Ever since the first humans ventured out, they needed a way to record the route from point A to point B.
Over the millennia, the evolution of mapping has taken us from stone carvings to detailed pen-and-ink drawings to those impossible-to-fold service station road maps to the current satellite imagery available on any smartphone.
Now a display at the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent takes a detailed look at three centuries of map making depicting North America.
“Ancient Maps of the New World” is part of the private collection of Franciscan priest Jacques LaPointe, originally from Van Buren, according to Lise Pelletier, director of the archives. Currently living in Boston, LaPointe is also an author, historian, collector and world traveler.
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The 39 maps on display at the Acadian Archives represent decades of LaPointe’s research and collecting.
“These maps span more than 300 years of discovery of the New World from 1522 to 1842,” Pelletier said. “It is fascinating to see how quickly the maps evolved to reflect newly found rivers, lakes, lands and First Nations.”
Many of the maps are originals in excellent condition, Pelletier said.
Others are what collectors call “authentic reproductions,” which are very different from simple copies, she said.
“These reproductions were made from the same plates that made the original map,” Pelletier said. “Many times the families of the map makers kept these plates so they could run off limited signed or numbered reprints to sell.”
Given that there are collectors who will spend thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of dollars for an authentic reproduction, Pelletier said it was a lucrative business.
The maps on display in the archives also show LaPointe’s interest in the areas important to early Acadians.
“Maps about Acadia and the Atlantic coast are increasingly sought after in the field of Acadian studies,” he said. “I am delighted to be among the new researchers-geographers of colonial and modern Acadie. My particular interest also reflects the new concept of Acadia of the Lands and Forests, one of the border areas most mapped in America.”
The earliest maps in the collection are from 1522 to 1532 and depict the “discovery” of America from the perspective of cartographers from several European countries. The most recent in the group are from the early 1800s and show an area claimed by the United States for land in Quebec and Britain’s claim to land in Mars Hill.
Both maps pre-date the Treaty of Webster-Ashburton of Aug. 9, 1842, and the adoption of the St. John River as the international boundary between New Brunswick and Maine.
“It’s so interesting to see how maps of a single area changed over time with new information,” Pelletier said. “Newer maps are often the result of cartographers working off older maps and refining or editing them.”
The collection includes several maps drawn in the late 1730s and early 1740s depicting battle plans and strategic military information around the seige of Louisbourg when a New England colonial force and the British fleet captured what was then the capital of the French territory in what is now Cape Breton Island.
“The purpose of these maps was to give the armies and navies information they needed for battle and defense,” Pelletier said. “It could take months for the maps to get back to Europe but both sides were working under the same, extremely slow process.”
The maps also offer a look at the different imperialistic interests of France, Spain, England, Germany and Holland in the New World, Pelletier said
“Each map is a work of art with detailed cartouches, hand-colored scenes and is rife with information,” she said. “I mean, who doesn’t love maps?”
The exhibit is open daily and runs through the end of the year.