Friday, December 3, 2010

Cartographic Realty Versus Reality

I’ve been researching the role of books in the history of the Pacific Northwest (the first byproduct of that work is here), so I enjoyed reading in the December issue of Fine Books & Collections an article about the search for the Northwest Passage. From “Wishful Thinking”: 
Perhaps the strangest and most imaginative maps showing a Northwest Passage were those based on the apocryphal 1640 voyage of the Spanish admiral Bartholemew de Fonte. In a letter published in a 1708 edition of the British magazine The Monthly Miscellany or Memoirs for the Curious, de Fonte claimed to have sailed up the Pacific coast of the Americas. Somewhere north of Vancouver Island he found a strait that led to a great inland sea where he met a merchant ship from Boston. Although it is now believed that the magazine’s editor wrote the piece, the great English proponent of the passage, Arthur Dobbs, took the article to be genuine and gave it credibility when he included the de Fonte expedition in his An account of the countries adjoining to Hudson’s Bay in the north-west part of America (1744).
The de Fonte ‘discovery’ remained a cartographic realty for more than half a century and entrapped some of the brightest and most prominent mapmakers …