North America
By PURCHAS, Samuel , 1625

America Septentrionalis

America North America
  • Author: PURCHAS, Samuel
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: Printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard at the signe of the Rose
  • Publication date: 1625 [but 1626].
  • Physical description: Engraved map
  • Inventory reference: 3465


Henry Briggs (1561-1630) was a mathematician and mapmaker, who knew Samuel Purchas. The ‘Briggs’ map of North America represents an important milestone in New World Cartography. The ‘Briggs’ map is possibly the first map to show California as an island, challenged only by Goos’ 1624 production, and certainly the first English printed map of all North America. If it was the first map of California as an island, it was also the first to note New Mexico and Santa Fe by those names, and the first to name the Hudson River and Hudson Bay.

The Spanish priest Father Antonio de Ascension, a member of Sebastiàn Vizcaíno’s expedition to the west coast of California from 1602-3, appears to have been the first to disseminate the idea that California was an island in writing, possibly inspired by Juan de Fuca’s 1592 expedition. This supposition was useful for the Spanish government because it invalidated English territorial claims in the area. Briggs wrote about this theory as early as 1622; Burden suggested that similarities between Goos and Briggs therefore imply either that Briggs preceded Goos or that the two maps share a common source; and was possibly the first cartographical exponent. Text to the south of America reads “California, sometymes supposed to be a part of ye westerne continent, but… found to be a goodly islande”, crediting Spanish sources. He probably included it because it supported his idea that America was narrower than previously supposed, providing evidence of the Northwest Passage between America and Asia.

The Briggs map was not just the most accurate map of its time, utilising information which had previously been suppressed, but was also a defiant statement of the legitimate title that European powers other than Spain had to American territories, and in particular England. Briggs inserts place names in the language of the explorer who discovered them, carving the continent up between French, Spanish and English. Next to the title cartouche is text recording the actions of English explorers Henry Hudson, Thomas Button and William Baffin, who all charted regions shown on the map.

From ‘Purchas his Pilgrimes’, a set of travel accounts collected by Samuel Purchas (c.1577-1626), a clergyman and writer. Purchas began work on his collection in 1611. He bought the manuscripts of Richard Hakluyt and added his own to form a collection of over 1,200 separate narratives of explorations in every part of the world, both ancient and modern. The first two volumes are mainly devoted to travels in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The third volume largely treats northern explorations and America. The fourth volume is almost entirely devoted to America. The fifth volume, ‘Pilgrimage’, is a supplement to all of the preceding parts, and properly completes a set of Purchas’ Pilgrimes to “form a complete set of … one of the fullest and most important collections of early voyages and travels in the English language” (Sabin).