Daily Archives: November 20, 2012

Mapping the Grand River


A name more than identifies. It provides insight into who the person naming was and where they came from.

The Lansing State Journal of April 28, 1955 was an anniversary edition. This “Centennial Celebration” issue honored a hundred years of the paper and it’s lineage. Several papers merged over the past 150 plus years to create what we now know as the LSJ. This copious copy sports dozens of historical stories concerning local history, the region and Michigan. Page B-5 retells the story of the siege and massacre of Mackinaw in 1763. It also discloses a 1703 map, De L’ilises’ Carte Du Canada, as “the first known recording of the Grand” [River] by name.

With increases in bibliographies, subject guides, and books dedicated to map collections and the growing number of historical maps found online, it is much simpler to find a greater volume and more specific maps than in the past.

The 1686 Amérique Septentrionale depicts the Grand River quite accurately, as well as calling it by name. A theory purports the first known map believed to identify the Grand River by name is Jean Boisseau’s edition of Samuel De Champlain’s 1632 Carte Du La Nouvelle France, or Map of New France. There is debate which lakes are represented where on these maps.

Champlain’s map is probably the first to depict all five Great Lakes. Their proportions, shoreline and some locations are severely askew. Neither Champlain nor Boisseau ever saw Lake Michigan. Champlain probably received his information from Etienne Brule, the first European explorer to see many of the Great Lakes. Brule however, did not see Lake Michigan either. Native Americans would have been the source of the information.

Boisseau’s 1643 map is the first to name all the Great Lakes and the “Grand River qui vient du Mid[i].” The translation is the “Big River which comes from the South.” Most of the lake names are currently different, sometimes only a variation is noted. Lake Erie is written “Lac Derie.”

Only a very few English names appear on these maps. The Old Northwest or Northwest Territory, which included Michigan, was predominantly French at that time. However, in a bit of a power grab most of the names of English settlements along the East Coast of the United States also have French names. It was a map of New France after all. The Hudson Bay is an exception. Areas around New York have French versions of English names, Isle Logue substitutes Long Island.

English influence and names did not creep into Michigan until after the 1763 Treaty of Paris, ending the French and Indian War. Many French names were replaced over time as English and other European cultures settled. Some French names, such as Detroit and the Grand survived.

A big thank you is more than called for to Kathleen Weessies at the MSU Map Library for assistance with this entry.

Sources Consulted
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 04/28/1955
Amérique Septentrionale 1686
Carte Du Nouvelle France, Jean Boisseau. 1643
Carte Du La Nouvelle France, Samuel De Champlain. 1632
Carte Du Canada, De L’ilises. 1703
Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lake region, edited by David I. Macleod. 2007
The mapping of North America: a list of printed maps, 1511-1670 / by Philip D. Burden. c1996