Michigan State University

California as an Island

Kathleen Weessies

Mortier map 1700

From 1622 to the middle 1700s European mapmakers were drawing California as an island separate from North America.  In 1701 Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino walked around Baja California and proved that California was not an island.  It took some time, however, for this knowledge to seep into the cartographic record.

great lakes 1700.jpg

On our exhibited 1700 map of the World, the Great Lakes appear in an early ambiguous form.  Other maps from this time had more accurate shapes for the lakes and documented their proximity (and lack of connection) to the Mississippi River system.  The lakes are labeled “sweet sea” indicating that the water is fresh, not sea water.  This map clearly was taken from a book; researchers speculate it once illustrated a Dutch-language bible due to the depictions at the top of the creation of the Earth.

This map was purchased by funds from the Tamara Brunnschweiler Endowment.  It will be on exhibit in the MSU Map Library October 9-19, 2018. 

Map Citation

Carte generale du monde, ou Description du monde terrestre & aquatique = Generale waereld kaart, of Beschryving van de land en water aereld.  Made by Pierre Mortier and J. van Luchtenberg. Published in Amsterdam (possibly to illustrate a Dutch bible) by Chez Pierre Mortier in 1700.


The Mapping of California as an Island: An Illustrated Checklist. By Glen McLaughlin and Nancy H. Mayo.  Published in Saratoga, California by the California Map Society in 1995.

The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps, 1472-1700. By Rodney W. Shirley. Published in Riverside, Connecticut by Early World Press in 2001, entry 622.



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