Early Maps


Figure de la Terre Neuve, grande riviere de Canada, et cotes de l'ocean en la Nouvelle France, 1618

Figure de la Terre Neuve, grande riviere de Canada, et cotes de l'ocean en la Nouvelle France, 1618
Item 105015   info
Maine Historical Society

This 1618 French map, based on a 1607 expedition by Marc Lescarbot, shows the Wabanaki communities (Etechemins) in relation to the rivers (Kinibeki/Kennebec, Norumbega/Penobscot, Sant le Croix/Saint Croix) as well as the landscape of New England and the Maritimes. European settlements are designated with crosses and houses.

Champlain's map of Saco Bay and the Saco River, 1605

Champlain's map of Saco Bay and the Saco River, 1605
Item 33847   info
McArthur Public Library

Samuel de Champlain's map of Saco Bay, the Saco River, and surrounding area contains numbers in the water for depth soundings in fathoms. The letters describe the topographical features as well as general information about the Native population.

Many of the items described on the map are spelled phonetically, including the name of the Wabanaki river name translated into a French version - "Chouacoit". This is especially important because it is one of the few detailed descriptions of where and how Native people lived and farmed along the Saco River.

Map of New England, New York, ca. 1676

Map of New England, New York, ca. 1676
Item 7494   info
Maine Historical Society

Rather than reading colonial maps as factual representations, we should examine them as political documents. Inaccuracies occur on early European maps mainly because mapmakers had a lack of first-hand knowledge of the land, and countries like England and France sought to claim and name territories for the purpose of colonization. Complicating factors with this map include the time period when it was made—during King Phillip’s War—when Native people were violently displaced by settlers, and many were forced to move from their traditional territories.

The map must be read critically, because it does contain Indigenous place names and territories. However, some are accurate, many are inaccurate, and others are not represented at all. For example, tThe map attempts to erase Wabananki homelands by stamping “Part of New Scotland” and “New England” over Wabanaki territory, communicating more about colonial propaganda and fear—attempting to make the “new world” look uninhabited—instead of the reality of Wabanaki authority and millennia of living in the region.

Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova, ca. 1635

Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova, ca. 1635
Item 7490   info
Maine Historical Society

Early maps demonstrated the importance of natural resources relating to the fur trade. Illustrations showed the bounty of Wabanaki territories, including moose, deer, bear, beaver, fox, otter, turkey, and rabbits. At the same time, the maps distorted Indigenous presence in the region.

The orientation of this map to the west might be confusing to modern viewers. Mapmakers adopted the convention of orienting to the north later, in the 18th century.

Manuscript map of Kennebec River area, 1771

Manuscript map of Kennebec River area, 1771
Item 13074   info
Maine Historical Society

The language of this map contextualizes the differences in worldviews between settlers and Wabanaki people.

Wabanaki place names often reflect the landscape and what you could do in there, like fish for salmon or portage a canoe. This English map documents the history of land ownership, the incorporation of towns, and narratives about fighting between the Wabanaki people and the settlers.

Plan of part of the Eastern Shore, 1753

Plan of part of the Eastern Shore, 1753
Item 11977   info
Maine Historical Society

The Plymouth Company recorded increasing English settlements in Wabanaki territory, and mapped land grants including both sides of the Kennebec River, and English settlements in Brunswick, Falmouth and North Yarmouth and Norridgewock.

The cartouche shows two Indigenous men saying, "God hath Planted us here, God deeded this land to us." Using Native imagery made sense because settlers were vying with each other over claims to Maine lands, and some of those claims rested on earlier deeds with Wabanaki people.

Francis Joseph Neptune map, Cobscook River, 1798

Francis Joseph Neptune map, Cobscook River, 1798
Item 10832   info
Maine Historical Society

For centuries, Wabanaki people have resisted encroachments on their homelands. While the English were settling along the southern coast of Maine, English and French settlers were making similar advancement on Wabanaki land downeast and in the Maritimes.

During treaty negotiations between the English and the Americans in 1798, the "true" location of the St. Croix River was in dispute. Because it defined the northeast boundary between the United States and Canada, British Commissioner Thomas Barclay sent representatives to gather information from the Wabanaki. Francis Joseph Neptune, from the Passamaquoddy Nation, created this map of the river networks in the region for Barclay.

The fixing of this international boundary had major implications, splitting the Maliseet, Micmac, and Passamaquoddy communities.

St. John and Penobscot Rivers map, 1798

St. John and Penobscot Rivers map, 1798
Item 6883   info
Maine Historical Society

In 1798 surveyors and map makers were sent out by the governments of Britain and the United States to determine the northeast boundary line between the two countries.

This sketch is part of a collection of maps made to help determine the boundary. It is a copy "taken from one made on Birch Bark by Francis Joseph an Indian with the assistance of other Indians as also the above information of Pleasant Point May 8th 1798 by us Thomas Milledge, Rob Pagan."

The map shows an old canoe trail from the Maliseet Indian village of Meductic to Indian Island at Old Town -- an ancient "highway" for Indians and settlers. Indians used the route to trade with the French and English; settlers used it to get to the area.

Other place names include: Masaskisias, Madawaska River, Lake Pasahagan, Chepenannot River, Lake Kioxakcik. Francis Joseph Neptune was the chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

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