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1745 Map of North America
Showing California as an Island.
Engraved and Published by Richard William Seale, delin et sculp., London.

With the completion of the Pacific Railroad in 1869, the first practical overland connection between California and the rest of North America had finally been established. As late as 1747, however, a 145-year old myth that California was an island – based, apparently, on a mistaken 1602 journal entry by Spanish explorer Father Antonio de la Ascension – was still widely believed! European cartographers first portrayed the west coast of North America this way in 1622 in a small map on the title page of Antonio de Herrera's "Descripcion de las Indias Occidentales," and many major publishers (especially the British and the Dutch) quickly accepted this erroneous concept. Even though Father Eusebio Kino had confirmed during his explorations of the American southwest from 1698 to 1701 that California was indeed not an island, this error continued to be depicted in many of even the best maps until as late as 1747 when King Ferdinand VI of Spain issued a royal edict declaring California part of the mainland.

One of the last maps still illustrating this myth about the topography of California was published in 1745 by the well known London engraver and mapmaker, Richard William Seale, shown below, entitled "A Map of NORTH AMERICA, With the European Settlements & whatever else is remarkable in ye WEST INDIES from the latest and best Observations." Engraved on copper and printed on two sheets of laid paper, this hand colored map and measures 18" x 15".

This map's representations of the North Atlantic ("The Western Ocean"), Upper and Lower Canada ("Terra de Labrador" or "New Britain," "Christianaux" or "Kilistiones," Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia), the British Colonies in North America, the West Indies ("Lucayos" or Bahama Islands, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Porto Rico, "Caribbe" Islands), México, Central America, and the Northern part of South America ("Terra Firma") show that the topography of these areas was quite well known and accurately depicted. Many of the lands west of Hudson's Bay and the Mississippi, however, were still largely unexplored or not yet well surveyed and mapped, and thus large portions were still being designated simply as "parts unknown."

California and New Albion ("Nova Albion" is the name given to Northern California by Sir Francis Drake, the English sea captain, privateer, navigator, naval hero, politician, and civil engineer, who claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I in 1579), are depicted as an island bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean ("The South Sea"), and on the east by the Gulf of California or "Red Sea." The Sierra Nevada Mountains are the major topographical feature shown in California. —BCC

(Scroll down to see map at full size, below.)

Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

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