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Angouleme, The First European Name for New York

© 2008, Fredric Shauger

The magnifying-glass icon on the first two illustrations provides a detail view of the “Angouleme” area.—JW.


On January 17, 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, (1485-1528) in command of La Dauphine, became the first European to enter New York Harbor, during a voyage sponsored by King Francis I of France. In his report to the King, at the conclusion of his voyage, Verrazano described the harbor as “a very agreeable situation located within two small prominent hills, in the midst of which flowed to the sea a very big river, which was deep within the mouth: and from sea to the hills of that (place) with the rising of the tides, which we found eight feet, any laden ship might have passed.”† Verrazano entered the harbor and made note of the comings and goings of the indigenous people.

†Giovanni da Verrazano's report to Francis I, July 8, 1524, The History of the Dauphine and Its Voyage. Translation by E.H. Hall, 1910.

Francis I (1494-1547, King of France 1515-1547) was the son of Charles of Orleans. Prior to Francis' ascension to the throne, he had been known as Francis of Angouleme. In the King's honor, Verrazano named the harbor “Angouleme” and reported to Francis: I “Called [the harbor] Angouleme from the principality which thou attainedst in lesser fortune…”†

† Giovanni da Verrazano's report to Francis I, ibid.

Aboard La Dauphine during her voyage and serving as ship's mapmaker was Girolamo da Verrazano, brother of the captain. He charted all of La Dauphine's discoveries including the Harbor that had been named Angouleme when he drew a world map in 1529. The map was the first to identify the Harbor by name.†

† The manuscript map is in the Propaganda fide archive in The Vatican, Rome.

Giacomo Gastaldi

Ironically it was not the French who publicized the findings of the expedition. The information from Giovanni da Verrazano and the map of Girolamo da Verrazano found its way to Italy. There Giacomo Gastaldi drew a map entitled Tierra Nveva which was published in 1548 in Venice.† The map was included in the Gastaldi's edition of La Geographia di Claudio Ptolemao Alessandrino …. Printed from copper plates, it was the first edition of Ptolemy to include regional maps of North America. The map shows the northeast coast of North America from the present day Carolinas to Labrador. An apple-shaped harbor, its “stem” appearing as an inlet, is designated “Angouleſme.” Despite Verrazano's observation of a “very big river,” Gastaldi's map shows no such feature.

† Burden, Philip D., The Mapping of North America, Raleigh Publications, 1996, Number 16,
Karrow, Jr. Robert W., Mapmakers of the Sixteenth Century and their Maps, Speculum Orbis Press, 1993, 30/60.

Gastaldi's 1548 map of the northeast coast of North America.

Giovanni Battista Ramusio

In 1556, Giovanni Battista Ramusio published his Terzo Volvme delle Navigationi et Viaggi. One of the woodcut maps entitled La Nvova Francia was the first map of New England. According to Burden, the map was based on Gastaldi's map Tierra Nveva discussed above.† New York Harbor (lower left) is roughly triangular in shape with the apex open to the sea. Approaching from the northwest, a large river empties into the bay. That river makes a sharp easterly turn and at its other end flows into the sea thus making an island of “New France,” an area encompassing Eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, Eastern New York State and all of present day New England. A peninsula along the easterly side of the bay is named “Angouleſme.” In 1565 and 1606, the map was again published in virtually the identical form as the original. The name “Angouleſme appears on both.‡

† Burden, Philip D. ibid 25.

‡ Burden, Philip D. ibid 35.

Ramusio's 1556 map showing “New France.”

Girolamo Ruscelli

In 1561, Girolamo Ruscelli, another Venetian, Published his La Geograpfia di Claudio Tolomeo which contained a map of the East Coast of North America.† The map shows a delta shaped bay, open to the sea. The Hudson River joins the St. Lawrence. Near the mouth of the Hudson River is a curved feature that appears to be Sandy Hook in New Jersey. The name “Angouleƒine” identifies the bay. The name appears on all three states of Ruscelli's map.‡ According to Burden the map was copied from Giacomo Gastaldi's map discussed above as Burden #16.

† There were editions in 1561, 1562, two editions in 1564, 1574 1598 and 1599. Three states of the map—1561, 1574, 1598— contain a sea monster.

‡ Burden, Philip D. ibid 30.

Detail of Ruscelli's 1561 Map of the East Coast of North America.

Andre Thevet

The first Frenchman to publish a map of North America containing the name given to the harbor in honor of the French Sovereign was Andre Thevet (1516?-1592). It is, perhaps, the fact that he was born in the name-sake City in France, which accounts for the use of the name given by Verrazano. La Cosmographie Universelle was published in Paris in 1575. It had wood-cut maps based on Mercator's 1569 map.†

† Considering the source, it is more likely that “Angouleme” came from Cartier who applied it, as a dedication to the same sponsor, to a feature along the St. Lawrence River, rather than to the location now known as New York Harbor.

Thevet's map is of the entire Western Hemisphere with parts of Antarctica and Eastern Asia. It is therefore not as detailed in the features of the land masses portrayed as the other maps discussed herein. A large bay appears in lieu of the harbor. There is no representation of the Hudson River. The name Angoulesme is far inland and removed from the area where New York Harbor is located.

Jodocus Hondius

Angouleme continued to appear on maps but by the time that Jodocus Hondius miniaturized the Mercator Atlas in 1606, and published the Atlas Minor, the association with New York Harbor was lost. Angouleme made an appearance on his map of North America, however the feature to which the name was applied was now far inland along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Detail of Mercator/Hondius miniature map of the Western Hemisphere, Atlas Minor, 1606, 1609.

In 1609, Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch, “rediscovered” the harbor that Verrazano had first seen 85 years before. It was Hudson's report to his sponsor that led to the first European colony within the harbor. When the Dutch named the settlement New Amsterdam, Verrazano's “Angouleme” passed into history.