This rare and highly important map depicts by the Croatian Jesuit explorer Ferdinand Konšćak (Fernando Consag) was instrumental in definitively disproving the long-standing myth that California was an island, and rather that Baja California was a peninsula. The map focuses on the northern part of the Sea of Cortés, which lies between Baja California and the Sonora region of the Mexican mainland. The map clearly shows the Colorado River entering the head of the sea, with the California peninsula labelled as the ‘Parte Septentrional de Californias,’ shown as being attached to the North American mainland. The Baja region is noted as the ‘Nacion de los Cochimes’ (the home of the Cochimí Native nation), while Sonora is ‘Pimeria,’ the land of the Pima Native nation. Several Jesuit missions dot the Baja region, including the town of San Ignacio (founded in 1728), in the southwest, Konšćak’s home base. Numerous geographical features are labelled, most notably the Tres Vírgenes volcanoes, near San Ignacio, the 1746 eruption of which was witnessed by Konšćak.
Ferdinand Konšćak & Proving California’s Peninsularity
Since the 1620s, many maps depicted the widely believed geographic misconception that California was an island and that the Sea of Cortés was the southern part of a great strait that separated California from the North American mainland, with its northern opening being the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the late 17th Century, Jesuit missionaries arrived the Sonora and Baja California regions. Deeply interested in geography, the Jesuits progressively explored and mapped the region. Padre Eusebio Kino, based on his explorations from 1698 to 1701, asserted that Baja California was a peninsula. His map supporting this point was first published in Paris in 1705, whereupon the notion of California’s peninsularity was adopted by many important mapmakers, notably Guillaume de L’Isle, the royal cartographer to Louis XIV.
However, Kino never actually traversed the head of the Sea of Cortés, he merely surmised that a land connection between California and the mainland existed, based on his travels very near the sea’s head. Accordingly, many considered his narrative to be vague and some doubted his key assertion. The question of whether or not California was an island was far from settled.
Enter Ferdinand Konšćak (1703-59), popularly known as Fernando Consag, an enterprising Jesuit explorer and mapmaker. He was born in Varaždin, Croatia and was admitted to the Jesuit order at a young age. He received an excellent education in Leoden and Graz, Styria, before lecturing at the Jesuit academy in Zagreb, and later in Budapest.
In 1729, he headed for Spain in order to train to become a missionary in the New World. In 1732, he was dispatched to the Jesuit missions in Baja California, where he would spend the rest of his days. Konšćak adapted well to his new environment, fluently mastering Cochimí dialects and energetically strengthening the mission system in the region. He rose rapidly through the ranks of the Order, becoming head of the San Ignacio mission in 1748 and the superior of all of the Baja missions in 1758. His advanced training in mathematics supported his natural talent for reconnoitring the landscape, and he became a skilled cartographer.
In June and July 1746, he mounted an expedition to definitively prove Kino’s assertion that Baja was a peninsula. He sailed up to the head of Sea of Cortés and traversed the mouth of the Colorado River, so empirically confirming Kino’s assumption. Upon his return to San Ignacio, he drew a manuscript map, which is the antecedent of the present map, along with a report, which was dispatched to Rome, and then on to Madrid. To all but a few oddball holdouts, Konšćak had proven the case. In 1747, King Ferdinand VII of Spain issued a decree that formally declared California to be a peninsula, and with it the beloved myth of ‘California as an Island’ was legally dead.
The present map represents the first printed edition of Konšćak’s map, being issued within Miguel Venegas’s Noticia de la California, y de su conquista temporal, y espiritual hasta el tiempo presente (Madrid: En la imprenta de la Viuda de Manuel Fernandez y del Supremo Consejo de la Inquisicion, 1757), which was importantly the first published history of California. The book is quite rare and valuable and the map has only appeared separately on the market on only a few occasions over the last 25 years.
References: Barrett, Baja California, 2539; Cowan II, p 659; Graff 4470; Hill 1767; Howes V69; Medina 3855; Streeter Sale, 2433; Wheat, Transmississippi West, 138; Zamorano 80 78. Cf. (on Konšćak): Mirela Slukan Altić, ‘Ferdinand Konšćak – Cartographer of the Compañia de Jesús and his Maps of Baja California,’ in Elri Liebenberg & Imre Josef Demhardt (eds.), History of Cartography International Symposium of the ICA Commission 2010 (2012), pp. 3-20; Burrus, La obra cartográfica de la Provincia Mexicana de la Compañía de Jesús, 1567–1967 (Madrid, 1967); P.M. Dunne, Black Robes in Lower California (Berkeley, 1952); Zorić, Misionar i kultura drugih: etnologijska istraživanja Ferdinanda Konšćaka (1703–1759) u donjoj Kaliforniji (Sarajevo, 2000).