Samuel Champlain chart of Stage Harbor in Chatham, Mass.

Samuel de Champlain, port. fortune. [Paris, 1613.]
Uncolored engraving, 5 7/8”h x 9 ½”w at plate mark, surmounting 5 columns of letterpress text on an 8 ½”h x 10 ¾”w sheet

A remarkable chart by Samuel Champlain, being one of the first of North America and one of the earliest visual records of the European encounter with the native peoples of New England.

The chart was drawn form personal observations by Samuel Champlain, the visionary sailor, soldier, explorer, diplomat, mapmaker and founder of New France.

“From 1604 to 1607 Samuel de Champlain accompanied a series of French voyages exploring the coast between Nova Scotia and Nantucket Sound—in all about twelve hundred miles of shoreline. Along the way, he kept detailed records on the region’s geography and noted his impressions of its inhabitants. With an eye to the possibility of eventual French settlement, Champlain was particularly careful to observe coastal areas that might provide suitable harbors, hospitable neighbors, and exploitable natural resources….

“For the most part, his impressions were not very favorable for settlement. The attempts at establishing contact often began with an exchange of gifts and pleasantries but ended in armed skirmishes. The sea journey itself was fraught with hazards, particularly among the shoals and ledges along the coast as the French vessels sailed closer to Cape Cod.” (Garver, Surveying the Shore, p. 5)

In the end Champlain left New England behind and opted to establish New France along the St. Lawrence River to the north and west. He described his experiences and observations in Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain (1613), which featured a number of maps of the first importance. Among these were a monumental map of New France as well as numerous charts of individual harbors, including the chart of Stage Harbor offered here.

Champlain’s visit to the harbor and encounters with the local Nauset Indians were a dismal failure, though this did not prevent him from naming the area “Port Fortune.” As related by Burden:

“After having left Beau Port (Gloucester), Champlain’s pinnace rounded Cap Blanc (Cape Cod) and became entrapped in the shoals off the coast in October 1606. They managed to make it into present day Stage Harbor near Chatham, Massachusetts, for repairs to the rudder. They spent two weeks here effecting repairs. This is the only place in New England that Champlain comments on for its beauty. At the end of their stay a few Frenchmen were murdered by the Indians overnight on shore. Punishment could not be meted out, so they left. After exploring Nantucket Sound Champlain returned to try to gain some revenge; however, yet more Frenchmen lost their lives. It was then decided to head straight back to Port Royal. Quite why such an illogical name for the harbor was chosen is unknown.” (Burden, Mapping of North America, #I:175)

The chart depicts Stage Harbor, with Monomoy Beach shown as the long spit to the south labeled “I” and the Oyster Pond and Mill Pond to the north labeled “A” and “H” respectively (The center of present-day Chatham and its harbor are off the map to the east.) Soundings are given in the harbor; pictographs depict topographical features, native dwellings, and the unfortunate events that befell Champlain’s men; and many locations bear labels keyed to an explanatory legend. These include “the dwellings of the savages and where they plow their land,” “great quantities of oysters,” “the cross we planted,” and “the place near the cross where our people were killed by the savages.”

By the time the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod in 1620, the Nauset had suffered a mass kidnapping by the English adventurer Thomas Hunt and a subsequent epidemic that reduced their population by as much as two thirds. Despite the horrific consequences of these early encounters with Europeans, they remained on relatively good terms with the Plymouth Colony and refrained from joining the 1676 uprising known as King Phillip’s War.

Burden, Mapping of North America, #I:175.


Excellent, with minor toning and a tiny chip to left margin. Two edges untrimmed, with deckle edges visible.