Michael Mercator, after Gerhard, 1595 (1606 /subsequent): America sive India Nova ad Magna Gerardi Mercatoris avi Universalis imitationem in compendium redacta. Excellent. Fine original colour.

Gerhard Mercator (1512-1594) is known to every modern school child as the creator of the map projection which now bears his name. Clearly a maverick, his geography was original, based on his own interpretation of data (albiet from sometimes dated sources) rather than being derivations of existing maps. He was a student of philosophy, was overwhelmingly interested in the origin and nature of the universe, and did not confine his ideas on the matter to established precepts.

Although from a family of modest means, Mercator quickly earned respect in his field. By 1537 he was well-trained in the science of map-making, and by 1541 was successful as a globe-maker. Disaster nearly struck in 1544 when he was arrested by the Inquisition for heresy, and he was ultimately spared only because of the intervention of the University of Leuven on his behalf.Mercator accepts various unsubstantiated features such as the Northwest passage, various islands in the Atlantic, such as St. Brandan, borne from folklore, and the Strait of Anian. He also maps a fresh water sea in the northern central part of North America, possibly a premonition of the Great Lakes derived from the Indians. Mercator himself, explains his sea via an inscription on his 1569 world map, saying that “here is a sea of sweet water, the limits of which the Canadians, on the authority of the Saguenay Indians, say they do not know.”

The St. Lawrence River is mapped, and a river appears in the position of the Hudson, probably derived from Verazano. `R. de Espirito Santo’ is generally (if wrongly) presumed to be the Mississippi. New England is called `Norumbega,’ a term loosely applied to the region.The Appalachian Mountains (`Apalchen’) probably come via the 1591 map of Le Moyne.