Charting the Great Lakes

Maps of the Great Lakes created during the 17th and 18th centuries reflect the importance of waterways to early explorers. These maps reveal the struggle explorers faced when documenting this challenging landscape. Early maps of this region allow researchers and historians to better understand the ways in which Europeans explorers related to their new surroundings. The colonization of North America rapidly increased the need and desire for atlases and maps, mainly being produced by the Dutch, English and French.

IMG_2866 The 17th century saw the increase of topographic maps, either in general or of particular areas. Atlases and maps produced during this time are considered to of the highest quality, due to their detail and use of color. Mackinac State Historic Parks is fortunate enough to have several maps from this time period in the archival collection, and amongst these maps is La Louisiana by Vincenzo Coronelli in 1695. Vincenzo Coronelli is credited with producing the most accurate map of the Great Lakes from the 17th century. Coronelli’s version is a careful study of the Great Lakes Region and reveals his dedication to it, covering all five Great Lakes and as far west as the Mississippi River Valley. Vincenzo Coronelli derived his cartographic information about this region from the reports of French explorers from the court of King Louis XIV and Jesuit Missionaries who were active in the area in and around the Great Lakes.  Coronelli born in 1650 was a Franciscan monk from The Republic of Venice active in the fields of cartography and cosmography. He was well known for his atlases and globes produced for King Louis XIV, or the Most Christian King.

IMG_2869By the 18th century, mapmaking had become much more prolific in North America, general and regional maps coming in great numbers, as well as, complete atlases mainly from the printing presses of England and France. Wars between these two nations over territory in the New World, as well as, the American Revolutionary War greatly stimulated the demand for new and accurate surveys of large areas. Much of this footwork was done by military and naval engineers, and was later incorporated into the general maps of the day. Partie Occidentale de la Nouvelle France ou du Canada was originally produced in 1745 by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin and was later re-issued around 1754 by Homann Heirs. This particular map is noteworthy for the incorporation of the islands in Lake Superior, which include: Isle Royale, the Apostle Islands, Isle Ste. Anne, Isles Phelipeaux and Pontchartrain, amongst other legendary islands that were vainly sought after by explorers. Bellin’s map summarizes the French knowledge of the region and shows rivers systems discovered by French explorers, forts and settlements, and Indian villages. This map includes the work of Pierre Gaultier, Sieur de La Verendrye, a French Canadian fur trader and explorer, notably acknowledged as being the last of the great French explorers in North America. In the 1730s, Gaultier and his four sons opened up the area west of Lake Superior and thus began the process that added this territory to New France.

Karte von Hauptmann Reisse in den innern Sheilen von Nord Amerika, a German version map of Captain Jonathan Carver 1767-67 travels through Michigan, Wisconsin and portions of Minnesota. The original English version was first published in 1778. Various areas of the map are labeled with the names of the Native Americans who lived there. Among the various colonial settlements marked on the map, Fort Michilimackinac and John Askin’s farm are labeled on the chart. Captain Jonathan Carver left Fort Michilimackinac in the spring of 1766 in canoes navigating the well-utilized trade routes of the French voyageurs. Carver’s route took him along the northern coast of Lake Michigan from which he proceeded to present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin, and from their he traveled to down the Mississippi River. Carver was sponsored to lead an expedition to chart the Northwest Passage by Robert Rogers. Before Robert Rogers was appointed Royal Governor of Michilimackinac by King George III in 1766, he led Roger’s Rangers during the French and Indian War to which Captain Carver enlisted in 1758.

These works of art published in the 17th and 18th centuries contribute a great wealth of knowledge on present day historians and researchers in an effort to better understand the methods of past explorers and cartographers. These maps reflect the social and political importance of this region, as they depict newly acquired territory, colonial settlements, forts, and Native American territories. These maps allow insight into how European explorers related to the New World. The cartographers who produced these early maps of the Great Lakes helped give shape to this important area of North America.

One Response to “Charting the Great Lakes”

  1. Diana

    Very informative. History would have been more fun for us in the 60s if it was more detailed about our Great Lakes. Maybe I just was not ready for what the books held. I find it fascinating now.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Comments (required)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>