Important early map of the Upper Ohio River, compiled by Collot for his Voyage dans l'Amerique Septentrionale, one of the most important American cartographic works of the 18th Century.
The map is the first part of Collot's detailed map of the Ohio River, extending from Pittsburg and McKeesport to Long Reach, just northeast of Marietta, Ohio. The map includes meticulous details, showing soundings in the main channel of the River, creeks, towns and each small structure along the route. The topographical detail is exceptional for the period.
In 1796 General George Henri Victor Collot undertook a reconnaissance of what was then the United States' frontier from France. His mission was to assess whether the region could be retaken by France. He traveled from Pittsburgh down the Ohio to the Mississippi, up the Mississippi to the Missouri and Illinois Rivers, and then back down the Mississippi to New Orleans. During his journey, he constructed a large number of exceptionally fine manuscript maps and views of the region that he traversed. Many of these were groundbreaking, containing never before recorded information on a wilderness that was just beginning to undergo settlement. Collot's maps were engraved in Paris in 1804, but publication was suppressed due to Napoleon's sale of Louisiana to the United States in 1803. The sale ended any possibility that these regions could be acquired by France. As a result the plates were not printed until 1826, when they were issued in a limited number as Voyage dans l'Amerique Septentrionale. Copies were published with both French and English text.
"A nineteenth-century bookseller called this work 'one of the most famous, most important, and rarest of all books of Mid-Western Explorations.' Its rarity is due to the deliberate destruction of all but three hundred French and one hundred English copies by the publisher, who had purchased the edition from Collot's estate, hoping to increase its value" (Cohen.) This wonderful map is a lovely example of Collot's important charts of the Ohio River. The second in a set of four maps of the River, this elegant chart depicts the path of the river from Limestone to Three Brother Islands. It includes all the ports and cities along the river, as well as the large towns of Belleville and Marietta. Collet has carefully charted the location and names of the smaller tributaries and has paid great attention to the names of the smaller settlements along the river.
Georges Henri Victor Collot (1750-1805) was a French soldier, explorer, colonial official, and spy. He served in France’s possessions in North America and the Caribbean. Born in Chalons-sur-Marne in northeastern France in 1750, the young Georges joined the army. He quickly ascended the ranks.
Collot’s first American experience was as a French officer fighting alongside General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. He served as aide-de-camp and maréchal des logis under French general Rochambeau.
From 1792-4, now a Major General, Collot was Governor of Guadeloupe. His time in the Caribbean was short-lived, however, as the British invaded the French colony, imprisoned Collot, and sent him to New York. He evaded punishment and the French turned his presence to their advantage.
Collot was ordered on a reconnaissance mission on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. He was to assess the military capacity and fortifications of their imperial rivals, Spain and Britain, as well as to report on the expansion of the Americans westward.
In the spring of 1796, Collot set out. He navigated southward through Illinois and Upper and Lower Louisiana, drawing detailed maps and plans along the way. His presence was not a secret, however; the English, Americans, and Spanish all issued orders to halt his progress. Collot was arrested at Fort Massac on the Ohio River by the American officer Zebulon Pike, but released when Pike found no legal basis for holding him. After reaching the Mississippi, Collot turned upriver to St. Louis, and explored short distances up the Illinois and Missouri rivers as well. While in St. Louis, he may have had access to the maps of the known course of the Missouri River, of Pierre Antoine Soulard, whose maps would later be utilized by Lewis & Clark, as well as access to information from Jean Baptiste Truteau, whose expedition up the Missouri River had just been completed in June 1796.
When Collot arrived in New Orleans in October of 1796, the Spanish Governor, Carondelet, seized Collot and his maps. He was released in early December and returned to France.
Changing imperial politics delayed the publication of Collot’s account of his voyage until 1805. He died in the same year. At the time of his death, his spy mission was little known. It was only in 1826 that a limited reissue of his account was published by Arthus Bertrand. He printed 300 French copies and 100 English; Bertrand destroyed the surviving 1805 examples.
Collot’s maps and plans are superbly rendered cartographic works detailing the contested Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys and they remain very scarce today.