Recently I came across an interesting map of Florida in our collections. Dated 1823, the map was made only four years after the territory of Florida was ceded to the United States by Spain, and 22 years before it became a state in its own right. The map, authored by surveyor Charles Vignoles and engraved by Henry Schenck Tanner, caught my eye due to its age and its detail, which includes the names and descriptions of natural and inhabited places, land grants, and trails throughout the peninsula. One name in particular stood out, and after a little research, I learned that this map is generally considered to be the first map to use the name “Everglades” (or really, “Ever Glades”) for the enormous wetlands which dominate the southern part of the Florida peninsula.
Finding this map piqued my curiosity. What else has the Everglades been called throughout recorded history? How else has it been mapped?
Florida began to appear on European maps in the early 1500s, but the peninsula was rarely mapped in much detail aside from the coast. This 1562 map is typical of such depictions, showing not much more than an elongated stretch of land with some vague coastal topography.
Near the tail-end of the 1500s, a lake – or an island in a lake – called Serrope becomes the first notable interior feature of the Florida peninsula shown on Spanish maps. This is Lake Okeechobee, the headwaters of the Everglades wetlands. While there are a handful of islands in Lake Okeechobee, the large central island depicted on these maps is conspicuously absent from the 1977 LANDSAT photo.
By the 18th century Serrope generally becomes the lake of Espiritu Santo, or on French maps, Lac du St. Esprit, both meaning “Lake of the Holy Spirit.” That appellation soon gives way to the name Lake Mayaco or Macaco, after the Mayaca Indigenous people.
Another name which appears south of the lake in several maps is that of Ancient or Old Tegesta. The Tegesta, also called the Tequesta, were another Indigenous community of south Florida.
Some cartographers depicted southern Florida – or in some cases, the whole peninsula – as a jumbled collection of large islands, blurring the distinction between river, wetland, and sea. My favorite of these includes a note between the southern end of the peninsula and the islands of the Florida Keys, stating “tout ceci est peu connu” – “all this is little known.”
While a few earlier maps depict perhaps swamp-like vegetation along rivers in southern Florida, the 1823 Vignoles map is the oldest map I could find which gives any name at all specifically to the Everglades wetland region. However, “Everglades” evidently wasn’t the only name in use. This 1838 map by the Bureau of US Topographical Engineers gives it two names – Pay-Hai-O-Kee and Grass Water. The first of these comes from the Hitchiti language, closely related to Mikasuki, which is still spoken today by descendants of survivors of the Seminole Wars of the 19th century.
On American maps, anyway, it was the name Everglades which stuck.
“Extensive marshes called the Everglades” appear on this circa 1841 map by David H. Burr, Geographer to the US House of Representatives.
Here the Everglades are mapped almost as a massive delta with braided river channels flowing southwest from Lake Okeechobee.
This birds eye view by John Bachmann shows numerous small lakes in a vast dark green landscape.
Today, much of the Everglades region is part of Everglades National Park, which was established in 1947. With their detailed visitor maps, the National Park Service takes their place in a long tradition of mapping this interesting region.