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A Masterful Synthesis of the French Mapping of North America

North America/ Gulf Coast/ Texas. KEULEN, G. VAN [Amsterdam, 1720/ c. 1730]
Carte de la Nouvelle France ou se voit le cours des Grandes Rivieres de S. Laurens & Mississippi…. 22 ¾ x 39 inches.
Two joined sheets. Fine hand color; few fold reinforcements, outer right & part of left margins reinforced not affecting engraved area, else excellent condition.


Very scarce, overall excellent example of the only non-nautical map by great maritime publishers. The map synthesized the best French sources of the day to produce here one of the finest and best detailed general maps of North America of the first half of the 18th century. A reflection of its quality is that after being issued as a separate in 1720, it would continue to appear in the van Keulen atlas. This second state can be identified by the imprint of the widow of the mapmaker, Gerard van Keulen, and her son: Chez la Veuve de Jo. Van Keulen & Fils Marchands Libraires, Avec Privilege. Gerard died in 1726, and his widow, Ludwina Konst., assisted her son, Johannes II, in the business.
Much of the map’s detail is drawn from De Fer’s rare 1718 map “La France occidental,” though elements also derive from De l’Isle’s 1703 Carte du Canada and his 1718 La Louisiane and other sources. De Fer’s map was made expressly to promote what became one of history’s great financial bubbles, John Law’s Mississippi Company. The company issued stock based entirely on the promise of potential rewards that would derive from the development of Louisiana, long before the existence of any stable, European settlement in the area. It is likely that Van Keulen’s map was commissioned to play the same promotional role for the Company in the Netherlands that De Fer’s did in France. When the map was first published in 1720, the Bubble was at its peak, though it would burst later that year. That the talented cartographer, Gerard Van Keulen, produced this map on commission would also explain how it came about that a firm that specialized exclusively in nautical cartography would produce this, its only non-nautical map. Certainly, the prestige of the Van Keulen firm behind the Mississippi Company would have been compelling to Dutch investors.
The map pays close attention to the area of present-day Texas particularly in regard to La Salle’s ill-fated colony in the area. It shows Fort Francois and specifically identifies the area where La Salle ranged. Included are some of the still-debated routes of eastward journeys made by La Salle to find the mouth of Mississippi, after creating a colony in Victoria County in Texas in 1684. It was on one of these journeys, in 1687, that La Salle was ambushed and killed.
The map gives considerable attention to the Mississippi Delta and the surrounding Gulf Coast, reflecting its pivotal role in the control of the American interior. Two large insets highlight these areas. Interesting possibilities regarding the sources for the insets were raised when the map was catalogued in a recent exhibition. “The two insets in the lower right corner of the map appear to be English in origin, particularly the Mississippi delta inset. This is clearly derived from Mount and Page (see Map 26) which was probably based on Bond’s explorations for Dr. Coxe in 1699. The same basic information continues on the second inset “Les Costes de la Louisiane...”. Although similar to De L’Isle’s coastline on his 1718 map, significant differences appear. Perhaps this is a hybrid of French publications and English mapping not yet published at this date (1720) (Carte Museum Exhibition Description-see below).
There is also considerable, intriguing detail within “La Louisiane” on the map, much of it relating to La Salle’s explorations and travels. Shown also on the map is Fort Prudhome, the simple stockade structure built by La Salle in 1682 during his final exploration of the Mississippi River; it was located in West Tennessee, possibly in the area of present-day Memphis. The map shows the fort with a prominence well out of proportion to its actual humble dimensions, perhaps to create the impression of a greater presence of “civilization” in the area, which would abet the map’s promotional aims mentioned above. Curiously, three routes emanate southward from the fort on the map and link with an east-west Indian trail used by the English.
Drawing on both De l’Isle and De Fer, the map’s delineation of the Great Lakes region is as up to date as is to be found on a general map of North America of the early 18th century. The east coast is shown in greater detail than on either De Fer or De l’Isle’s maps, albeit in a somewhat retrograde form. The placement of Lake Champlain resembles De Fer’s, but New England appears to be where Van Keulen’s reliance upon French sources ends, and where he draws on resources of his own firm for mapping these areas, or on earlier Dutch sources. For example, the New York portion of the map resembles Visscher’s 1696 treatment of the area, with a large Seneca Lac on the border between New York and Pennsylvania and with Albany appearing significantly to the north of the Mohawk River.
The map is superbly engraved. Eschewing De Fer’s figures and vignettes, van Keulen opted to present his map with uncluttered clarity reminiscent of De l’Isle but executed in the more robust Dutch style.
Gerard van Keulen, son of the company’s founder, was the most skilled member of his illustrious chartmaking family and the official cartographer for the Dutch East India Company.

McCorkle 719.6; Koeman IV: p. 387 [320*]; Carte Museum Exhibition Catalogue, “Finding the Mississippi River,” 2009, Map 31.

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