California as an Island
This case highlights some of the key maps that tell the story, starting with one of the earliest maps in the collection showing California as a peninsula, the Nueva Hispania…, followed by the Henry Briggs map that established the idea of California as an island. Hundreds of maps and a century and a half later, the Kino map called into question this cartographic “fact.” Even this map, at that time did not immediately arrest the tide of maps depicting California as an island. It was not until 1746, when another Jesuit, Fernando Consag, sailed around the Gulf of California, was it accepted that California was not an island. This was decreed by King Ferdinand VI of Spain in 1737, returning California to geographic reality.
The first mention of California as an island is in Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s “Las Sergas de Esplandián,” published in 1510. This idea, coming from Montalvo’s imagination, became firmly embedded on maps — California was depicted as an island on maps in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was not until Father Eusebio Kino’s map, “A Passage by Land to California,” informed by his travels between 1698 and 1701, that this cartographic blunder was exposed. Even so, it took another half century for the island to be reattached to North America cartographically. Maps lagged behind discovery, remaining a cartographic phenomenon that defied the science of mapping. The island of imagination won out over terrestrial reality and resulted in some of the most beautiful maps ever produced.