Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Interesting and Long-Lasting Results of Fortún Ximénez’ Voyage

Over the past several years we have received copies of maps and internet references to maps showing various but erroneous points regarding the early Americas, especially what is now North America, in an attempt to “prove” a particular point of view. Many of these maps were inaccurate, especially regarding the areas around the Great Lakes and westward. 
    A curious reality about ancient maps is that they were often wrong in many and certain details—sometimes very important details. We need to be very careful when dealing with ancient maps, or their reproductions, that we understand the need for verification of other maps of the time, not just rely upon one because it states what we want it to show.
    As an example, early Spanish maps of California showed it as an elongated island. The early explorers in the New World thought it was an island because of the land mass of what is now called Baja California and sea area called the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).
Ximénez left Manzanillo and headed north along the coast, later discovering the Gulf of California and what is now Baja California, thinking it was an island 

As is stated in history: “The Island of California refers to a long-held Spanish misconception, dating from the 16th century when Hernán Cortés sent Fortún Ximénez, a Spanish sailor and pilot of the ship “Concepción,” which was captained by Diego de Becerna, on November 30, 1533, to travel north along the coast of New Spain (Nueva España)—leaving today’s Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico and heading north—in search of two ships that had been lost without a trace on a similar voyage the previous year. The previous voyages had been in search of the "Strait of Anián" (the western end of the much-hoped-for Northwest Passage and the Island of California, which was named for the romance novel, Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), previously published in Spain (1510) and popular among the conquistadors. The novel mentions a fictional island terrestrial paradise named California, inhabited only by black women, and ruled by Queen Calafia. In fact, the novel itself was a sequel to Montalvo's more famous tales of Amadis de Gaula (1508), father of Esplandián, in which he described the island in this passage:
    “Know, that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.”
During the voyage, Ximénez led a revolt in which the captain was killed. The mutineers then landed near present-day La Paz, on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, which the mutineers believed to be the Island of California, which was rumored to be ruled by Amazon women, and though a peninsula in fact, these mutineers named it California.
    Ximénez was killed in a clash with the local natives, and the survivors returned to New Spain with the story of having black pearls, which prompted further exploration of the "Island" of Santa Cruz, as Cortés named the peninsula. Later, Francisco de Ulloa explored the peninsula, mistook it for an island, and perpetuated the myth, having discovered only the southern portion of the peninsula, and reported that California was not part of mainland North America but rather a large island separated from the continent by a strait now known as the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).
    The stories of the earlier survivors prompted several follow-up expeditions by Cortés in the following years, which resulted in very short-lived pearl fisheries. It is one of the most famous cartographic errors in history, it was propagated on many maps during the 17th and 18th centuries, despite mounting contradictory evidence from various explorers.”
In another incidence, Juan de Fuca, in 1592, exploring the western coast of North America, claimed to have found a large opening that possibly connected to the Atlantic Ocean—the legendary Northwest Passage. He found a large strait, with a large island at its mouth, at around 47° north latitude, referred to as the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is the southern tip of the large island now called Vancouver Island. However, explorers and mapmakers of the 17th century confused the strait with the northern terminus of the Gulf of California and the terminus of the Colorado River, leading to further exploration, and maps showing considerable error along the west coast of North America.
In addition, though by the 1600s California was corrected and shown to be connected to the mainland on maps, the reemergence of the Island of California reappeared on a copper-engraved map by Michiel Colijn of Amsterdam, believed to have been taken from a map that accompanied Friar Antonio de la Ascension's account of the area written in October 1620 for the Council of the Indies and the King of Spain. For some reason, it became the standard for many later maps throughout the 17th century and intermittently into the 18th century.
    However, the Jesuit missionary and cartographer Eusebio Francisco Kino around 1700 revived the fact that Baja California was a peninsula. While studying in Europe, Kino had accepted the insularity of California, but when he reached Mexico he began to have doubts. He made a series of overland expeditions from northern Sonora to areas within or near the Colorado River's delta in 1698–1706, in part to provide a practical route between the Jesuits' missions in Sonoran and Baja California but also to resolve the geographical question.
    Kino satisfied himself that a land connection must exist, and the 18th century Jesuits generally followed his example. The first report of Kino's discovery and his map from 1701 showing California as a peninsula were sent to Europe by Marcus Antonius a Jesuit missionary from Kamna Gorica (Duchy of Carniola, now Slovenia). In a June 1701 letter, he wrote about that to his friend Philippus Alberth in Vienna and thus acted as an important intermediary in the dissemination of this knowledge. However, Juan Mateo Manje, a military companion on several of Kino's treks, expressed skepticism; European cartographers remained divided on the question.
Jesuit missionary-explorers in Baja California who attempted to lay the issue finally to rest included Juan de Ugarte (1721), Ferdinand Konščak (1746), and Wenceslaus Linck (1766). The matter was settled beyond all dispute when the expeditions of Juan Bautista de Anza traveled between Sonora and the west coast of California in the period 1774–1776. However, for over 275 years hundreds of maps circulated throughout Europe, Asia, and New Spain showing California as an island, and in the last 100 years, despite factual knowledge it was on the mainlan.
Sebastian Munster’s map of the New World, first published in 1540

All of this should show us that relying on ancient maps alone, especially in the Western Hemisphere because of its slow development during map making stages when this fourth part of the world was being discovered, without additional information to cross-check, at best, is open to question and certainly questionable to use for absolute proof as many Theorists do in trying to pinpoint the Land of Promise.


  1. If only they had access to satellite imaging... all this confusion would not be here to deal with. But alas... we do now and not much has changed since the 1300's. The big change came at the time of Christ's death. And though it may be hard for some to swallow the fact that the majority of South America was underwater before Christ died... It is much easier to believe than a river is a sea... or old maps are accurate.