Joannes de Laet

Joannes de Laet

Joannes de Laet (1581 – 1649) was a Flemish geographer and director of the Dutch West India Company. Philip Burden called his "History of the New World", "...arguably the finest description of the Americas published in the seventeenth century" and " of the foundation maps of Canada". de Laet was the first to print maps with the names "Manhattan", "New Amsterdam" (now New York) and "Massachusetts".


Joannes de Laet was born in Antwerp in 1581, a son of cloth merchant Hans de Laet. In 1584, upon the fall of Antwerp to Spanish troops, the family like tens of thousands Protestant Flemings, fled to the Northern Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam. There Johannes attended the Latin school. He matriculated as a student of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Leiden in 1597. One of his teachers there was the great humanist scholar Joseph Justus Scaliger, with who he maintained a correspondence until the latter's death. After his graduation, his father sent him to London in 1603 to gain experience as a merchant. There he married the daughter of a well-to-do Anglo-Dutch merchant, but returned to Leiden in 1607 upon her too early death. De Laet increased his fortune by investing in land reclamations and overseas trade and became one of the founding directors of the Dutch West Indies Company in 1620, an office he retained until his death in 1649. The city of Leiden sent him as an elder-delegate to the great Synod of Dort (1618–1619).

In his leasure time, de Laet spent much of his time in his study room, well-stocked with books, manuscripts, maps, globes and paintings. He published widely on topics ranging from church history to world history, edited Pliny's "Historia naturalis" and Vitruvius' "De architectura", wrote a detailed account of the New World and compiled an (unpublshed) Old English-Latin dictionary--to mention just a selection of his forty publications. His correspondents include the English antiquaries William Camden, Sir Henry Spelman, Sir William Boswell, Abraham Wheelock, Sir Simonds D'Ewes, James Usher, Patrick Young, John Morris and the Danish antiquary Ole Worm.


"History of the New World"

His "History of the New World" was published in several editions by Bonaventure & Abraham Elseviers, Leiden. The first edition was published in Dutch in 1625 as"Nieuwe Wereldt ofte Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien, uit veelerhande Schriften ende Aen-teekeningen van verscheyden Natien"; a second edition also in Dutch, came out in 1630 as "Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien door Joannes de Laet. Tweede druk: In ontallycke placesen verbetert, vermeerdert, met eenige nieuwe caerten, beelden van verscheijden dieren ende plantenverciert." []

A Latin edition from 1633, prepared by himself, was entitled "Novus Orbis seu descriptionis Indiae Occidentalis Libri XVIII authore Joanne de Laet Antverp. Novis talulis geographicis et variis animantium, Plantarum Fructuumque iconibus illustrata"; in 1640 he published a French edition, in his own translation, as "L'Histoire du Nouveau Monde ou description des Indes Occidentales, contenant dix-huict livres, enrichi de nouvelles tables geographiqiues & figures des animaux, plantes & fruicts". []

Each successive edition had significantly updated maps.

Other works

* "The Empire of the Great Mogul", translated by J.S. Hoyland with S.N. Bannerjee. Taraporevela, Bombay, 1928. Reissued Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1975, ISBN 81-7069-041-2.

* "Persia", 1633


* J. A. F. Bekkers, "Correspondence of John Morris with Johannes de Laet (1634–1649)" (Assen, 1970).

* Rolf H. Bremmer Jr and P. G. Hoftijzer, eds., "Johannes de Laet (1581-169): A Leiden Polymath", special issue of "Lias. Sources and Documents Relating to the Early Modern History of Ideas", vol. 25/2 (1998), 135-229, with contributions on the contents of his scholarly correspondence, his role in the Synod of Dort, his polemics with Hugo Grotius on the origin of the Native Americans, on his personal library, and on his Vitruvius edition.

* "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"

External links

* [ "Tierra Firma item Nuevo Reyno de Granada atque Popayan"] , a map of New Granada from "L'Histoire du Nouveau Monde..."
* [ Map of New England] , 1624

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