Wednesday, March 28, 2012

First Map of Alaska - Or Not? -- Not

The blog Mudflats is running a post claiming the above image to be the first map of Alaska:
As an aficionado of old maps, I’m not sure why I never posted this one before.  This is the oldest map of Alaska. It was made on a Russian expedition in 1741 by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering. Obviously, it wasn’t completely accurate, but I think they did find Kodiak. Do not use this map for navigation purposes, particularly if your travels will take you to the Aleutian chain.
The statement, while containing truthiness, is misleading, though probably not intentionally so.  The map reprinted at the Mudflats contains information derived from the first mapping data that led to the one they published.  The statement "It was made on a Russian expedition in 1741 by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering," unfortunately constructed, is misleading.

The map image posted at the Mudflats is, according to Alison Smith, an associate professor of history  at the University of Toronto, and editor of the Russian history blog, Northern Spaces, "a 1775 English map based on a 1754 map by Gerhard Friedrich Müller originally published in Russia."  (Smith labels the jpeg image of the map posted at the Mudflats "Mulleresque.")  A very detailed, enlargeable image of the Mulleresque map is available here.  It was not "made on a Russian expedition in 1741."

Here is what the University of Washington Special Collections Division has to say about the maker of the 1775 map:
Robert Sayer (1725-1794) was a publisher and map and print seller who published much of his contemporaries' work including the work of Thomas Kitchin, Belin and d'Anville (Moreland and Bannister, 172). He worked with Philip Overton beginning in 1745 until Overton died in 1751. Sayer then continued to work on his own. He published Rocque's small "British Atlas" (1753), "map of Atlantic" (1757) and "Large English Atlas" (1760). He later collaborated with Herbert and reissued many works by John Senex (?-1740). After cartographer, Thomas Jefferys, went bankrupt, Sayer took some of Jeffreys' assets and with Jefferys published "General topographic map of North America and the West Indies" (1768) and "Middle British Colonies in America" (1768, 1775). In 1770, Sayer was joined by John Bennett. In 1771, Jefferys died and most of his business passed to William Faden while some of his plates stayed in Sayer's hands. Sayer and Bennet then published "General Atlas" (1773), "North American Atlas' (1775), "North American Pilot" (1775-6), "American Military pocket Atlas" (1776), "West India Atlas" (1775), and "Complete Channel Pilot" (1781). In 1781 Bennett retired and then died in 1787. Sayer continued to work on his own until his own retirement in 1792. He then sold his plates and business to Robert Laurie and James Whittle (Tooley, 561).
What was "made" on Bering's second expedition was made by a number of people, working in two separate groups: 

1.  Some of the oceanic charting and course information displayed on the 1775 Robert Sayer map came from one of the maps made in 1742 or early 1743 by Lieutenant Sven Waxell. one of the survivors from the Bering Island shipwreck that claimed the lives of several expedition members including Vitus Bering himself.  Waxell, in the spring of 1742, managed to build a new boat with the other survivors of the harsh winter, and get many expedition notes, specimens and other data back to Petropavlovsk on September 1742.  Here is one of the maps Waxell produced upon return to St. Petersburg:

Alexei Chirikov, who commanded the second ship in Bering's expedition, actually reached North America before Bering.  Bering's ship and Chirikov's were separated in a storm on June 20, 1741.  They never got back together.  He made landfall on July 15, 1741 at Baker Island (55 degrees - 20 minutes N), on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.  Upon return to Russia, Chirikov's pilot, Ivan Elagin, made this map of their course history:
 Back in Russia, in 1742, summary maps were made, compiling information from several surviving expedition sources:

The summary map that found its image into further maps of the North Pacific was this one:

The first cartographer to use this new information in a map or series of maps that gained wide distribution was Müller, a member of the 2nd expedition.  In 1754, to rebut a spurious map showing many mythical North Pacific lands, gulfs, inlets and islands, created in 1752 by the French cartographer Nicolas de L'Isle, Müller compiled much of both Bering expeditions' voyage information, and created his well-known map upon which many subsequent maps were based, including the 1775 Sayer map published at the Mudflats.

Müller's 1754 map remained authoritative until the late 1778 publication of the maps and charts from James Cook's third voyage.  In 1780, the English cartographer Carrington Bowles interpolated the Bering data and Cook data together in a strange map showing both versions of the story:
images scanned from Historical Atlas of the North Pacific Ocean by Derek Hayes, published by The British Museum Press, 2001


Anonymous said...

Your Mudflats obsession cracks me up. It's like the socially stunted 3rd grader pulling the popular girl's ponytail during recess to get her attention.

Philip Munger said...

"Your Mudflats obsession..."

--- and the last time PA covered the Mudflats was?

I think the last time PA covered the Mudflats was weeks ago, and it was positive coverage. Too busy with other stuff to check, but I'm sure you'd be glad to do that for me, eh?