A most decorative and geographically intriguing map of New England, issued by Nuremburg mapmaker Johann Baptist Homann in or around 1730.
Propelled by economic hardship, religious persecution and repeated warfare, in the late 17th century waves of German settlers began the first of many waves of immigration to America. Through the end of the 18th century the largest number ended up in Pennsylvania, with significant populations also settling in the Hudson Valley and upstate new York, Virginia, and North Carolina. Seeking to capitalize on his countrymen’s interest in the New World, Nuremberg publisher Johann Baptist Homann produced this map for his Atlas Novus (ca 1716), along with maps of the Southeast and the Mississippi watershed.
The “Nova Anglia” title misleads, as the map depicts the entire Northeast including New Jersey and most of New York. In an odd anachronism, the names “Novum Belgium” and “Nieuw Nederland” are assigned to upstate New York, although the region had been in English possession since 1674.
To a modern eye the map conveys well the sparseness of European settlement in and knowledge of the Northeast in the early 18th century. The coastline is reasonably well rendered, but mountain ranges are shown in the archaic “molehill” style and with little relationship to their actual locations. Major bodies of water, including the Connecticut, Hudson and St. Lawrence rivers, along with Lake Champlain and the mysterious “Sennecaas Lacus,” are generally mis-shapen and often out of place. For example, an oversized Lake Champlain is offset far east of its actual location, probably due to the difficulty of reconciling Dutch maps of the Hudson Valley with French maps of the North Country. However at least one apparent geographic oddity has a basis in fact: at the time outer Cape Cod was separated from the mainland by a channel navigable by small boats.
For all its flaws the map is more about optimism than accuracy. The large empty areas on the map would have enticed land-hungry, adventurous Europeans, especially as they appeared well watered and with ready access to coastal markets via the many river systems. The message of economic opportunity is reinforced by the cartouche, which shows an elegant European merchant and native American trading manufactured goods in return for beaver pelts.
Perhaps because of its similar geographic coverage, Homann’s map is sometimes described as part of the famous “Jansson-Visscher“series. On even cursory examination, however, the Homann map clearly has different antecedents. One possible source is another Visscher map, the Nova Tabula Geographica Complectens Borealiorem Americae Partem (ca. 1689). While broader in coverage, Visscher’s depiction of the New York-New England region is strikingly similar to that of Homann.
The map was repeatedly reissued for several decades with only slight changes. Baynton-Williams identifies this impression as an example of the third state, with Manhattan labeled as “N. Loch” and the privilege removed from the cartouche.
Manasek, Collecting Old Maps, p. 192; McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #724.1; Baynton-Williams, “Checklist: Printed Maps of New England to 1780, Part IV: 1700-1780,” #1716.01c.