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French Map of the Americas with the Mysterious de Gonneville’s Land

Extremely rare French wall map of the Western Hemisphere by Gaspar Bailleul, surrounded by thirty vignettes illustrating scenes from European exploration and colonization. It also includes one of the most prominent portrayals of the lands supposedly discovered by the Binot Paulmier, Sieur de Gonneville.

Published in Lyon by Daudet, the map provides a particularly interesting view of the Northwest Coast of North America, including an early appearance of the mythical Sea of the West. In fact, this is one of the earliest known adoptions of Buache and De l'Isle's controversial sea, which the duo presented to the Acàdemie des Sciences in 1750 and printed on a map in 1752.   

Nearby is a "Pres qu’isle de Nord Ouest," a large extension of the continent that is striped with possible passages between Hudson’s Bay and the Pacific—the elusive Northwest Passage. A block of text declares these lands as unknown but ties them to the Pacific chimeras of Compagnies Land and Gamaland.  

In the same area is another curious inscription, “Foussang des Chinois.” This note stems from the work of French Orientalist Le Guignes, who hypothesized that the Chinese arrived in the New World over a millennium before the Europeans in his writings. Le Guignes was named a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1752, the same year this map was published, and his work was well known across Enlightenment Europe.

The map marks North America as a French and Spanish holding; the English colonies are small and contained by French Canada. South America is split into Spanish viceroyalties and provinces.

The seas are filled with tracks of European navigators. The Atlantic includes the three voyages of Christopher Columbus, as well as the well-trodden routes between Europe, Brazil, and the Caribbean. In the middle of these is the route of Jean Varazan, or Giovanni de Verrazzano, a Florentine in the employ of the French Crown who claimed North American territory for France in 1524.

In the Pacific, the track of Magellan—the first circumnavigation—treads westward. Nearby is that of Schouten and Le Maire, an important circumnavigation of 1615-17 that found a new way into the Pacific, around Cape Horn.

Several tracks represent the expeditions of Alvaro de Mendaña and Pedro Ferdinand de Quiros.  Mendaña led a Spanish voyage (1567-9) that encountered the Solomon Islands. Quiros was a skilled pilot who accompanied Mendaña on his second voyage to the Solomons in 1595-6. After returning to Spain, Quiros convinced authorities that he could find Terra Australis, the southern continent, if they gave him ships and supplies. He set out in 1605 and eventually landed in Vanuatu.

He mistook one of the islands for the fabled continent and called it Austrialia de Espiritu Santo. Quiros intended to set up a colony on the supposed continent. However, his crew forced him to leave. Upon his return, Quiros revved up his campaign, lobbying once again for a voyage to return, but he died before embarking on a third Pacific expedition.

Quiros’ discoveries remained tantalizing and would be revived by geographers for the next two centuries. They experienced a particular renaissance in the mid-eighteenth century, as seen on this map.

Paulmier and Terra Incognita

These lands are described as "Decouverte par le Sr. Binot Paulmier en 1503." This is a reference to the alleged discoveries of Binot Paulmier, Sieur de Gonneville. This French captain supposedly sighted and landed on fertile soil south of the Cape of Good Hope in the early sixteenth century. Bailleul's map provides one of the largest and most ambitious depictions of de Gonneville’s voyage.

With two Portuguese pilots and a crew, de Gonneville sailed from Honfleur in Normandy. His destination was the East Indies. When he reached the Cape of Good Hope, however, his ship, L'Espoir, was blown to an unknown shore. By 1505, he had returned to Europe, claiming to have discovered Terra Australis Incognita. De Gonneville said that his crew had stayed for six months in this new land, where the local people did not have to labor due to the fertility and bounty of the earth.

These reports were not widely known, however, until the seventeenth century. The Abbé de Paulmier hatched a plan to convert the citizens of the Southern Continent. To bolster his request for an expedition, Paulmier produced a pamphlet outlining the known geography of the area. To argue that Terra Australis does indeed exist, the Abbé cited the account of de Gonneville, which also explained that, when the navigator returned to Normandy, he brought with him Essonier, the prince of the land he had visited. Essonier settled in Normandy and married de Gonneville’s daughter. Paulmier claimed to be a descendent of this union, hence his interest in the venture. 

If corroborated, de Gonneville’s landing south of the Cape of Good Hope would claim Terra Australis for France by right of first discovery. The problem was, there was no prior mention of de Gonneville before the Abbé’s petition (1654) and pamphlet (1664). Nevertheless, Gonneville’s “discoveries” in the south Indian Ocean began to be incorporated into maps from as early as 1661. Until James Cook’s second expedition in the late-eighteenth century, French efforts at South Seas discovery would continue to focus on the elusive de Gonneville’s Land. 


Apart from the geographic content, the vignettes ringing the map offer fascinating insight into European interpretation of the history of conquest and empire in the Americas. The thirty vignettes show the peopling of the Americas by Western Europeans, Northern Europeans, and, interestingly, Asians. The text from the latter explains:

The cruel wars that have always devastated the eastern parts of Tartary forced the defeated peoples to flee before their vanquishers. Some of them reached the straits of Pieko and Uries and with difficulty crossed them to evade the cruelty of their neighbors.

Other images represent European (mis)perceptions of Indigenous Americans, such as the Patagonian Giants. They also cover relatively recent events, such as a French naval victory in Martinique, expeditions against the Iroquois, and the charting of the course of the Mississippi. 


The map is quite rare. OCLC locates only two examples, at the Library of Congress and UNC Chapel Hill. This is the first time we have offered the map.

The Sea of the West

Many European maps of North America in the eighteenth century depict a large, western inland sea, hundreds of miles in diameter, with a small inlet to the Pacific and even some interior islands. The origins of this myth can be traced to several different sources and are tied to the search for a Northwest Passage. Like many cartographic myths, the Sea of the West persisted for decades, even in the face of strong evidence pointing to its non-existence.

One of the first European navigators to supposedly explore this area was Martin Aguilar. A Spanish captain, he sailed with Sebastian Vizcaino on a reconnaissance expedition up the California coast in 1602-3. Aguilar, commanding the Tres Reyes, was blown off course, to the north. When the seas calmed, Aguilar reported that he had found the mouth of a large river. Eighteenth-century geographers later conjectured that the river was the entrance to the Sea of the West.

Other maps placed the entrance to the Sea of the West via the Juan de Fuca Strait. Juan de la Fuca is the Castilianized name of Greek navigator Ioánnis Fokás (Phokás). Little archival evidence survives of Fuca’s career, but a chance meeting with an English financier, Michael Lok, in Venice in 1596 gave birth to rumors of Fuca’s voyages in the Pacific. Fuca reported that he had been sent north from New Spain twice in 1592 in search of the Strait of Anian. The Spanish Crown failed to reward Fuca’s discovery of an opening in the coast at roughly 47° N latitude and Fuca left the Spanish service embittered. His story lived on in Lok’s letters and eventually was published in Samuel Purchas’ travel collection of 1625. On many eighteenth-century maps, Fuca’s Strait is linked with a River or Sea of the West. In 1787, the present-day Juan de Fuca Strait was named by the wife of naval explorer Charles William Barkley, making permanent a label that had previously just been hopeful guesswork.

The Sea of the West was speculated to exist by Guillaume De L’Isle, France foremost theoretical geographer, around the turn of the eighteenth century. It first appeared in print on maps published by Johann Baptiste Nolin ca. 1700, but it quickly disappeared thereafter.  

The re-introduction of the sea in the mid-eighteenth century was the result of De L’Isle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache’s review of his father-in-law’s papers. Although De L’Isle never published a map showing the sea, he had postulated that it could exist, and that it might connect to a Northwest Passage through New France, not through English territory farther north. Nolin had plagiarized the idea from Guillaume, as the latter testified when suing the former for plagiarism. He said, the Sea of the West “was one of my discoveries. But since it is not always appropriate to publish what one knows or what one thinks one knows, I have not had this sea engraved on the works that I made public, not wanting foreigners to profit from this discovery” (as quoted in Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography, 109).

The sea was a major part of Buache and Joseph-Nicholas Delisle’s maps of the North Pacific, published in the 1750s. While controversial, the features of those maps were quickly copied by other mapmakers, including the Sea of the West. The inland body of water lingered on maps until the later-eighteenth century.

North Pacific chimeras: Yesso, De Gama, and Compagnie Land

The etymology of the idiom Yesso (Eso, Yeco, Jesso, Yedso) is most likely the Japanese Ezo-chi; a term used for the lands north of the island of Honshu. During the Edō period (1600-1886), it came to represent the ‘foreigners’ on the Kuril and Sakhalin islands. As European traders came into contact with the Japanese in the seventeenth century, the term was transferred onto European maps, where it was often associated with the island of Hokkaido. It varies on maps from a small island to a near-continent sized mass that stretches from Asia to Alaska. 

The toponym held interest for Europeans because the island was supposedly tied to mythic riches. Father Francis Xavier (1506-1552), an early Jesuit missionary to Japan and China, related stories that immense silver mines were to be found on a secluded Japanese island; these stories were echoed in Spanish reports. The rumors became so tenacious and tantalizing that Abraham Ortelius included an island of silver north of Japan on his 1589 map of the Pacific.

Yesso is often tied to two other mythical North Pacific lands, Gamaland and Compagnies Land. Juan de Gama, the grandson of Vasco de Gama, was a Portuguese navigator who was accused of illegal trading with the Spanish in the East Indies. Gama fled and sailed from Macau to Japan in the later sixteenth century. He then struck out east, across the Pacific, and supposedly saw lands in the North Pacific. These lands were initially shown as small islands on Portuguese charts, but ballooned into a continent-sized landmass in later representations.

Several voyagers sought out these chimerical islands, including the Dutchmen Matthijs Hendrickszoon Quast in 1639 and Maarten Gerritszoon Vries in 1643. Compagnies Land, often shown along with Staten Land, were islands sighted by Vries on his 1643 voyage. He named the islands for the Dutch States General (Staten Land) and for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) (Compagnies, or Company’s Land). In reality, he had re-discovered two of the Kuril Islands. However, other mapmakers latched onto Compagnies Land in particular, enlarging and merging it with Yesso and/or Gamaland.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer in Russian employ, and later James Cook would both check the area and find nothing. La Perouse also sought the huge islands, but found only the Kurils, putting to rest the myth of the continent-sized dream lands.

Condition Description
Original outline color, with minor enhancements. Evidience of old folds, which have been flattened, with minor restorations at point breaks.
Margaret Sankey, "The Abbé Paulmier’s Mémoires and Early French Voyages in Search of Terra Australis," in Discovery and Empire: The French in the South Seas, ed. John West-Sooby (Adelaide: University of Adelaide, 2013), 41-68. KAP
Nicolas Bailleul le Jeune Biography

Nicolas Bailleul was the son of Gaspar Bailleul, the famous Paris geographer and engraver. The youngest of three sons, he entered the engraving profession along with his brothers; the family specialized in the engraving of letters and inscriptions. He first worked in Paris, where he assisted his brother Francois in the engraving of a plan of Paris (1744). He then appears to have moved to Lyon where he is known to have produced maps of Savoy (1747), Languedoc (1753), and Europe (1778).