show an accurate definition of the lower Mississippi River and its delta.”

Selected references to Delisle’s 1718 printed map: Buisseret, Mapping the French Empire in America 12. Martin & Martin 19. Harwood, To the Ends of the Earth: 100 Maps that Changed the World, pp. 109-111: “Delisle’s Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours de Mississipi of thought to have been the oldest map to have been consulted in the planning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.... The map’s remarkable topographical and geographical accuracy made it the template for American mapping for a half century, but it was also one of the most controversial maps of its day.” Jackson, Plate 24, pp. 40-45 & footnotes on pp. 123-125 (exceedingly interesting discussion on some of Delisle’s sources for the present map and the truism: “To draw the most accurate map possible of Spanish waters, use Spanish sources”). 


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