A persuasive map promoting French interests across colonial America.
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After his journey down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico in 1682, the explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (often shortened to La Salle) returned to France with hopes of economically exploiting the rich, newly claimed territory. He named the vast region La Louisiane after King Louis XIV and was granted a charter to found a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. In 1684, La Salle led a party under the newly formed Compagnie du Mississippi to do just that, though he was plagued by mutinies, hostile tribes, and poor navigation. The group ultimately landed on the coast of modern-day Texas and a colony was founded, though it only lasted three years.
About thirty years later, the French monarchy was in dire financial straits and the economic possibilities of the Louisiana Territory were once again revived by the Scottish financier John Law. Law had become a close acquaintance of the Duke of Orleans, nephew of King Louis XIV. After the Sun King’s death in 1715, the Duke was promoted to rule as regent while five-year-old Louis XV came of age. He appointed Law as Controller General of Finances, who subsequently opened the first bank to issue paper money in the hopes of stimulating economic activity.
Law also purchased the rights of La Salle’s Compagnie du Mississippi and reorganized its assets as a joint-stock Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West), of which he was the director. In 1717, France granted the Company of the West total monopoly over trade rights in the Louisiana Territory and this map was issued by Nicholas de Fer the following year to promote investment in the firm. The image covers a broad area around the Mississippi Valley from Spanish New Mexico to the Appalachian Mountains (the boundary of British claims) and from the southern edge of the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Geographically speaking, the map incorporates information from French Jesuit missionaries (notably Francoise Le Maire), voyageurs like La Salle, and other contemporary sources; though William Cumming calls the image ‘retrogressive’ when compared to D’Lisle’s map issued the same year. Florida is a bit distorted and includes a portion of the Appalachian range in its northern reaches. The accuracy of the southern Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley is also lacking – note the portage to the Illinois River originates from Lake Erie, rather than Lake Michigan. Two mythical lakes running into the Red and Spiritu Santo Rivers can also be seen, as well as the legendary golden kingdom of Quivira (upper left).
The map originated as the southwest portion of a larger 4-sheet map originally designed by de Fer in 1715, though the content has been updated to reflect Law’s priorities. Additional vignettes of flora and fauna highlight the rich natural resources of the region. Certain toponyms, such as Presque Isle, have been changed to include the territory within the authorized trade zone. A system of roads is disingenuously presented as connecting La Louisiana with other European colonies – presumably either for commerce or war. La Salle’s discoveries and the route of his travels from the Texas colony are prominently noted, confirming the validity of French territorial claims.
Overall, the map is an incredible representation of French priorities in the New World during the early 18th century, and it was ultimately successful in drawing significant attention to the Company of the West. Share values (purchasable with the new banknotes) skyrocketed from 500 livres to over 10,000 livres in less than two years, and even lower-class citizens invested their meager savings in what seemed like a golden opportunity. More bills were issued to cover the higher costs, eventually leading to rampant inflation and a run on the banks to ‘cash out’. The rise and fall of the Company of the West have come to be known as the ‘Mississippi Bubble’ – one of the first of its kind.
Sources: Cumming #169; Rumsey 1022.099; John Law and the Mississippi Bubble
Publication Date: 1718
Author: Nicholas de Fer
Sheet Width (in): 29.75
Sheet Height (in): 21.4
Condition Description: Moderate wear and very minimal paper loss visible along the vertical centerfold, which also shows some light discoloration and faint separation near the upper margin. Light to moderate scattered soiling and some wear visible in the margins, but otherwise the image remains clean with a bold, crisp impression on strong watermarked paper.
1 in stock