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Henry Briggs: The North Part of America

Map: AMER2248
Cartographer: Henry Briggs
Title: The North Part of America
Date: 1625
Published: London
Width: 14 inches / 36 cm
Height: 9 inches / 23 cm
Map ref: AMER2248
Landmark map of North America, the first English map to show California as an island and the first to name Hudson Bay, Delaware Bay, Cape Cod, Monterey, and San Diego. Framed. [AMER2248]

This map by the English mathematician and scholar Henry Briggs is generally considered to be the progenitor of the 17th century revival of the "island California" myth. This example was first published in 1625 in Samuel Purchas' Hakluytus Postumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes, but Henry Briggs had published an essay supporting the theory that California was an island as early as 1622, and so it is now generally believed that this map would have been issued in some format at that time as well.

Abraham Goos' 1624 map of North America, long believed to be the first map to show California as an island, is now understood to have been based on an early example of this map by Henry Briggs due to Goos' use of English nomenclature around Hudson Bay, an unusual choice unless he was copying an English map.

In the block of text in the lower-left corner, Briggs confidently states his case for designating California as an island:
California sometymes supposed to be a part of ye westerne continent, but scince by a Spanish Charte taken by ye Hollanders it is found to be a goodly islande.
In the upper-left cartouche he also states his case for an open Northwest Passage, a long-hoped-for dream of English navigators:
The bo[u]nds of it [North America] are the Atlantick Ocean on ye South and East sides ye South Sea on ye west side and on ye North Fretum hudson and Buttons baye a faire entrance to ye nearest and most temparate passage to Japan & China.
In fact, part of the reason why the myth of the Island of California was so readily adopted by English and Dutch mapmakers was their need to believe that a Northwest Passage existed. By allowing for the existence of a strait at the head of the Gulf of California, mapmakers left open the possibility that a water connection may yet be located between Hudson Bay and the Pacific.

Not only would such a strait save Northern European navigators thousands of miles of travel to reach the Pacific Ocean, it would also allow them to avoid the Spanish-dominated Magellan Straits. In a sense, the island California myth was more propaganda and wishful thinking than a lack of geographical knowledge.

[Burden (P.): The Mapping of North America 214]
[McLaughlin 2]