John Smith (1580-1631) was an English soldier, explorer, colonial governor, Admiral of New England, author and cartographer. Quite the man! He appears to have been a swashbuckler, always looking out for his own advantage. He was also an unexcelled promoter, both of himself and of the new American colonies.
Let's look at a map he published in 1616 which was, incidentally, the first publication to call New England "New England." He drew the map as he was exploring the coast looking to get rich from whale oil, and gold and copper mines if he could find any. He couldn't.
But the voyage did make him a boatload (sorry about that) of money. He went home with 11,000 beaver skins and 100 each of martins and otters for which he had traded with the native inhabitants.
Smith's map of New England has become justly famous: but wait a minute, he published it four years before the Mayflower sailed, yet all the settlements on it have English names — London, Norwich, Southampton, Oxford etc. and, of particular interest to us, Ipswich and New Plimouth.
Like all promoters, Smith knew the value of celebrity endorsements. On his map he proudly printed "NEW ENGLAND The most remarqueable parts thus named by the high and mighty Prince CHARLES, nowe King of great Britaine."
I like to think of Charles sitting in the palace library with a glass of claret, and randomly assigning English names to what may have been native villages or may have been uninhabited space. There was nothing random, however, about his naming the largest river "The River Charles" and the town on its southern bank "Charlton."
Between them, then, John Smith and Prince Charles gave the impression that the New England of 1616 was already well settled and was ripe for further development.
Some historians believe that the Mayflower passengers had acquired a copy of Smith's 1616 map, but there is no mention of them possessing it on this side of the Atlantic. There is no reason for them to have brought it, for they were headed for the mouth of the Hudson River. But if they remembered the map, we do have to wonder what they thought when they landed in the New England that existed in reality and not on an optimistic map!
Predictably, Smith was promoting more than New England. He wrote on the map, "He that desires to know more of the estate of new England let him read a new Book of the prospects of new England whether he shall have satisfaction." The book, The General Historie of New-England, was of course written by Smith himself.
In the book, Smith noted that Plimouth was "an excellent good harbor, good land; and now wans of any thing, but industrious people."
Because I live in Ipswich, I enjoy his description of the land on which the town was established in 1634, "â€¦this place might content a right curious iudgement, but there are many sands at the entrance of the Harbour, and the worst is, it is imbayed too farre from the deepe Sea; here are many rising hils, and on their tops and descents are many corne fields and delightful groues: On the East is an Ile of two or three leagues in length, the one halfe plaine marish [marsh] ground, fit for pasture or salt Ponds, with many faire high groues of Mulbery trees and Gardens; there is also Okes, Pines, Walnuts, and other wood to make this place an excellent habitation, being a good and safe Harbour."
There's another point to ponder here: the names. It is widely assumed that it was the first settlers who named the towns, such as Ipswich and Plimouth, but Prince Charles had already named them by 1616, so the settlers must have adopted the names he had already chosen. Perhaps they did have Smith's map with them after all. Both Ipswich and Plimouth are fairly accurately located on the map.
There's more "mapaganda" we should look at. Much larger than the Royal Coat of Arms is "THE PORTRAICTURE OF CAPTAYNE IOHN SMITH / ADMIRALL OF NEW ENGLAND" aged 37, anno 1616. The Captayne looks very important and very pleased with himself.
Bottom left is another coat of arms, an odd-looking one with the Latin motto Vincere est Vivere [to conquer is to live] that depicts three turbaned Turks whom Smith is said to have beheaded during a European adventure before he came to America.
Then, just off the coastline is a more elaborate coat of arms with a more disturbing motto, Gens Incognita Mihi Serviet [an unknown race will serve me]. Develop New England with cheap (slave?) labor?
Smith's map of New England, then, was not a map for travelers, but propaganda for investors and immigrants. And there they are, on board that armada of ships on the eastern edge of the map. In her 2018 book A History of America, in 100 Maps, Susan Schulten likens it to a real estate brochure that "conveys settlement as a sure bet." Mapaganda for sure.