Charting Louisiana and Mississippi in 1744 by Jacques Nicolas Bellin

Carte de la Louisiane cours du Mississipi et pais voisins.  Dediée à M. le Comte de Maurepas, Ministre et Secretaire de État Commandeur des Ordres du Roy.  Par N. Bellin, Ingenieur de la Marine, 1744.  (Lower Left: 36. Dheuilland Sculp.)

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English Translation:

Map of the Louisiana Mississippi waterway and neighboring areas. Dedicated to M. le Comte de Maurepas, Minister and Secretary of State and Commander of the Orders of the King. By N. Bellin, Marine Engineer, 1744. (Lower Left: 36.  Dheuilland Sculp.)

 

This map was produced in Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix's Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France. Charlevoix (1682-1761) was a French Jesuit historian who travelled a great deal throughout the French possessions in North America upon the commission of the French Crown. In 1720 the Duke of Orleans sent Charlevoix to America in search of the best route possible to the Pacific with the idea of furthering his (and France’s) knowledge of New France and Louisiana. His geographic records were attained through his encounters with Quebec fur traders, traveling the Great Lakes and then continuing down the Mississippi; they were later used to improve regional maps, as can be seen here. 

Jacques Nicolas Bellin was the artist who designed this map based on the 1718 map drawn by Guillaume Delisle. Bellin (1703-1772) was a renowned hydrographer and cartographer who was also a member of the Philosophe, a group of Intellectuals out of France at the time of the 18th century Enlightenment, who based their beliefs on reasoning pertaining to all fields of study, doubting organized religion and looking to improve reasonable knowledge. Amongst the Philosophe, Bellin was one of the encyclopedistes, recording information and keeping it updated and prevalent. In 1741 he was appointed to serve as the Official Hydrographer to the French King Louis XV. Many of his maps are copied from others with improvements made upon them such as this map: Carte de la Louisiane du cours du Mississippi by Guillaume Delisle.

Delisle (1675-1726) was an important French cartographer who was renowned for using astronomy to influence his work. He realized that by charting the maps to scale and with accuracy was much more beneficial. When there was little astronomical information to assist him, he would scour any information on the area to portray it as accurately as possible, often crediting his source on the map itself. His maps were well known for their topographic and orthographic detail and thus a wonderful source to copy and improve on.

With new information learned from the voyages of Charlevoix and other such French explorers, Bellin was able to improve and elaborate on the map including new features such as the names of towns and additional waterways. This map was the most accurate of its time and having been produced prior to the French-Indian (or Seven Years) War, it is now seen as an important part of American cartographic history.

This map depicts from New England and the Great Lakes down to all but the tip of Florida, and from the eastern shore across to the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains. Bellin portrays everything with such detail, from the Indian villages, trading posts, forts and mines, to colonial settlements, roads, river-ways and villages. It was used for many years by many explorers and is truly is a remarkable piece of history.

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