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“Full of Bogs and Poisonous Fruits”: Early Maps of Florida

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Florida: home to sunshine, oranges, spring breakers, and snowbirds. Or, in the words of the 16th century Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto: “full of bogs and poisonous fruits, barren, and the worst country that is warmed by the sun.”

For over a hundred years, between Columbus’ initial contact in the Bahamas (1492) and the English establishment of permanent colonies in Virginia (1607), Spain dominated European exploration of the Americas. We often learn about some of these (in)famous Spaniards at some point during school or in museum exhibits, such as Juan Ponce de León, Hernán Cortés, and Juan de la Cosa.

However, throughout the 16th century, the French also made numerous, concerted attempts to claim land in the Americas. In 1562, a group of Huguenot settlers led by Jean Ribault and René Goulaine de Laudonnière were sent by King Charles IX in an attempt to establish a colony on the southeastern coast of America. An artist on Laudonnière’s expedition, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, went on to produce a map of their French colony from 1562 to 1565. Le Moyne’s map (not published until 1591) depicted Florida as a wide triangle with its southernmost tip removed, a peculiar shape that persisted for several decades, even as alternative representations emerged from other cartographers.

One such alternative appeared in the 1584 Latin edition of Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Ortelius based his map of “La Florida” on information derived from Jerónimo de Chaves, a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación in Seville. Because the map is based on the work of a cartographer for the Spanish Crown, the names appearing on the map are from early Spanish explorations. The shape of Florida and its related nomenclature are picked up by cartographers following Ortelius, such as Corneille [Cornelius] Wytfliet.

Another version of Florida was produced by the Dutch geographer Johannes De Laet. As Director of the  Dutch West India Company, De Laet and his cartographers had access to the most up-to-date information and reports about the Americas. The Florida peninsula is named “Tegesta provinc.” after a tribe of American Indians living on the Florida coast and persisted in French mapping of Florida for nearly two hundred years.

Joannes De Laet, Florida Et Regiones Vicinae. 1640. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress.
Joannes De Laet, Florida Et Regiones Vicinae. 1640. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress.

The Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress has several collections pertaining to the history of exploration in the Americas. The Lowery Collection, the Kohl Collection, the Pintado Collection, and selections from our Vault Americana Collection all contain examples of early mapping of the Americas. For those seeking material about mapping the west coast of North America, the Geography and Map Division also holds a collection of late-18th century manuscript charts of harbors along the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to Alaska. Researchers may also be interested in consulting The Luso-Hispanic World in Maps: a selective guide to manuscript maps to 1900 in the collections of the Library of Congress, which contains over a thousand citations to Luso-Hispanic maps held in three divisions across the Library of Congress

Comments (2)

  1. If not for air conditioning and flush toilets, I would have to agree with de Soto’s hyperbole. No offense intended to Joe F and Tom T 😉

  2. I have to agree Pete. Of course I might be ok with one of these camping tents as well lol.

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