COUAGNE, Jean-Baptiste de (1687-1740). Manuscript Map "Nouvelle France". 1711-1712
THE FIRST MAP BY AN AMERICAN OF AMERICA, WITH ONLY THREE OTHER MAPS KNOWN BY COUAGNE, ALL IN THE BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE, THIS IS THE ONLY EXAMPLE LEFT IN AMERICA
Single sheet (Paper size: 19 x 27 4/8 inches; framed size: 30 2/8 x 39 inches). EXCEPTIONALLY FINE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT MAP OF “NOUVELLE FRANCE”, in pen and ink with green colour wash (central vertical crease).
Provenance: "Carte sous la Compagnie des Indes, du La Champlain et de Chouaquin" in manuscript on verso, stamp of the Dépôt de la Marine, Paris, late 1711 - early 1712
An original manuscript map of North-Eastern America, showing the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and Nova Scotia; commissioned by the French at the height of their imperial power, and drawn by the first cartographer to be born in North America.
A unique and exquisitely rendered, large-scale original manuscript map, one of only four known examples by Couagne, and the only one still in private hands, the others being in the esteemed Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris (two) and the Bibliotheque du service historique de la Marine (one).
Jean-Baptiste de Couagne was the first cartographer born in North America.
His map of “Nouvelle France” is one of the first maps relating to the American Northeast that was drafted by an American-born cartographer. De Couagne was born to French parents in North America in 1687, and he trained there as a draftsman and surveyor. Although he never received training in Europe, he eventually became one of the most accomplished mapmakers in the service of the French government
Couagne’s “Nouvelle France” is an exceptionally important cartographic document illustrating the superior French geographical knowledge of the early 18th century.
As an official map sponsored by the French government, the geographical information regarding Lakes Ontario and Erie was far superior to that of the enemy English, and even to much later maps such as Henry Popple's “Map of the Northern Colonies” (1733). In fact it is much closer in detail to the highly sophisticated maps of five decades later, such as Lewis Evans “Map of the Middle British Colonies in America” (1755).
In general, French mapping of the area delineated in de Couagne's manuscript map was far superior to contemporary British cartography of the region. As demonstrated by late 17th-century maps done under the auspices of the French government by figures such as Louis Jolliet, La Salle, and Jean-Baptiste Louis Franquelin, the accuracy, precision, and detail of French cartography was unrivaled in this period. De Couagne's chart bears a very close resemblance to Franquelin's cartographic output in terms of its elegant style as well as its advanced geographical information, especially regarding the delineation of the Great Lakes.
In his map of “Nouvelle France” de Couagne has combined British and French knowledge of the region; encompassing in one unique map the extensive knowledge of the French and also aspects of the flawed geographical understanding of the British. Like a number of official British cartographers of the early 1700's, he underestimated the distance between the Atlantic seaboard and the St. Lawrence, forcing him to compress and distort geographical detail in the interior. Similar distortions can be seen in the contemporary maps of British cartographers such as Daniel Coxe. As noted, however, in the depiction of the position and form of sections of the Great Lakes, de Couagne's chart was more advanced than published maps would be for decades.
A unique historical record relating to the second of the French and Indian Wars.
Nouvelle France exploded into chaos once the stabilizing influence of Champlain and his successors had crumpled in the face of British aggression, and Couagne’s ”Nouvelle France” is full of detail relating to the key events of Queen Anne's War, which in Europe was called the War of the Spanish Succession. The conflict began in May of 1704, when the "Grand Alliance" -- England, the League of Augsburg, Denmark, Portugal, and the Netherlands -- declared war on France and Spain to prevent the union of the two monarchies after the death of Charles II of Spain. Although this was essentially a European conflict, there were significant battles in New England and maritime Canada between the British and the French, along with their respective Indian allies. The struggle between the English and French for control of the vast areas comprising the present-day southeastern Canada and American northeast was ongoing, and often the scales were tipped in favor of the nation with the most accurate geographical knowledge.
The cartographic competition that resulted from the British and French contest for colonial strongholds led to the production of remarkably sophisticated maps such as this one, which, never published in printed form, was jealously guarded by the French government for the crucial information it so masterfully delineated.
Drafted in the crucial years of 1711- 1712, this map marks a short-lived moment of optimism on the part of the French, when there was still hope that the France might prevail in the conflict. Although the English had captured Port Royal, Nova Scotia, in October of 1710, the French successfully repelled a British naval attack on Quebec in 1711. Therefore Couagne gives special emphasis to the various forts and strongholds of the region, for the possession of accurate maps was often a decisive factor in military success.
In 1705 French forces had attacked Deerfield, Massachusetts, an event recorded in a significant note at this location reads "fort entrepris par les anglais pour les expeditions du Canada les mil sept cent onze" ("fort set up by the English for the expeditions to Canada in 1711"). Clearly, the English had rebuilt from other strongholds into Canadian areas dominated by the French. In that year, Sir Hovenden Walker's fleet began to ascend the St. Lawrence River from Deerfield and Colonel Francis Nicholson's army began to move up the Lake Champlain corridor. By 1711 when Couagne drafted his map the British threat had been significantly mitigated by Walker’s failure, who had been forced to retreat southward, and Nicholson's subsequent abandonment of his own expedition.
The French optimism signaled by this map was indeed brief, for by 1713, after a number of defeats, the French were forced to cede the Hudson Bay territory, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia to Great Britain, as formalized in the Treaty of Utrecht. France kept Cape Breton Island and the islands of the St. Lawrence, but had lost a significant portion of their colonial holdings. The borders of important areas, including Acadia, the Hudson Bay, and the interior of the continent were left undefined by the treaty, however, leaving the door open for later episodes in the French and Indian War.
Couagne’s “Nouvelle France” represents a unique and valuable historic document: an illustration of the colonial forces at work in critical areas of Northeastern America, the best in contemporary cartography of that region, and an early and unique work by the first American-born mapmaker. This map and the knowledge expressed in it were considered so sensitive that it was kept in the archives of the Depot de Marine in Marsailles until the 1950's. At the time the French government considered that this proportion of their national archive was surplus to their holdings at the Biblioteck Nationale in Paris, and the map was bought by a private individual who subsequently sold the map at public auction at Sotheby’s in June of 2000.