Going Dutch

Maps never fail to intrigue me, old maps in particular. So it’s no wonder that the only thing that caught my eye that Friday night at my favorite neighborhood auction house, aside from the incomplete trombone, was a yellowing old print of a 17th-century map, framed in dark wood and burlap and calling to me. The most visible words on the map, spread across a large body of water in the lower right third of the print, were Mar del Nort, so my first thought was that it had something to do with the North Sea. But that couldn’t be right. If it were the North Sea, there wouldn’t be anything above it but the Arctic Circle. Yet just above it on what was clearly a north-up map was a significant land mass, vaguely familiar in shape, but peppered with entirely unfamiliar place names like Nova Belgica, Trionalis and, at the very top, Americae Septen.

Oh, wait . . . Americae. That one I knew. And just like that it was obvious what I was looking at: the Atlantic coast of the New World. It was somewhat elongated longitudinally, and considerably more south-facing than I’m accustomed to seeing, but there it was, clear as day. Below Nieuw Englandt I could see Cape Cod (Nieuw Hollant), and farther west was Long Island (Lange Eylandt), the New Jersey coast, the Delaware Bay (Nieuw Port May) and yes, all the way in the bottom left corner, between a fat peninsula and something called Virginiae Pars, none other than the Chesapeack Bay.

So I had to have it, even if it meant staying longer and suffering through more tchotchke madness than I can ordinarily tolerate. When the map finally came on the figurative block (described, to my delight, as “a map of the . . . um . . . North Sea”), I engaged in a brief bidding war with some knucklehead in the back row, whom I never saw but who ran the price up to $55. But it’s mine now. All mine. And I’ve spent hours studying it, trying to figure out where this particular snapshot fits on the great cartographic timeline. The map-lovers among you may already know that what I’d read as Americae Septen and Trionalis should have been read all together: Americae Septentrionalis, which is cartographer speak (they liked Latin) for North America. I had also missed an even more specific hint about the map’s provenance: a sizable cartouche at the bottom identifying the map as Novi Belgii and showing a tableau of Nieuw Amsterdam.

It is, of course, a Dutch map: New Netherlands, by the famous cartographer Nicholas Visscher. From what I can gather, it dates from about 1650, when the Dutch still had a huge piece of the New World pie—essentially, the Atlantic coast from Rhode Island to the Delmarva Peninsula, and from there a widening swath northwest all the way to what is now Quebec and Ontario. Of course my Visscher print doesn’t go back to the Dutch Golden Age; I’m guessing more like Smithsonian gift shop, circa 1983. But that doesn’t make it any less intriguing to me, or any less deserving of space on my office wall. I’ll hang it somewhere nearby, so I can look at it often and imagine what it would be like to sail across the Bay to New Netherlands.

T. F. Sayles, Editor
[email protected]