America with those known parts in that unknowne world both people and manner of buildings discribed and inlarged by I.S. Ano 1626.
By: John Speed
Date: 1626 (dated)
Dimensions: 15.25 x 20 inches (38.7 cm x 50.8 cm)
The first atlas map to depict California as an island and to accurately depict the east coast of North America.
This iconic map by John Speed is important, beautiful and one of the most iconic maps of America ever made. Surrounded by decorative vignettes illustrating the indigenous peoples and cities of the Americas, the map is the first atlas map to depict California as an island and to depict the east coast of North America in accurate, scientific detail.
Although by the time the map was published it had been established that California was a peninsula, political pressure brought by Spanish claims ensured that many cartographers continued to describe it as an island long after the truth was known. While Hudson Bay is delineated, an interesting element regarding North America is the absence of the Great Lakes. Known major rivers are denoted, and all settlements, towns and future cities are named. Mountains are delineated rather conspicuously out of place, but perhaps in part depict knowledge of the existence of the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians. Speed’s rendering of South America depicts many interesting facts and fables.
Of interest is the mythical Lake Parima in Guina, long associated with English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh and his search for El Dorado. The legend was based on Raleigh’s reports of reaching a remote village where canoes of the indigenous peoples had arrived bearing gold, silver and other treasures. The natives claimed the source was a place called ‘Manoa’, and that it could be reached by following a long river southward to the great lake Parima. Based on this information Raleigh immediately came to the conclusion that Manoa, Parima and El Dorado were connected by a common thread. Thus, maps following Raleigh’s ‘discovery’ depict El Dorado and Lake Parima in this location for several hundred years.
South America is rendered in great detail, with the major river systems well drawn and the mountains along the western edge of the continent especially well drawn, and Straits of Magellan in place. The Arctic region near Iceland and Greenland depicts the theoretical islands of Frisland and Brasil, Frisland being a double mapping of Iceland and Brasil a phantom island of the North Atlantic just west of Ireland. Irish mythology claims the island is perpetually cloaked in mist aside from the one day every seven years when it is visible, but unreachable. It has appeared on maps since at least 1325.
The vignettes along the sides of Speed’s map of the Americas are of especial interest, denoting as they do indigenous peoples including those of Greenland, New England, Virginia, Florida, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and even Tierra del Fuego. Vignettes also form the top border, depicting Havanna, Santo Domingo, Mexico City, Cuzco, Cartagena, the Isle of Moca, Rio de Janeiro and Olinda.