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DE FER, Nicolas (1646-1720) Partie Meridionale de la Riviere de Missipi, et ses environs,...1718

DE FER, Nicolas (1646-1720) Partie Meridionale de la Riviere de Missipi, et ses environs,...1718

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DE FER, Nicolas (1646-1720)

Partie Meridionale de la Riviere de Missipi, et ses environs, dans l’Amerique Septentrionale. Mis au jour par N. De Fer. Geographe de sa Majeste Catolique 1718.

Copper plate engraving

Paris, 1718

Cummings 169C – with Bernard imprint 

Sheet size: 21 ¾ x 30 3/8 inches; Frame size: 31 x 39 1/2 inches


De Fer's map turned the promise of Louisiana into the Mississippi Bubble, nearly ruining France

French interest in North America was the basis for one of the most remarkable events in history: the “Mississippi Bubble.”  Promoted by the Scottish gambler and financier John Law, the Compagnie d’Occident or Company of the West promised great riches from the development of France’s North American possessions. The scheme contemplated the crown owning almost half of the stock in the Company, which would benefit from the increase in value of the shares once they were offered for sale. This was attractive to the French government.   The costs of fighting the War of the Spanish Succession had left France deeply in debt, and the political scene was uncertain,  since the nation was ruled by a regent in the stead of the 5 year old Louis XV.  

In 1717 the Company of the West was granted a monopoly on trade with North America.  The potential value of this trade was wildly inflated by almost everyone involved.  The Company also took on the management of the government’s debt independent of the colonies, and pioneered the use of paper money.  At one point, Law and his company virtually controlled the French economy.  The frenzied speculation in the company’s stock, and the inevitable crash that occurred in 1721, hobbled France’s economic development for years. 

Most investors in what came to be called the Mississippi Company hardly knew where its lands were, and knew little about what was to be found there.  To remedy this Law commissioned a map from Nicolas de Fer, and published it in the prospectus for company shares in 1715.  The map was reissued as a separate sheet in 1718 of which this is an example. The map is embellished with icons of prosperity like crops, settlements, native towns and cities, roadways (many of which did not exist) and other indicia of wealth to be made.  The map was not just propaganda, however; it was the first to incorporate the explorations of the missionary Francoise Le Maire along the Gulf Coast.  It was also the most detailed published map describing Spanish settlements in the west.  This data was widely copied by other mapmakers, including Henry Popple of England for his famous map of North America.

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