Historical Fiction – Finding an historical map for a 17th c. novel (well, sort of)

All my external readers for Famine Bay, with a plot centred around Governor Denonville’s 1687 invasion of the Seneca territory, have told me I need a map. They had no idea where some of the places referred to in the manuscript were: so many have vanished from  memory.

So I set about trying to find an historical map to use.The problem is that the manuscript is written in English and  so I’ve used English names for locations that back in the 1600s were mostly mapped (if at all) by the French. The French had their own names for the places and the tribes they encountered that differed from the names assigned to them by the English.

For example, the  Haudenonsaunee (People of the Longhouse) were called Five Nations  by the English (sometimes the League), and Iroquois by the French. The individual nations, as we know them now — the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas and Mohawks– were not referred to as such by the French. They called the Senecas, Tsonnontouans; the Cayugas, Goyogouins; the  Onondagas,  Onontagues; the Oneidas,  Onneyuts, and the Mohawks, Agniers or Maquases.

Using a French map, then,  would simply add to the confusion. But it’s almost impossible to find good English maps for this period. The ones we have are pretty rudimentary. Here, for example, is a map prepared by Col. Rohmer who visited the Five Nations in 1700. He refers to what we now call Lake Ontario as Cadaracqua Lake (Cadaracqui is where Fort Frontenac was built; it’s present day Kingston) but his map doesn’t actually show where the Five Nation villages were. I really don’t think it would  help my readers very much but I love the embellishments.

map Col Rohmer visit to 5Ns

Col. Rohmer most likely drew the 1701 map that accompanied the first written treaty between the Five Nations and the English: the compass is almost identical. It’s a map, I’m proud to say, that  I discovered at the Public Records Office in England about fifteen years ago, at a time when scholars thought it no longer existed. But it’s even more basic, and not particularly helpful either.

map 1701

That’s Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in the bottom right corner and the “Lake of the Ottawawas” (probably Lake Michigan) in the upper left; it looks sort of like a yam. The map has a notation in the Lake of the Ottawawas that says it is “believed to be the home of a sea monster.” (The Richelieu River, by the way, which is connects to Lake Champlain, also had a sea monster known as the cheval marin, or sea horse, reported in the 1600s: soldiers killed one on the shore. It was supposed to be absolutely terrifying. No one has any idea now what it was; wouldn’t you love to know?)

The French maps, by contrast,  are much better. Below is a map attributed to Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, a mapmaker who became the royal hydrographer in Quebec in 1688. It’s believed that he gathered the information he used to prepare this 1688  map during Governor Denonville’s 1687 invasion but I can’t find anything to indicate that he was on that expedition. He may have collected details from those who were.

Map 1688

The main problem I have with Franquelin’s map is that it shows only one Cayuga village, depicted by a single  longhouse (he calls the Cayugas “Ouyaugouins”: variations in spelling of Aboriginal names is very common for this time period), but we know from the historical record that there were at least three and  maybe four at the time.  He also shows eight Seneca villages (“Sonnontouans”) when there were probably only three.

But remember, this was a map drawn for King Louis XIV just after Governor Denonville had launched a major assault on the Five Nations by invading the Senecas. It would have been  in Denonville’s interest to have his  cartographer (he’d appointed Franquelin as mapmaker) produce a map that made it appear that he’d  dispersed more Senecas than he actually  had, and so I think Franquelin’s map contains a little of what we might  now call “propaganda.” (At that time,  the word “propaganda” referred to information circulated by the church to “propagate” religion.)

Interestingly, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, just south of Fort Niagara, Franquelin references  a portage used by the Senecas  to launch their attacks on the Illinois: the war between the Illinois and the Five Nations is a big part of my story.

When it comes to something that works for my manuscript, however, I much prefer the panoramic sweep of Cadwallader Colden’s map. It was published in 1727 as part of his History of the Five Nations, and shows the entire area in play in Famine Bay. But it doesn’t have the location of the Five Nations or the villages of the Iroquois du Nord, and that’s what my external readers most wanted to know.

map colden

There are a couple of other maps for this time period but they lack the detail I need.

And so, since I couldn’t find what I wanted, even after consulting with Victor Konrad (a well-known historical geographer) and Ed Dahl, the retired Early Cartography Specialist at the National Archives, I’ve ended up making compilation map of my own. I’ve pulled information from all these maps, using Colden’s as a kind of base map.  I’ve also added information collected by modern historians like Victor,  who writes extensively about the little known Iroquois du Nord and the placement and names of their villages.

I’m hoping a publisher can work with it and maybe they can  have a graphic artist make something  more professional-looking for publication, but at least  my readers will understand where all the action takes place. What do you think?


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4 Responses to Historical Fiction – Finding an historical map for a 17th c. novel (well, sort of)

  1. Jo-Anne Ward says:

    Fascinating Peggy! Keep up your great work!!

    Was raised in Richelieu (QC) on the River of the same name but never heard about the “cheval marin” monster – Would love to know more if you ever hear anything further!

    Look forward to reading your next Inspector Ramirez novel in the summer! Please keep us informed of its release date in Ottawa!

    Happy 2015!



    • Peggy Blair says:

      Father Nicolas drew a sketch of it, apparently: no idea where that may have ended up, but wish I knew where it was. Hungry Ghosts will be in bookstores June 2, Ottawa launch at Cake and Shake on June 6. Happy New Year to you as well!


  2. Peggy, you ARE an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

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