American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Reason

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Samuel de Champlain's
1607 Map

Descripsion des costs, pts., rades,illes de la Nouvele France
Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635)
Descripsion des costs, pts., rades,
illes de la Nouvele France . . . .

Manuscript chart on vellum, 1607
Geography & Map Division ( November 21, 2002 )

This unique exploration document, originally intended for presentation to the king of France, was compiled by Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), founder of New France. One of the great cartographic treasures of America, it provides the first thorough delineation of the New England and Canadian coast from Cape Sable to Cape Cod. It shows Port Royal; Frenchman's Bay; the St. John, St. Croix, Penobscot, and Kennebec Rivers; and many offshore islands--including Mount Desert, which Champlain himself named. The place names and coast line correspond closely to Champlain's narrative in his Voyages, published in 1613.

Champlain personally designed and drew this portolan-style chart on vellum. Most charts of the time were drawn by professional cartographers who depended on information obtained from explorers, navigators, and cosmographers. In contrast, Champlain based this chart entirely on his own exploration and observations, including interviews with Native Americans, and on his own mathematical calculations.

A number of habitations are shown along the shoreline, the larger ones representing French settlements and the smaller ones Native American villages. At Port Royal a turreted fort is shown, signifying a European settlement. Forests are represented by stylized drawings of trees, singly and in groups. Hill symbols indicate higher elevations visible from the shore. Dangerous shoals are shown as groups of small dots, and anchors represent locations where Champlain himself set anchor.

In 1883, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris purchased from a monk in Nantes a precious atlas containing Champlain's chart. Later the chart came into the possession of Henry Harrisse, a distinguished lawyer, historian, and bibliographer, who built a remarkable collection of maps, publications, and papers pertaining to the early exploration of America. Harrisse bequeathed his entire collection to the Library of Congress in 1915.

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