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Theodore De Bry: Floridae Americae Provinciae

Map: USA7348
Cartographer: Theodore De Bry
Title: Floridae Americae Provinciae
Date: 1591
Published: Frankfurt
Width: 21 inches / 54 cm
Height: 19 inches / 49 cm
Map ref: USA7348
This important map of the southeastern United States is the first printed map to focus on Florida. It is also a valuable, early record of French attempts to establish a colony in the Carolinas.

The French first attempted to establish a North American colony in 1562 under Jean Ribaut, landing near Port Royal, South Carolina. This first colony, Charlefort, lasted less than a year before the surviving colonists mutinied over harsh conditions and attempted to return to France. Charlefort is marked on this map to the north of the eastern-most of the two illustrated galleons.

A second colonising venture was launched in 1564, this time under the command of Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière, who established a new colony in the vicinity of modern-day Jacksonville, Florida. The colony was named Fort Caroline or 'Carolina'. It is marked on this map to the west of the eastern galleon, on the banks of the F. Maij (or River May). A French artist named Jacob (or Jacques) Le Moyne was assigned to this second venture, tasked with drawing and mapping as much of the region as possible. This map was the result of Le Moyne's experiences during the expedition, though it was likely composed from memory years later, not from sketches or documents compiled in the New World. The Spanish, upon hearing of the French crown's intrusion on their colonial territory, sent a hostile force to burn Fort Caroline and slaughter the colonists. Luckily, Le Moyne escaped the massacre, eventually returning to Europe on an English ship, but it is unlikely that his documents and records survived the ordeal.

Le Moyne died in London in 1588 without publishing his account, despite the efforts of Theodore de Bry to purchase his narrative. After his death, Le Moyne's widow agreed to sell his records to De Bry, who finally published them in 1591, including this map.

The map's geography is curious and massively distorted, but the Florida peninsula is nonetheless instantly recognizable. Much of the map's detail is focused around northern Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, the area chosen for settlement by the French. The northernmost point of the map is located around modern-day Beaufort, North Carolina, the southern tip of the Outer Banks. Along the northern edge of the map is a large body of water, most likely a reference to Giovanni da Verrazano's mythical inland sea.

In the west, the map extends into the Florida Panhandle, though not with any convincing detail. Even the rivers which are marked are disputed by modern scholars, as there is no evidence that Le Moyne had any knowledge of this region. The landscape of Florida is dotted with large lakes, most of which are unnamed and only vaguely delineated. The largest of these lakes, marked on the map as "Lacus aquae dulces" (sweet water lake), is most likely a reference to Lake Okeechobee. Far to the north of the map, just south of the great inland sea, is an illustration of an enormous waterfall. Some scholars believe this is a reference to Niagara Falls, tales of which may have been transmitted to Le Moyne by the Native Americans he encountered.

The map is beautifully engraved and further embellished with a large sea monster (most likely intended to be a whale) in the Gulf of Mexico, an elaborate compass rose, a splendid strapwork title cartouche, and two sailing galleons. From the design of the flags, we can assume that the left ship is a Spanish vessel, while the ship on the right is most likely a French, Dutch, or English galleon.

In the upper corners of the map, Le Moyne makes a bold political statement, placing the Spanish royal coat of arms over the western portion of the map and the French coat of arms over the eastern portion, essentially declaring France's claim to at least part of this new territory.