The Strategically Important Island of St. Pierre
An excellent chart of the island of St. Pierre, from Bellin's Petit atlas maritime.
Portuguese explorer João Álvares Fagundes first landed on Saint Pierre and Miquelon in October 1520 and named the St. Pierre island group the 'Eleven Thousand Virgins', the same namesake as the Virgin Islands, as they had arrived on the feast day of St, Ursula. Following Jacques Cartier's expedition into the region in 1536, the islands became French possessions.
For the next two centuries, the islands remained uninhabited, although they were regularly visited by the Mi'kmaq people, as well as and Basque and Breton fishermen.
In 1670, during Jean Talon's tenure as Intendant of New France, a French officer annexed the islands when he found a dozen French fishermen camped there. The British Royal Navy soon began to harass the French, pillaging their camps and ships. By the early 1700s, the islands were again uninhabited and were ceded to the British by the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which put an end to the Seven Years' War, France ceded all of its North American possessions to Great Britain, although in a reversal from the Treaty of Utrecht, Saint Pierre and Miquelon were returned to France. As part of the negotiation, France also maintained fishing rights in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the French Shore of Newfoundland but was not permitted to fortify the two islands.
During Prohibition, St. Pierre became a major smuggling outpost, particularly after Canada and Great Britain agreed to ban the export of alcohol to the United States.
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772) was among the most important mapmakers of the eighteenth century. In 1721, at only the age of 18, he was appointed Hydrographer to the French Navy. In August 1741, he became the first Ingénieur de la Marine of the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine (the French Hydrographic Office) and was named Official Hydrographer of the French King.
During his term as Official Hydrographer, the Dépôt was the one of the most active centers for the production of sea charts and maps in Europe. Their output included a folio-format sea atlas of France, the Neptune Francois. He also produced a number of sea atlases of the world, including the Atlas Maritime and the Hydrographie Francaise. These gained fame and distinction all over Europe and were republished throughout the eighteenth and even in the nineteenth century.
Bellin also produced smaller format maps such as the 1764 Petit Atlas Maritime, containing 580 finely-detailed charts. He also contributed a number of maps for the 15-volume Histoire Generale des Voyages of Antoine François Prévost.
Bellin set a very high standard of workmanship and accuracy, cementing France's leading role in European cartography and geography during this period. Many of his maps were copied by other mapmakers across the continent.