Bellin's Revised Map of French Louisiana and Eastern North America
Scarce large-format map of the French, Spanish, and British colonized portions of North America, extending from New England and the Great Lakes to Florida and west to the Mississippi River.
The land is full of rivers, settlements, names of Native American tribes, and mountain ranges. One of the latter, located in what is today Michigan, is entirely fictitious. There are also notes; for example, in the far north of the map it says, “We do not know the sources of the Mississippi nor the Missouri.” The source and configuration of these large rivers was an important political, economic, and geographic question of this period.
In addition to the work of Delisle, it is clear that Bellin consulted sources that depended on Indigenous informants. Also, the map was compiled in part from the Chaussegros de Léry manuscripts. Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry was a French-Canadian military engineer. During his work he visited many areas throughout New France, leaving several manuscript maps and plans.
Particularly in New France, there are many forts—outposts of empire. As just one example, “F de Cataracouy ou Frontenac,” is Fort Frontenac, founded in 1673 by the French at the place where the St. Lawrence River leaves Lake Ontario, called Cataraqui. It was initially named for the place and then renamed after Louis de Buade de Frontenac, Governor of New France, who oversaw the construction of the fort. It was razed in 1689 and then rebuilt in 1695. Then, the British destroyed the fort in the Seven Years’ War (1758). They rebuilt it in 1783. Today, the site is used by the Canadian military.
In the lower right is a cartouche dedicating the map to a M. Rouillé. Antoine-Louis Rouillé was the Secrétaire d’Etat à la Marine, or Secretary of State of the Navy, from 1749 to 1754.
The map is one of Bellin's earliest maps of any part of North America. The map was originally produced for Charlevoix's Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France. Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix was a Jesuit priest, teacher, and author. The Histoire was his master work, first published in 1744.
Bellin significantly revised and updated the map in 1750 and 1755; his changes are most evident in the improvements made to the Great Lakes region. The coverage of the map was also extended to show all of Florida.
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.