Early Eighteenth Century Maps of Ile Saint Jean: 1700-1720

The Eighteenth Century in Europe was one of the most exciting periods in the history of Western intellectual and scientific development. It is generally referred to as the European Enlightenment, born in the salons of France and spreading to other countries, most notably Germany, Great Britain and Italy.

There was no uniform modus operandi in this burst of new knowledge based on rigid intellectual procedures and scientific progress that we can recognise by our standards. Even in France the Enlightenment manifested itself in a number of ways as different groups of intellectuals, called philosophes, met in different drawing rooms or salons to feast and push the boundaries of thinking to new limits. Each produced new philosophical ideas which were then published for a hungry Europe to read. Some thinkers were so radical, like Voltaire, that they had to leave the country for their own safety.

The most spectacular and tangible success of this time in France was the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts). Published in fits and starts between 1751 and 1772, it was the work of the greatest experts of the day in all aspects of human knowledge. It was edited by Denis Diderot (1713-84) and, until 1759, co-edited by Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717-83). The main aim of all the contributors was to establish firmly the secularisation of learning, completely against the wishes of the Jesuits who considered all learning their own private enclave, completely under the hopelessly antiquated mediaeval intellectual control of the Church of Rome.

The Encyclopédie was illustrated by thousands of engravings of art, architecture, natural history and every process of manufacture. They have all been published in reproduction formats and are used by museum personnel and historians all over the world.


The excitement of painting moments in the progress of science became a fad among artists during the Enlightenment and  Joseph Wright of Darby, (1734-1797) produced the very finest of the genre. One (1766), is called A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun, in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and shows another group of people, including children, in a home of quality, contemplating the expanding knowledge of the universe. Interest in astronomy had never been at a higher level because of its absolutely critical role in navigation at sea.


Astronomy and Longitude

The study of Astronomy would dominate the scientific endeavours of the century, whose appetite had been whetted by one new discovery, theory, or calculation after another. All this work was made possible by advances in the optical telescope which made penetrating the farther recesses of space to a degree never before imagined. The result was a clearer picture of the solar system, portrayed in Wright of Derby’s orrery above, which began to take on its form and movement was we know it today. The finer optical elements in the telescopes made it possible to measure predictable celestial movements, such as the orbits of planetary stars, that could be used in the calculations to establish the position of any ship or caravan anywhere in the world.

There would be two observational trends during the century, which brought endless conflict and hard feeling among astronomers and navigators, and that was the argument whether the minute and subtle movement of celestial bodies were superior to highly accurate portable timepieces in permitting calculations of time and distance at sea from fixed meridian lines.


The Quest for Measuring Longitude

The Eighteenth Century is characterised by the multiplicity of its quests in every avenue of rapidly expanding human knowledge of the New World and the Far East. Travel had increased beyond all imagining and hundreds of ships were on the oceans of the world at any given moment. This would only increase. But there was a tremendous problem among mariners: they really never knew, unless they were in sight of familiar land, where they were at any given time because they could not measure longitude!

This Wiki article gives a good introduction to the history of longitude.




A terrible disaster at sea provided a significant impetus in Britain to find the best way to determine longitude at sea.

The Wreck of the British Mediterranean Fleet in 1707

Britain and France were in the middle of one of their unending wars in October of 1707 and although the British had done rather well militarily, the fleet was heavily damaged and the commander in the Mediterranean, Rear Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, decided to head to the channel shipyards for a major overhaul of his ships. The British fleet was completely lost and there was much discussion as to where it might be at that moment. The majority of the officers believed, from their calculations, that they were on the latitude of Ushant, a small island to the west of the port of Brest in Britany. There was a dissenting voice that said they were heading toward the Scilly Rocks, a deadly collection of uninhabited outcrops in the sea west of the Penzance peninsula. The majority opinion prevailed and the entire fleet sailed onto the rocks and was destroyed. Over 2000 men lost their lives, the single greatest naval disaster in British history. Miraculously Sir Cloudesley washed up on shore alive. Story or legend has it that he was found alive by a woman who, at her death, confessed that she had killed him for the ring on his finger.


The serious quest for accurate means to measure longitude followed this terrible tragedy at sea began in 1707, when the British Government began to formulate a Longitude Act which was passed in in 1714, defining the urgent nature of the problem and offering financial incentives to anybody who contributed in any significant manner to its resolution.



I enthusiastically suggest the following book that summarises in a most readable fashion the story of all the events connected with longitude in the century.

Sobel, Dava, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Bloomsbury Books, New York, 2007.


A Special Map to Start the Century

This map is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Franquelin because of its strong resemblance to a map by the same cartographer kept at the Service Historique de la Marine and dated 1708. Internal evidence on the map suggests a possible date range of 1702-1711. The map is drawn on parchment with a fading background wash colour. It is even touched with gilt. Because of the complexity of its detail and its large size it loses clarity when reduced to this small format. Fortunately I was able to obtain a medium size scan from the Bibliotheque Nationale and provide you with this pdf for close study.

1702-11 – Jean-Baptiste Franquelin,  Carte de la Nouvelle France … BNF

1702-11 – Jean-Baptiste Franquelin,  Carte/ de la/ Nouvelle France/ ou est compris/ La Nouvelle Angleterre,/ Nouvelle Yorc,/ Nouvelle Albanie,/ Nouvelle Suede,/ La Pennsilvanie,/ La Virginie, La Floride &c., ms. sur parchemin rehaussée de lavis et d’or ; 47,5 x 63,5 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ark:/12148/cb40577015h.

This is the largest resolution scan that the Bibliotheque Nationale could provide and the detail of Ile Saint Jean is not very clear. However it is possible to distinguish names of different national origins such as Rivière S. Caterine, Babochinek and Rivière S. Antoine. By the time the French Regime decided to settle Ile Saint Jean, less than ten years later, these names would all have disappeared.

R. S. Caterine – Cascumpec

Babochinek – Rustico

R. S. Antoine – Saint Peter’s Bay?

C. Sud Est – East Point

As well as the information provided in the official cartouche which provides the map’s title, there was another cartouche on the top right, supported by a bunch of five little putti – an overindulgence, one might think – that contains a notice about the difficulty of interpreting European and Aboriginal boundaries. This was critical to all settlement expansion in the New World. Here is a transcription showing how aware cartographers were of the existing and future problems in establishing boundaries:


On n’a point marqué les Districs/ entre les pays des Nations,/ parceque les Naturels de ces/ Contrées ne les connoissent/ pas eux mesmes, et que/ les Europeans qui y ont des terres/ n’ont point encore regie de limites/ entre’eux: On a seulement/ etendu les noms a peu pres dans/ l’espace de ce que chacun possede.


The map is richly illustrated with drawings showing Quebec City (a valuable topographic document) but also of aboriginals living their daily lives, relegated to the edge of New France. They have been marginalised and have joined the ranks of the Noble Savage in European art with many of their poses taken from the sculpture of Antiquity.

One fine drawing on the lower left of the map is of an aboriginal holding a pair of calipers and a surveyor’s pole or levelling rod, implying perhaps that the native people, who knew the countryside intimately for millennia, assisted the French surveyors in their work. It would help to explain the abundance of information about various tribes found in the greater part of the large map.



The First Map to be labelled Acadie?

Jean-Baptiste Franquelin gave us yet another treat at the beginning of the Eighteenth century, and that was a large map of Acadia, to my knowledge the first map ever labelled with that name. It is a highly-coloured manuscript map with an incredible amount of tiny detail used to articulate the features of the landscape.


Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, Carte de L’Acadie contenant Tous les Ports, Havres, Sondes & Mouillages qui sont le long de ses côtes; Les Bois, Montagnes, Lacs & Marais qui sont dans la profondeur de ses Terres & touttes les Rivierres qui en descendent. Avec une partie de la Colonie Francoise du Canada au dessus & au dessus de Quebec sur les bords du Fleuve de St. Laurent 1702. Bibliotheque Nationale, OF-TOL-21002178.

(A copy  of this map was made by Charles Beaudouin in July 1939 and is in the LAC collection, MIKAN 4125184).

1702 – Franquelin, Carte de L’Acadie contenant Tous les Ports … BNF

Ile Saint Jean is not represented very well, not even being similar in outline to Franquelin’s other map of the region done around the same time.

However the place names are interesting and correspond to the other map, using two of the Recollet saint names, but the spelling of  Babochinek/Pabouchimeck differs significantly.

R. Ste. Catherine – Cascumpec

R. Pabouchimeck – Rustico

R. St. Antoine – Saint Peter’s Bay?

Cap du Sud Est – East Point

This map is full of charming detail as in the Isthmus of Chignecto, showing the town of Beaubassin on its ridge on the edge of the Tantramar Marsh. There are even little house icons in bright red.

And in his grand style, a carry-over from the Baroque era, Franquelin needs a large illustration like in the previous map of New France. He provides us with a modest picture for colonial Acadie, and we are only given – could we want more? – two aboriginals in a canoe, paddling into view.



A temporary image of an important 1703 English map with Ile St. Jean represented in the Basque manner.

I would like very much to move on in our catalogue of maps with a brilliant and sharp scan of this map in the Library and Archives Canada, and illustrated on page 215 of Kershaw Volume 1. It was published in 1703 by Jeremiah Seller and Charles Price in their own version of The Pilot, a manual for seagoers. All my attempts to communicate with LAC to obtain a clear copy with a detail of Ile Saint Jean have failed and I present you with this indistinct photograph I took of the page in Kershaw. It is for the record and a good copy will hopefully turn up. An extensive search on the internet has also failed to locate a photo of this map.


1703 – A Chart of/ NEW FRANCE/ NEWFOUNDLAND/ NEW SCOTLAND/ and a part of/ NEW ENGLAND, published in The English Pilot, Fourth Book, in 1703, by Jer[emiah] Seller and Cha[rles] Price. Photo from Kershaw, Vol. 1, p. 215.

What strikes you immediately is the similarity to the Basque or Basque-influenced charts produced in the late Seventeenth Century. Look at the outline of Ile Saint Jean.

It has that shape found on the 1674 Denis de Rotis Carte de l’Océan Atlantique nord and the Detcheverry maps of 1689, with deep indentations along the North Shore where fishing stations were located. However Seller and Price must have used a printed map in circulation to find that shape and those names, and at present I don’t know what it could be. On my bad copy above it seems as if one can identify Cap Desert, Cascumpec, Malpec, Guymuybuecq and Bauchymy. This spelling is borrowed from earlier Basque maps.

Cap Desert – North Cape



Guymuybuecq – New London

Bauchimicq – Rustico


One can’t know what kinds of resources in the form of portolans and maps that these English mapmakers would have had in their studios, but clearly they had access to Basque sources.



More Early Eighteenth Century Maps that show Ile Saint Jean


1708 – Herman Moll, A New Map of/ NEW FOUND/ LAND,/ NEW SCOTLAND/ The Isles of Breton, Anti=/ coste, St. Johns &c Together/ with the Fishing Bancks./ By H. Moll Geographer, 10 x 7 inches, tinted, Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. (sold).

The map has many similarities to the Seller and Price map (above) except for small details in orientation, like Anticosti, and significantly, the abandonment of the Basque shape for Ile Saint Jean, with only North Cape named as C. Desert surviving.

In a great improvement on Seller and Price, the fishing banks are beautifully delineated.



In 1715 Herman Moll produced two very ornamental maps that were designed to excite the interest of prospective investors in the new world. The first, consisting of two sheets, showed eastern North America and was called,

1715 – A New and EXACT MAP of the DOMINIONS/ of the KING of GREAT BRITAIN/ on ye Continent of NORTH AMERICA./ Containing/ Newfoundland, New Scotland, New Eng=/ land, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania/ Maryland, Virginia and Carolina./ According to the Newest and most Exact Observations By/ Herman Moll Geographer., 101 x 60 cm, tinted, Library of Congress, G3300 1731 .M6.

It’s a very fancy map with a classical label, an ornamental dedicatory cartouche in the Baroque style, and a depiction of Niagara Falls replete with lots of beavers. If we peer closely, we can see that he carefully labelled Ile St. Jean, carrying over the only place name he felt was necessary at this time and spelled slightly differently as Cap Deset. In this New England panorama, Ile St. Jean did not, at that time, carry much importance as a potential colony.

Except for the spelling, the island is similar in shape to that found on his 1708 map.

I would not be doing justice to this blog post if I did not include this irrelevant detail of the beavers industriously creating their complicated world at Niagara Falls. It is such a wonderful impression of the marvels of the New World.

The very handsome dedicatory cartouche also deserves a place, even though it is part of the dying cry of the Baroque style, so favoured in the previous century.


In the same year Hermann Moll produced a real blockbuster of a map to entice prospective investors, this tine decorating the huge engraving with a picture of a complete Newfoundland fishing station, which is his most famous illustration and was used in school books even in my youth. The map was called,


1715 – Herman Moll, To the Right Honourable/ John Lord Sommers/ Baron of Evesham in ye county of Worcester/ President of Her Majesty’s most/ Honourable Privy Council &c./ This map of/ North America./ according to ye newest and most exact observa/ tions is most humbly dedicated by your Lordship’s/  most humble servant/ Herman Moll geographer/. Contributor Names: Moll, Herman, -1732., Lens, Bernard, 1682-1740, Vertue, George, 1684-1756, Bowles, John, 1701-1779., Engraved map coloured,  58 x 97 cm. London, Printed for I. Bowles, sold by H. Moll, 1715?, Library of Congress, G3300 1715 .M6.

This 1715 map is much more ambitious than the previous two as all of North and Central America are represented, even carefully passing on the fantasy of California as a huge island.

The cartouche is very grand, full of heraldic and ethnographic detail with southern and northern aboriginals carefully depicted. This map was so important that a special artist, B. Lens, and an engraver, G. Vertue, were hired just for the grand cartouche. I believe this represents a serious attempt to disseminate ethnographic knowledge of the New World. Its size and position on the map support this.

The detail of Ile Saint Jean the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, as you might expect in such a vast canvas, is not very well articulated. Ile Saint Jean had not yet been designated a part of this vast proposed colonial expansion.

The shape is there but there is simply no room for any place names! However, we can forgive Moll because of the very splendid engraving of a typical fishing station in Newfoundland, whose general arrangement of wharf, landing place and factory building applies to similar major ports in the whole Atlantic region.

Looking carefully at this engraving I can say that I personally observed nearly all these elements of fish processing at the Tignish Run when I was a small boy in the 1950s. Up until that time there was no need to alter the method by which salt cod, a vital part of regional – indeed world -diet, was prepared. Unenthusiastically, I even jigged for cod myself on a couple of occasions.


The Trend for Large Regional Maps

From now on there would be numerous maps produced of the Atlantic Region, all engraved for inexpensive distribution. In 1718 Guillaume de L’Isle produced his Carte du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France of which there is a copy in the Library of Congress. His representation of Saint John’s Island is only a squiggle with a name. Once again in 1720 Herman Moll would produce another version of his North American map and this time, using the familiar outline of Ile Saint Jean, added only Cap Deset, the name in use for North Cape at that time. I will pass over these maps because, although numerous, they do not add to our search for a more articulated view of Ile Saint Jean.

I will however include this extraordinary map by the Amsterdam cartographer Nicolas Visscher, produced in 1720, and given an endlessly long title in both Latin and French that reads,


1720 – Nicolas Visscher, Nova tabula geographica complectens borealiorem Americæ partem : in qua exacte delineatæ sunt Canada sive Nova Francia, Nova Scotia, Nova Anglia, Novum Belgium, Pensylvania, Virginia, Carolina, et Terra Nova, cum omnibus littorum, pulvinorumque profunditabus.

French title: Carte nouvelle contenant la partie d’Amerique la plus septentrionale : ou sont exactement dêcrites les provinces suivantes comme le Canada ou Nouvelle France, la Nouvelle Ecosse, la Nouvelle Angleterre, les Nouveaux Païs Bas, la Pensylvanie, la Virginie, la Caroline et l’Jle de Terre Neuve avec les profondeuis le long des côtes et sur les bancs.

1 map on 2 sheets, coloured, 55 x 91 cm, sheets 63 x 54 cm. Amsterdam, published by Nicolao Visscher. From: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection / Mapping Boston Collection, 06 01 001156.

The detail of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is very interesting because, as far as I can see, for the first time ever, a new name appears on Ile St. Jean that seems to represent some confusion with the Magdalen Islands.

Visscher identifies Ile Saint Jean bilingually and then identifies a place near present day Indian River called Brion which opens up into Brion Bay [Malpeque Bay]. Such a place never again appears in maps of the Island of Saint John, however there is an island called Brion, named by Jacques Cartier ille de Bryon after his patron, Philippe de Chabot, Seigneur de Brion and Admiral of France. He stopped and planted a cross there. It is the most northeast of the islands in the Magdalen archipelago and belongs to Quebec. It is now a bird sanctuary. This is how it appears in Google Maps.

Among unfriendly rocks it has all the requisites for a Basque fishing station: a generous beach leading up to a flat headland on the west where today there is a small lighthouse. I don’t know if it has ever been explored for archaeological remains. I have no idea how this confusion occurred.


Maps of the region continued to appear, responding to demand, and probably responding also to rumours that the Island of Saint John was about to be colonised.


1720 – Gerard van Keulen, CARTE de la NOUVELLE FRANCE/ ou se voit le cours des Grandes Rivieres/ de S. LAURENS & de MISSISSIPPI/ Aujour d’hui S. LOUIS, Aux Environs/ des-quelles se trouvent les ETATS PAIS/ NATIONS PEUPLES &. De la FLORIDE/ de la LOUISIANE, de la VIRGINIE, de/ la MARIE-LANDE, de la PENSILVANIE/ du NOUVEAU JERSEY, de la NOUV: YORK/ de la NOUV: ANGLETERRE, de L’ACADIE/ de CANADA, des ESQUIMAUX, des HURONS/ des IROQUOIS, des ILINOIS & c. Et de la/ Grande Ile de TERRE NEUVE: Dressée sur les/ MEMOIRES les plus NOUVEAUX recueillis/ pour L’ETABLISSEMENT de la COMPAGNIE/ FRANÇOISE OCCIDENT./ A AMSTERDAM/ Chez GERARD van KEULEN Marchand Libraire/ Avec Privilege, 22.6 x 39.25 inches (57.5 x 74.3 cm), two joined sheets, From his De Groote nieuve vermeerderde zee-atlas, ofte Waterwaereld. T’Amsterdam. University of Michigan Clark Library Maps.

This engraved map by the Dutch cartographer Gerard van Keulen contains all the territory that was considered to be the possessions of Nouvelle France. They stretch from Labrador to the Gulf of Mexico. It claims to show all the major rivers and lakes of Eastern North America and pays incredibly special attention to identifying all the aboriginal peoples whose ancient lands, millennia old, underlie the European claims. It is poignant and painful to pore over the details of this map and contemplate the utter contempt of expanding Europe as far as these savages were concerned, even though they were entering the subjects of European art as the Noble Savage. The tragedy is that they were not really considered as people with whom meaningful and lasting negotiations could take place: they were illiterate and did not know civilisation. Most of all, they were not Christians.

This short essay on this map gives a very good background to the complicated story of how the chart was assembled in the first place:

www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/60269op/carte-de-la-nouvelle-france-ou-se-voit-le-cours-des-grandes-van-keulen .

The plain box cartouche, stylistically unusual at that time, lists all the territories, features and peoples included in the whole. It tries to be extremely comprehensive, giving equal attention to the major Aboriginal tribes as the established French and English colonies.

1720 Gerard van Keulen – Nouvelle France


It is probable that this map was produced to lure wealthy Dutch merchants into a money-making scheme in the New World proposed by John Law, a Scottish financial genius and crook, which quickly turned into one of the greatest investment disasters in the history of the times and is remembered as the Mississippi Bubble. This map was produced at the height of the Bubble in 1720 which burst later that year, bringing financial ruin to a large number of investors.


Ile Saint Jean is clearly depicted and only North Cape – Cap Desert is indicated as a place. This giving the island a single place name happens fairly often at this time in maps of this region, and one wonders if the great dangers posed by North Cape Reef were being taken into account by cartographers from the stories brought back by the fishermen in the Gulf. As you can see North Cape is directly within the boundaries of the fishing banks flowing out to the mainland from the Magdalen Islands, and so a constant threat to navigation. The narrow bank areas that shoot out from the Magdalens are called a rif while all the other fishing areas are called by the usual banc. At this time I have not been able to discover the difference between the two. The shape of these rifs suggests that ships moved back and forth from the Magdalen home bases to temporary fishing stations on the various islands near the mainland.


This period in cartographic history is punctuated by large regional maps that depict the intensifying French interest in the New World, especially in the large territory of Louisiana, named after the French king. But on a lesser scale, there was an important focus on settlement in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Major colonial outposts were planned for Ile Royale-Cape Breton and, neglected until this time, Ile St. Jean. This new interest led, for the first time, to the production of working maps of Ile St. Jean to assist in the planning of the new colony established in 1720. A new and exciting moment in our quest for Ile Saint Jean begins in these years when, by 1722, this simple unlabelled map of the region, now in the British Library, was drawn by a French cartographer for the establishment of a colony on this neglected crescent-shaped piece of land in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Soon the place names of the major settlements, all in pre-existing Aboriginal and Basque harbours, would begin to appear on maps derived from this model. It may be one of the first “working papers” to place Ile St. Jean in a regional context where colonisation could be planned.


1730s, (1722 in pencil on back) – Anonymous, Carte de l’Isle St Jean, two-sheet drawing in ink and wash, 540 x 805 mm, The Lord Amherst Collection in the British Library.


The period which follows on Ile St. Jean – 1720-1758 – is illustrated with such an abundance of manuscript maps newly come to light in the French National Archives that it is too soon to arrive at any reliable chronology or cartographic narrative. This is the subject of the next post.



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