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LA HARPE, Jean-Baptiste Benard de (1683-1775) Carte nouvelle de la partie de l'Ouest de la Louisanne faitte sur les observations, recherches, et decouvertes de ...1722

LA HARPE, Jean-Baptiste Benard de (1683-1775) Carte nouvelle de la partie de l'Ouest de la Louisanne faitte sur les observations, recherches, et decouvertes de ...1722

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Jean-Baptiste Bénard de LA HARPE (1683-1756)

Carte nouvelle de la partie de l'Ouest de la Loüisianne faitte sur les observations, recherches, et decouvertes de Mr Benard de la Harpel'vn des Commandants au d(it) Paÿs

Manuscript map in ink and watercolor of the southern portion of North America and northern Mexico

Paris: Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, 1722

Sheet size: 22 5/8 x 36 3/4 inches; Frame size: 31 3/4 x 45 3/4 inches



COMPARABLE: Sotherby's 24 January 2023 $1,744,000

[Antoine Soulard] Ydea Topografica de los altos del Missisipi y del Missouri.

[Saint Louis, 1795] -

La Harpe pressed French claims in the west and created the finest map of that region made up to that time.

De L'Isle's aggressive claims notwithstanding, the Spanish continued to dominate the vast area to the west of the Sabine River. French policy was to explore the area from its bases in Mobile and New Orleans, establish trading posts where possible and enhance trade with the tribes, all without unduly provoking Spain. .Among the explorers that turned this policy into action was an adventurous former soldier named Bernard de laHarpe.  

A veteran of the War of the Spanish Succession who lived and married well in Peru, La Harpe arrived in New Orleans in 1718 with an ambiguous set of instructions from Paris.  The governor of Louisiana Jean Baptiste de Bienville, charged him with establishing a French presence in the areas between the Red and Arkansas River and to make contact with Native Americans. He took with him a letter from Bienville addressed to the Spanish governor of Texas, expressing the benign intentions of the expedition and suggesting somewhat unrealistically that the French and Spanish could do business with one another. He built a trading post near present day Texarkana. Later, in 1721, he traveled to a establish French presence on the western Gulf coast and then up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, where he is credited with founding Little Rock.

Despite La Harpe's efforts, France was unable to overcome the already established Spanish influence in the Southwest. The difficulty was summed up in an exchange of letters between LaHarpe and the Spanish Governor of Texas.  Responding to Bienville's letter, the Spaniard conceded his instructions were to "maintain a good union with the French of Louisiana"  but he then accused La Harpe of encroaching on what was clearly Spanish territory by contacting the tribes near modern day Texarcana, Texas.  He threatened to take action if his instructions were not followed. In response, La Harpe asserted that Texas was in fact French as a result of LaSalle's expedition.  The Spanish response, if any, is unknown. 

The situation was made more complicated when the War of the Quadruple Alliance broke out in Europe, pitting France against Spain over territories in Sicily and Sardinia.  The issues in that conflict did not involve North America directly, but the state of war made La Harpe's mission to trade in the Spanish controlled region more difficult.It speaks volumes to note that one of La Harpe's final official actions in the New World was overseeing the transfer of Pensacola, Florida, to the Spanish.

La Harpe kept a detailed account of his travels, including geographical notes and sketches that could be used to create a map. Unfortunately, his original materials are now lost. However, there survive two manuscript maps prepared by the French  Hydrographic Office based on his notes and sketches.  One is at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, which is attributed to Jean Baptieste Bourguignon d’Anville.   The present example is the other.  

The relationship between La Harpe’s original work and this map is uncertain.  Certain points appear on this map that are not on the BnF example, and vice versa, so both appear to be independent copies.  This one extends further east than the BnF copy, which ends before Florida.  On the other hand, the BnF copy extends further north and west.  

La Harpe's expedition took nearly four years.  His travels, which are outlined on the map, including areas that would become Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. While trying to establish a French presence in the region, La Harpe met with many Native American peoples, including Wichita, Tawakoni, Apache, and Quapaw, and established several trading posts. His mapping of Galveston Island and Galveston Bay was one the most significant of his many achievements.

The map goes beyond the area explored by La Harpe, extending westward as far as California.  It designates Spanish settlements in Sonora and Baja California, as well as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Locations are also provided for villages of Christian and friendly Indians, silver mines, capitals or Presidios, and ancient ruins. This was the most complete graphic account yet made of the Native American presence in western North America, and far exceeded in detail and in accuracy any map published in France in the era.  By drawing so deeply from the knowledge of the indigenous people to the west, the map reflects an important cartographic cross cultural encounter.

From the collection of the late great cartographic historian Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz (his sale, Sotheby’s New York, 28 June 2018, Lot 145).


The Geopolitical Context

In the early seventeenth century the southwest region of what is now the United States, including the states of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, was a contested area for two European powers. The Spanish had vast colonial holdings in central America including most of present-day Mexico. They were seeking to protect and extend their northern border and maintain links with their holdings in Florida. The French, in contrast, had initially established colonies much further north along the St Lawrence.

The French sought to extend their influence down the rivers of the Mississippi Basin. In 1673 Jolliet and Marquette traveled down the Mississippi as far as Arkansas. Less than a decade later, La Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi in April 1682.
The competition for the borderlands between the two European powers became
intense. In 1684, La Salle arrived on the Gulf shore of Texas with 4 ships to establish a
French settlement. It proved unsuccessful. But the Spanish, worried about incursions
into their border lands, sent out six expeditions, at different times to establish forts,
missions and settlements. One mission was established in San Antonio in 1718. In
response the French strengthened their hold on the lower Mississippi also by
establishing settlements and forts. New Orleans was established in 1718.

A variety of maps were produced to both depict this contested area and to make
territorial claims. French maps of 1718, including the Nicholas de Fer’s, La France
occidental Sans l'Amerique Septentrional and Guillaume Delisle's Carte de La Lousiane et du cours du Mississipi, all made vast claims for the territory they called, Lousiane named after the French King, that extended far into present day Texas.
It is in this volatile geopolitical context that we can situate La Harpe and his map.

La Harpe

Jean Baptiste Benard de la Harpe (1683-1765) is one of those quixotic characters who
often who appear in the history of exploration and mapping. Born near St. Malo France, he was a cavalry office for Phillip II and saw military service in Peru. He married a rich widow but then became ensnared in expensive lawsuits. He was virtually bankrupt

when he was attracted to the speculative scheme organized by the Scots-born, French- based, rogue John Law (1671-1729) that attracted investors in France with promises of fortunes in Louisiana. La Harpe arrive in Mobile in 1718 with 40 men. Food was so scarce and the French settlement so close to extinction that he was glad to take up an offer from the French commander-general, Beinville, to establish a post along the Red River to trade with the Spanish and Native Americans.

He left New Orleans in December 1718 carrying a diary with him to record his travels.
He established a trading post at present-day Texarkana. Tensions along the frontier
between France and led to the abandonment of trade relations. He them traveled along the Arkansas River and back down the Mississippi, arriving back in New Orleans in 1720. He made two other trips, one in 1721 to establish a French beachhead on the
western Gulf coast and in 1722 he again traveled up the Mississippi and Arkansas
Rivers. After officiating the French transfer of Pensacola from France to Spain, as the
French turned their attention to the growing rivalry with the British, he returned to
France in 1723 and wrote up his journal entries as a narrative and that was published in both manuscript and printed form. He died in St Malo, where he was born.

The Map

La Harpe did make maps of the Red River-Arkansas River region based on his travels
between 1720 to 1723, but these no longer exist. However, his journal and these original maps provided information that appeared in later printed and manuscript maps by other mapmakers. One manuscript map was made by Jean de Beaurain, the
geographer to King Louis XV, sometime between 1723 and 1725 and included in a
manuscript of La Harpe’s journal. It is held by the Library of Congress.
The Arader Gallery map was produced sometime between 1723 and 1725 by the French Hydrographic Office in Paris. It is based on La Harpe’s manuscript and maps.The key used in the map illuminates the importance that the French gave to identifying and cultivating native American alliances The key in the upper left describes the characteristics of settlements. It identifies “peaceful Indians “and “Christian Indians.”

Perhaps they would be more open to an alliance with the French. Silver mines, a rich
resource in the region, were identified. French incursions in this region were often in
search of allies, passage to the Pacific and the lure of minerals. The key also identifies
the presidios established by the Spaniards as fortified bases to exert control over the
surrounding areas. In other words, the map describes the disposition of Spanish forces, the characteristics of Native American settlements which may make some of the more vulnerable to French influence and the basic economic geography of silver mines. One category describes ruined or abandoned village. This is an intriguing category. It could reference what we would now term ancient archeological sites or alternatively more recently abandoned villages in the wake of the demographic holocaust produced by the Columbian Exchange. Native American communities were devastated by the diseases such as smallpox and, measles brought by the European. It is estimated that within two hundred years after Columbus’s landing more than 90 percent of the 1491 total population of the Americas died due to these imported diseases. Native American villages were abandoned across the continent.


Rarity of The Map

This map has several rare features. It is:

• An important document in the history of cartography,
• One of the earliest and most detailed maps of the Southwest,
• A rare example of a manuscript based on the writing and maps of La Harpe,
• An invaluable artifact of the intense geopolitical competition between France and
Spain in the New World.


Du Terrage, M. D. V., and Dickinson, S. D. (1982) An Explorer of Louisiana: Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe (1683-1765). Institute for Regional Studies, Ouachita Baptist University.

La Harpe, Jean Baptiste Bénard de (1683–1765) Texas State Historical Association

La Harpe, J. B. B. D. (1940) Joumal historique de l'établissement des Français a la
Louisiane. Translation by Olivia Blanchard. Washington DC: WPA.

La Harpe, J. B. B. D. (1971) The Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in
Louisiana No. 3. University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Lewis, A. (1924) La Harpe's First Expedition in Oklahoma, 1718-1719. Chronicles of Oklahoma.

Odell, G. H. (2002) La Harpe’s Post: A Tale of French Wichita Contact on the Eastern Plains.
University of Alabama Press.


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