Delisle's rare atlas containing one of the earliest plans of Montreal
By DELISLE, Guillaume , 1725

Recüeil de cartes geographiques par les Srs. De L'isle. Geographie moderne.

  • Author: DELISLE, Guillaume
  • Publication place: [Paris
  • Publication date: c1725].
  • Physical description: Folio (510 by 375mm), manuscript title, and six half titles, 108 engraved maps, (on 117 map sheets, many double-page folio, although 11 on a smaller format), one manuscript map, one manuscript chart, and one manuscript plan, with key pasted on, all large format engraved maps and manuscript chart in original outline hand-colour, manuscript chart and plan in full colour, four plates, [together with:] 32pp index to map Bourgogne bound in after map, 2f. historical text bound in after 'Theatrum historicum', and 'Imperii Orientalis et Circumjacentium', 15pp pamphlet, 'Extrait des Registres du Conseil d'Etat Privé du Roy', bound at end, later full calf, rebacked preserving original spine, spine in seven compartments, separated by bands, gilt.
  • Inventory reference: 14971


Rare composite Delisle atlas.
The core of the atlas is a group of 96 large engraved folio maps published by Guillaume Delisle, which range in date from 1700 to 1725. The layout and contents bears similarity to two untitled atlases in the British Library (Shirley T.DEL-1b and T.DEL-1c), which contain 80 and 94 maps respectively, and although the group of printed maps of the Americas (all of which are present here in their rare first or early states) makes the work an important piece of Americana. The atlases has been augmented with three manuscript maps devoted to Canada, and Cassini’s map of the Paris Meridian:
1. Plan of Montreal circa 1705 – the third extant plan of the city.
2. Chart of the St Lawrence River from Montreal to Quebec by Delisle – the most detailed chart to be produced at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
3. Map of Mont-Louis on the Gaspé Peninsula by Delisle.
4. Four sheet map of the Paris Meridian by Cassini.
The work also includes several smaller maps by Delisle, and the complete text relating to Delisle’s plagiarism case against Jean Baptiste Nolin.
1.Plan of Montreal
[Anonymous] [Title to pasted on key below plan] Nom des Maisons principalles de la ville de Montreal en Canada.
[?Montreal, c1705].
Manuscript plan, with full wash colour, a few tears to right of plan, key with some loss to right side, skilfully repaired and not affecting text, right side strengthen with later paper, a few minor areas of dampstaining to the river.
Dimensions: (map) 360 by 240mm (14 by 9.5 inches).

Scale: 17 toises to 1cm (approx.) 33m to 1cm.
Watermark: (to key) similar to Heawood – 2728 – horn in shield with crown, number ‘4’ and letters ‘WR’ below – example from Cardin letter at RG, date 1699-1700. Watermark to plan indistinct.
The manuscript plan of Montreal present here, drawn in around 1705, is the third extant plan of the city, the second to name the settlement Montreal, and the first to show buildings in birds-eye view, and buildings to the south of the river St Pierre.
To provide some context to the plan a brief discussion of the earlier plans of the city is necessary.
The 1685 Denonville Plan
The earliest extant plan of the city, now housed in the Archives nationale d’outre-mer (ANOM) France, was drawn in 1685 and bears the inscription “enoyé par Mr. Denonville le 13 novembre 1685”. The Marquis de Denonville was governor of New France from 1685 to 1689. The plan, titled ‘Villemarie dans l’isle de Montreal’, depicts the colony just over 40 years after it was founded by the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal. The town is still remarkably small (the census of 1685 only lists 119 residence) and attests to the extreme difficult that the French had in establishing a permanent base on the island. The plan is dominated by Notre-Dame church which sit northwest of the main square, today’s Place d’Armes. A few houses dot the four main roads (Saint-Paul, Notre-Dame, Saint Francis, and Saint-Joseph) which all meet at a crossroads and link the church square with the market place, today the Palace Royal.
The 1704 Levasseur de Néré’s plan
The second extant plan, drawn in 1704 (also housed in the ANOM) is attributed to the French mapmaker and engineer Levasseur de Néré who worked in New France between 1693 and 1712. The plan reveals the sizeable expansion in both area and population over the previous twenty years, with the population estimated to be between 1,600 and 2,000. The reason for this dramatic increase in population can be put down to an influx of immigrants from France, who had been drawn to the colony, which had by that time become the centre of the French fur trade in the west, and an important military base.
Notre-Dame church maintains is dominant position and is now almost completely surrounded by a cemetery. The Hotel Dieu, to the south of the church, has been greatly expanded with new outbuildings added; the Sisters of the Congregation, dedicated to education, have established their convent on the new Saint-Jean-Baptiste street; with the Jesuits and the Récollets, true to their rivalry, building monasteries at opposite ends of the town. The town is now surrounded by a large palisade with bastions and curtains, which would later, in the 1720s be replaced by a stone wall. Even with all this construction work, almost two thirds of the city landscape was made over to cultivation. A key to the plan lists 10 civic and religious buildings, and also the palisade.
Anonymous plan circa 1705
The present plan bears great similarity with Levasseur de Néré’s. The general layout of the city is the same, with the palisade depicted surrounding the town, and all the major civil, religious, and military buildings named.
However, there are some notable differences, firstly and most obviously all the major buildings are illustrated in birds-eye view or elevation, the earliest depictions of buildings on any plan or view of the city. Furthermore the plan illustrates, for the first time, three buildings to the southwest of the city, on the south bank of the Riviere St Pierre: the Hôpital general des frères Charron, a hospital set up in 1695 to care for the poor; the house of Louis Hector de Callière, the governor general of New France from 1698 until his death in 1703; and the chapel of St Anne. As well as naming the house of the former governor general, the plan also marks the location of the then governor, Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, who held the post from 1703 to 1725; and also the governor of Montreal Claude de Ramezay, who had taken over the post in 1704 when Vaudreuil had been made governor of New France.
The marking of Ramezay’s house is key to dating the plan. On being made governor Ramezay acquired new land to the northeast of the city. In 1705, he employed the stone mason and architect Pierre Couturier to construct a residence fit for the governor of the town. The chateau, which was completed in the same year, would be the grandest private residence in Montreal, and would, most importantly, outshine the residence of Ramezay’s great rival Vaudreuil, marked by a letter ‘L’ on the plan. The chateau still in existence today and was the first building to be designated an historic monument by the government of Quebec in 1929.
The plot which surrounds the chateau is, unusually, demarcated by a solid line, all other residential plots being depicted by a dotted line. The reasons for this are unclear, however, it is conceivable that either the house was surrounded by a wall, or it was done in order to draw attention away from the house to its left, marked by a letter ‘K’. Curiously the letter ‘K’ does not appear on the attached key below the plan. One explanation would be that it marked Ramezay’s former residence (the house is present on Levasseur de Néré’s plan of 1704), and when the chateau was complete, the reference was no longer necessary.
Later manuscript plans would be drawn up by Gédéon de Catalogne (1662-1729) in 1713, showing the city expansion to the northeast to include the chapelle du bon secours, and Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry plan of 1725. The first printed plan of the city would be published, by Moullart-Sanson, in the same year, after Catalogne’s plan of 1713.
2. Delisle’s chart of the St Lawrence
DELISLE, Guillaume Carte du cours de la grande riviere de st. Laurens depius Quebec jusqu’à Montreal. Par Guillaume Delisle de l’academie royale des sciences 1706.
Manuscript map in pen and ink, with wash colour.
Dimensions: 493 by 690mm (19.5 by 27.25 inches).
Scale 1 lieue (league) to 1cm. (approx.) 4km to 1cm

Watermark: similar to Heawood 2959 dated circa 1680, letters ‘IHS’ with crucifix mounted on bar of the letter ‘H’; counter mark: ‘P’ heart ‘G’, similar to Heawood 2980 dated 1743 from manuscript Beaurin atlas, Heawood suggests the initials might be that of P. Gourbeyre.
The most detailed and accurate map of the St Lawrence, between Montreal and Quebec, to date.
The map, which charts the river from Montreal to Quebec City, shows a significant debt to Deshayes chart, published by Nicolas de Fer in 1702, the first survey of the St Lawrence. However, the charts much large scale allows Delisle to incorporate great information, especially in regards the area around Montreal.
Montreal is named Ville Marie, and both the monasteries of the Recollets and the Jesuits, together with the church of Notre Dame are marked. Montreal island is dotted with settlements and shows Mont Royal to the west of Ville Marie. Isle Jesus to the north is shown surrounded by water – unlike Deshayes chart. Numerous settlements are marked to the banks of the St Lawrence, especially to the north. To the east of the River Francois a partially erased sketch of a settlement, bears the inscription “Mission Savage Abnakis”. The Abnaki were the indigenous native American tribe, who sided with the French during Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). In 1704 a combined Abnaki and French force were responsible for the Deerfield raid in Massachusetts Bay.
Although the greater scale has given Delisle space to provide much more information than Deshayes’ printed chart allowed, there is no evidence that Delisle published the present chart; with Deshayes work continuing to be the primary navigation chart of the St Lawrence for the next 50 years. So why, in 1706, did Delisle go to such lengths in order to draw the map. It is conceivable that on the death of Dehayes, in 1706, Delisle had in mind to publish a new set of charts of the river, however, with the War of Spanish Succession in Europe, and Queen Anne’s war in Canada, depressing demand for maps of New France, he might well have postponed the project.
Another explanation is that the work was not intended as a chart at all but designed to illustrate the proposed new road between Montreal and Quebec, the Chemin du Roi (King’s Road).
Although the decision was taken in 1706 by the Conseil supérieur (Grand Council) of New France to construct the road, due to the economic costs of Queen Anne’s War, work would not begin until 1731.The construction was supervised by the Grand Voyer (senior road surveyor) Eustache Lanouiller de Boisclerc, and was completed in 1737. Upon completion, the Chemin du Roy was 7.4 metres (24 ft) wide, over 280 kilometres (170 miles) long, and crossed 37 seignories. It was, at the time of completion, the longest road in existence north of the Rio Grange. It would be close to a quarter of a century before the United States was to envision the equivalent with a “national road” from Cumberland (Maryland) to Wheeling (Ohio). The federal government began planning the route in 1806, exactly one hundred years after the onset of the equivalent project of the Chemin du Roy.
Despite the road not being marked on the map, all the settlements that the road would pass through are clearly illustrated along the north bank, four of which (Lesventes, La Dolone, Bertier, and St Augin) do not appear on Dehayes chart, and appear to have been added in a later, darker ink. The map also gives some indication of settlements size and importance i.e. larger settlements are marked by forts, churches, and houses; something that might not have been necessary on a purely navigational chart.
Even though Delisle’s map draws heavily on Dehayes work, we are unable to ascertain the other scources (i.e. for the detailed rendering of the Isle de Montreal), that Delisle drew on. A search of holdings of the BnF, the French National Archives, the Bibliotheque et archives nationales du Québec, and the King’s Topographical Collection in the British Library, reveal no obvious sources. Delisle’s rendering of the Isle de Montreal on the chart would not be matched until Bellin’s ‘Carte de l’isle de Montréal et de ses environs’, published in 1744.
3. Delisle’s map of Montloüis
Carte des environs de Montloüis en Canada dressée sur les momoires du Sr. Riverin. Par G. Delisle geographe 1702.
Manuscript map in pen and ink with full wash colour, inset map of the mouth of the St Lawrence river.
Dimenions: 510 by 680mm (20 by 26.75 inches).
Watermark: Haewood 2959 – bears same watermarks as Delisle’s chart of the St Lawrence river.
A fully worked up manuscript map of Montloüis on the Gaspé Peninsula, with an inset of the mouth of the St Lawrence River.
Montloüis was the brainchild of Denis Riverin (1650-1717) who travelled to New France in 1675 under the title of secretary to quartermaster Jacques Duchesneau, and later became a member of the Compagnie de la Ferme de Roi, which was heavily involving in the fur trade. In the 1690s, Raverin would diversify into cod fishing, acquiring several areas of land in which to set up cod fishing and processing centres. One such was Montloüis which acquired its first colonists in 1699, when 26 families made land in the bay. Unfortunately, the colony was unsuccessful and by 1702 (when the present map was drawn) the area was almost completely abandoned. Reverin by this time had returned to France and had been made representative of the Compaigne de la Colonie en France, a post he was to hold until his death in 1716.
The plan shows the fledgling colony, with soundings, and anchorage points to the bay. To the hill above the bay is a note: “Lieu destine pour un fort” (here will be placed a fort); further inland are several houses with plots marked in dotted lines, and a large building (possibly a church) marking the centre of the settlement. A inset map of the mouth of the St Lawrence shows the Gaspé Peninsula, with Montloüis clearly marked. Whether or not Delisle intended to engrave and publish the map is unclear, however, with the decline of the colony, there would have been little financial incentive to do so.
The inset map of the mouth of the St Lawrence River bears similarities with that of Deshayes chart, which had been published by De Fer in the same year. Delisle would incorporate the information on the map into his ‘Carte du Canada…’, which he would publish in the following year.
4. Cassini’s map of the Paris Meridian
The atlas also contains Cassini’s rare four sheet map depicting the measuring of the Paris meridian, which was not only vital in the great Cassini led mapping of France – the first scientific survey France, or for that matter of any country – but also in determining, by measuring the meridian arc at different latitudes, whether the earth was an prolate spheroid (taller than wider) or a oblate spheroid (wider than taller).
Jean Picard performed the first modern meridian arc measurement in and around Paris between 166 and 1670. He measured a baseline using wooden rods, a telescope, and logarithms. Between 1684 and 1718 Giovanni Domenico Cassini and Jacques Cassini, starting from Picard’s base, carried a triangulation northwards from Paris to Dunkirk and southwards from Paris to Collioure. They measured a base of 7246 toises near Perpignan, and a somewhat shorter base near Dunkirk; and from the northern portion of the arc, which had an amplitude of 2° 12′ 9″, obtained for the length of a degree 56,960 toises; while from the southern portion, of which the amplitude was 6° 18′ 57″, they obtained 57,097 toises. The immediate inference from this was that, the degree diminishing with increasing latitude, the earth must be a prolate spheroid. This conclusion was totally opposed to the theoretical investigations of Newton and Huygens, and accordingly the Academy of Sciences of Paris determined to apply a decisive test by the measurement of arcs at a great distance from each other—one in the neighbourhood of the equator, the other in a high latitude. Thus arose the celebrated expeditions of the French academicians to the Equator and to Lapland, the latter directed by Pierre Louis Maupertuis. In 1740 was published in the Paris Mémoires an account, by Cassini de Thury, of a remeasurement by himself and Nicolas Louis de Lacaille of the meridian of Paris. With a view to determine more accurately the variation of the degree along the meridian, they divided the distance from Dunkirk to Collioure into four partial arcs of about two degrees each, by observing the latitude at five stations. The results previously obtained by Giovanni Domenico and Jacques Cassini were not confirmed, but, on the contrary, the length of the degree derived from these partial arcs showed on the whole an increase with an increasing latitude.
The original manuscripts of the meridian survey, on eight sheets, are housed in the BnF. Sometime after the arcs measurement was complete in 1718, Cassini employed Claude Auguste Berey to engrave the maps on four sheets. The print run would appear to have been small as we unaware of any examples appearing at auction sincere the war, and we are only able to trace three institutional examples: The British Library, Harvard University Library, and the BnF.
Printed maps of America by Delisle
Of the nine printed maps covering the Americas, three are of particular note:
1. L’Amerique septentrionale, 1700:
“A foundation map” (Tooley). The Great Lakes which are based on Coronelli’s maps show the French strong points at Tadousac, Quebec, Fort Sorel, Montreal and Fort Frontenac. The English settlements are confined to the east of the Alleghenies, with Fort and River Kinibeki as the border between New England and Arcadia. The Mississippi valley area is shown well developed with the recent French settlement of d’Iberville at Bilochy and forts Bon Secours and St. Louis. To the left of the map California is shown not as an island but joined to the mainland; and is thus the first map of North America to revert to the peninsula form.
Tooley 28, first state.
2. Carte de la Louisiane et du cours du Mississippi, 1718:
“One of the most significant maps of America ever made” (Taliaferro).
Covering the territory between the Hudson River in the east and the Rio
Grande in the west, among its many distinctions, the map provided a relatively accurate depiction of the watershed of the Mississippi, and the first to use the name Texas. Because he was mapmaker to the king, Delisle’s maps were regarded as quasi-official documents that reflected the opinions and policies of the French government. His expansion of French territorial claims at the expense of the British and Spanish empires caused great alarm in London and Madrid.
Delisle extended Louisiana westward to the Pecos River (Rio Salado de Apaches), thereby claiming Texas as a part of that French colony, while restricting the British to the eastern slope of the Appalachian Mountains. He extended Pennsylvania only as far west as the Susquehannah River and asserted that Carolinawas originally discovered, named, and settled by the French. However, based on the royal charters of Virginia and North Carolina, Britain claimed all the territory from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. Governor William Burnet of New York was so outraged by Delisle’s claims that he wrote to the Board of Trade in 1720:
“I observe in the last mapps published at Paris with Privilege du Roy par M de Lisle in 1718 of Louisiana and part of Canada that they are making newencroachments on the King’s territories from what they pretended to in a former Mapp publishd by the same author in 1703”.

Delisle understood the strategic importance of the Mississippi Valley and also recognized that little was known of the geography north of the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, when compiling information on the area, he studied the routes taken by earlier explorers such as Hernando de Soto, Ren.-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville. Delisle also relied on information gleaned from more recent expeditions such as those of Louis Juchereau de Saint Denis and the reports of missionary Francois Lemaire.
Delisle was the first “modern” mapmaker to attempt to trace de Soto’s route. The second exploration recorded on his map was La Salle’s of 1684. La Salle’s failure to locate the mouth of the Mississippi was one of concern to the French king and made him hesitant to sponsor another expedition. Nevertheless, d’Iberville persuaded Louis XIV to persist. He sailed from France in 1698, successfully located the entrance to the Mississippi, and erected a fort on Biloxi Bay. In 1714, Saint Denis led the
final French expedition illustrated by Delisle. The explorers made their way well into Texas, penetrating the Spanish missions there. Saint Denis made a second journey up the Rio Grande in 1716. He built the important post of Natchitoches in present-day Louisiana, which Delisle included on the map. Delisle also located Mission de Los Teijas establie in 1716 near the Trinity River in eastern Texas, the first appearance of the name Texas in any form on a printed map.
Despite Delisle’s controversial territorial claims on behalf of France, British cartographers recognized the importance of the geography he depicted and were quick to incorporate his work into their own. ‘Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours du Mississipi’ became a primary resource for the American Southwest for many years.
Tooley 43, first state.
3. Carte du Canada, 1703:
The first map to name Detroit, just two years after the founding of the settlement by Cadillac. A great deal of the map is based on Franquelin Joliet’s expeditions (1673- in New France, which covered the northern parts of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes as well as New Foundland and Labrador.
To the lower left Delisle records the speculative explorations of the Baron Louis Armand de Lahonton. Lahonton (1666-1715) was a French military officer commanding the fort of St. Joseph, near modern day Port Huron, Michigan. Abandoning his post to live and travel with local Chippewa tribes, Lahonton claims to have explored much of the Upper Mississippi Valley and even discovered a heretofore unknown river, which he dubbed the Longue River. This river he claims to have followed a good distance from its convergence with the Mississippi. Beyond the point where he himself traveled, Lahonton wrote of further lands along the river described by his guides. These include a great saline lake or sea (ghosted in here) at the base of a low mountain range. This range, he reported, could be easily crossed and from this point further rivers flowed westward to the mysterious lands of the Mozeemleck, and presumably the Pacific. This would have intrigued both the French and the English who were disparate to find a suitable route to the Pacific in order to trade their furs and other products with China and the Far East.
Tooley 35 first state.

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