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The Exotic Animals of the Americas

European colonists were fascinated with the wildlife of the Western Hemisphere. They described fauna native to the Americas in memoirs, travel journals and poetry. Pictures of the unfamiliar animals were often printed on maps. In this post I will discuss four colonial era maps that were decorated with illustrations of animals.

The two maps of Virginia, featured below, were published during the 17th century. Both of the maps were partially based on John Smith’s famous map, which may be viewed here.

Detail from Virginia. Ralph Hall. 1636. Geography and Map Division.

Detail from Virginia. Ralph Hall. 1636. Geography and Map Division.

The first map, shown below, was issued with an atlas titled Historia mundi, or, Mercator’s atlas, containing his cosmologicall descriptions of the fabricke and figure of the world. The map was created in 1636 by a British engraver named Ralph Hall. European colonists are shown hunting near the James River while Native Americans are hunting near the north shore of the Potomac. Images of wild boars, deer, rabbits, birds and a sea monster are shown on the map. To the right is an enlarged detail from the map. A hunter is aiming at an animal that resembles a spotted cougar. The large spotted cat is shown with water flowing across its back as it crosses a river.

Virginia. Ralph Hall. 1636. Geography and Map Division.

Virginia. Ralph Hall. 1636. Geography and Map Division.

Cartographers sometimes placed pictures of animals in the wrong geographical locations. The second map of Virginia, shown below, was published in 1673. The map was created by the Dutch historian, author and clergyman Arnoldus Montanus. The entire region is illustrated with a mountainous terrain. In the upper right corner two Native Americans are shown with animals that were not indigenous to Virginia: two goats, a llama and a unicorn. It was commonly believed that unicorns existed in the Americas as well as other parts of the world. Montanus wrote a book about North and South America titled  De nieuwe en onbekende weereld (The New and Unknown World). He provided a detailed description of the American unicorn in the book.

Nova Virginiae Tabula. Arnoldus Montanus. 1673. Geography and Map Division.

Nova Virginiae Tabula. Arnoldus Montanus. 1673. Geography and Map Division.

We will now focus on two maps that were published during the 18th century.

Featured above, is an inset from a map of Colonial America. The inset shows beavers occupied with building a dam in Niagara Falls. The illustration is symbolic of the work ethic that was necessary to become successful in the colonies. The fur trade was a profitable source of income and illustrations such as this were used to promote immigration to British America. The map was created by Herman Moll in 1731. An image of the entire map is shown below.

Note the porcupine, moths and beetle that are pictured on the following map of Chebucto Harbour and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The map was issued in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1750. The Gentleman’s Magazine was published in London and distributed monthly. Maps were often used in the journal to inform readers about areas of British trade. The creator of the map is unknown. Many think the British cartographer Thomas Jefferys made the map; others believe the map was drawn by Moses Harris. Mr Harris was a British engraver and entomologist who surveyed Halifax during the mid-18th century.

A plan of the harbour of Chebucto and town of Halifax. Published by Gentleman's Magazine. 1750. Geography and Map Division.

A plan of the harbour of Chebucto and town of Halifax. Published by Gentleman’s Magazine. 1750. Geography and Map Division.

Pictures of animals were commonly placed on maps throughout cartographic history. Cartographers sometimes placed the animals in the wrong zoogeographic regions. Europeans were intrigued by the strange opossums, beavers, turkeys, white tailed deer, jaguars, cougars, llamas and other wildlife that were native to the Western Hemisphere. In this post I have  provided a few examples of maps of Colonial North America that were embellished with pictures of animals.

Learn more:

Read a detailed history of how illustrations of animals were used on maps in Animals and maps by Wilma George.


One Comment

  1. Moumita Adhikary
    October 11, 2020 at 6:53 am

    Happy time!

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