The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850: An Historical Geography

By E. W. Gilbert | Go to book overview

Chapter XIII
THE REPRESENTATION OF WESTERN
AMERICA ON MAPS PUBLISHED
BETWEEN 1800 AND 1850

Many of the maps of North America which were published in the eighteenth century reflect the geographical speculations of Baron Louis de la Hontan, who in 1683, when seventeen years old, had been sent to Canada in a company of French marines. In 1688 he made a journey from Green Bay to the Fox River, and then reached the Mississippi by way of the Fox-Wisconsin portage. La Hontan then claimed to have reached a mythical river which he named the Long. He said that he ascended this tributary of the Mississippi for many leagues and that Indians told him of a river in the far west that emptied itself into a salt lake of 300 leagues in extent. La Hontan's book was published in 1703,1 and its combination of satire on European manners with accounts of mythical travels have led scholars to compare it with Swift Gulliver's Travels. The book had a great vogue and its influence on geographical maps lasted throughout the century, the Long River being marked on a map by Vaugondy as late as 1783.

Cartographers endeavoured to connect La Hontan's imaginary western sea with the inlets discovered by Spanish explorers on the Pacific coast. J. N. de Lisle, in 1752, produced a map (Fig. 26) which shows, in the west of America, an immense inland sea connected with the Pacific Ocean by two narrow channels.2 was not until towards the end of the century, partly as the result of the journeys of Hearne and Mackenzie, that the inland sea was finally expunged from the maps.3

____________________
1
Baron de Lahontan, New Voyages to North-America, London, 1703, ed. R. G. Thwaites ( 2 vols. 1905).
2
J. N. de Lisle, Explication de la Carte des Nouvelles Découvertes au Nord de la Mer du Sud ( 1752).
3
The following books contain useful accounts of the search for the inland sea and its representation on maps: L. J. Burpee, The Search for the Western Sea ( 1908); N. M. Crouse, In Quest of the Western Ocean ( 1928).

-192-

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