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From this digression, we must again proceed to describe the great physical features of this continent.
North America is pre-eminently the country of lakes, and exhibits masses of fresh water, unequalled in any other part of the world. The great northern lakes are the most remarkable, as well for their extent as for their utility, as channels of navigation; and form just so many inland seas
LAKE SUPERIOR, the largest and most northerly of the lakes of Canada bordering on the United States, has a length of 420 miles, and an extreme breadth of 165 miles; its circuit is about 1,750, and its area has been estimated at 32,000 square miles. Its surface is 596 feet above the level of the sea; but as its depth varies from 500 to 900 feet, and is even supposed to be in some places 1,200 feet, its bottom lies far below the level of the ocean. The basin which is drained by this great lake is estimated at 100,000 square miles, and has 220 rivers and streamlets to convey the waters deposited within it. Some of these rivers are of considerable size, and though their sources are seldom more than 60 or 70 miles distant from the lake, they are in general from 500 to 600 feet above its level, and their currents are much broken by falls and rapids. The water is very pure and cold; the bottom consists of adhesive clay. The shore on the north consists of lofty rocks, from 300 to 1,500 feet high, and is lined with numerous islands, which afford shelter for vessels; the southern shore is chiefly low and sandy, interrupted here and there by limestone rocks, and is wholly destitute of bays or any other shelter. There are several large islands, beside those on the north coast, of which Maurepas and the Carebow Islands belong to Britain, and Isle Royale, in the western part, to the United States.
Lake Huron receives the waters of Lake Superior through the River St. Mary's, which is about 30 miles in length, with falls of 30 feet, 224 of which occur at the Sault or Rapids of St. Mary's, extending over a space of two miles. Greatest length 250, and breadth 220 miles ; its circuit is 1,200 miles, and its area about 20,000 square miles. The surface of this lake is 578 feet above the level of the sea, and its average depth is 1000 feet. The shores are much similar to those of Lake Superior ; high and rocky on the north, and low and swampy on the south. The long chain of the Manitoulin Islands has the same broken appearance as the northern coast. These islands almost completely divide the great expanse called the Georgian Bay from the body of the lake. On the west side of the lake is a large inlet called Saginaw Bay.
Lake Michigan lies in the same level with Huron, and indeed is properly a part of it, the two being connected by the Straits of Michilimackinac, which is four miles wide at the narrowest part. Length 300 and breadth from 80 to 90 miles; area 22,000 square miles, and the greatest depth 900 feet. Green Bay, on its west side, is nearly detached from the lake by a long narrow peninsula, and several islands.
LAKE Erie is connected with Lake Huron by the rivers St. Clair and the Detroit, the former of which, after a course of 30 miles from that body of water, expands itself into a small shallow lake of the same name, about 100 miles in circumference, and is thence continued under the name of the Detroit to Lake Erie. These two rivers, with the intervening lake, are navigable for vessels of 7 or 8 feet draught. Lake Erie is 265 miles long and 63 in breadth at the middle. Its surface is 565 feet above the level, and has an area of 9,600 square miles. The shores are low, but in a few
places interrupted by rocky cliffs : towards the west there are extensive marshes on both sides. The want of sheltered bays has rendered it necessary to resort to pier harbors; the mouths of the rivers are also obstructed by sand-bars. The islands, 26 in number, are all on the south-western portion of the lake: the largest are Palee, belonging to Canada, and Cunningham, belonging to the United States; as also doethe Bass Islands.
The River Niagara, 33 miles in length, forms the outlet of Lake Erie, and has a descent of 334 feet to Lake Ontario. Of this, 165 feet form one perpendicular fall, and 51 the descent of the rapids in the half mile immediately above the falls. Below the falls, the Niagara flows through a deep rock-bound chasm, the sides of which are formed by mural precipices, nearly 300 feet high, as far as Queenston, where the ground sinks down almost to the level of the river. The great fall, 20 miles from Lake Erie, is divided by Goat Island into two portions, one of which, named the Horse Shoe Falls, from its semi-circular form, has a lineal extent of 600 yards on the Canadian side; the other, an extent of 300 yards, on the American side. For grandeur and sublimity, the Falls or Niagara are unequalled and unsurpassed by any other natural scene in the world. President Dwight estimated the quantity of water precipitated over the falls at 11,524,375 tons an hour; Darby at 1,672,704,000 cubic feet per hour; and Pickens at 113,510,000 gallons, or 18,524,000 cubic feet a minute. The river contains several islands; one of which, Grand Island, contains 18,000 acres of rich fertile soil, covered with forests. This island is celebrated as the “ EI Dorado” of Major Noah, of New-York, who designed to collect the remnants of Israel here, previous to their return to the tents of Jacob, now occupied by the Infidel Musselman; and another, Navy Island, which acquired some notoriety in the late Canadian insurrection. Grand Isle is on the American, and Navy Island on the Canadian side.
Lake Ontario is about 200 miles in length; its greatest breadth is 60; its circuit 470; its area 6,300 square miles ; its surface 232 feet above the level of the sea, and its depth from 300 to 600 feet. The shores are generally low, but between Toronto and the Bay of Quinte they are higher. The harbors are Toronto and Kingston on the north and Sackett's Harbor on the south-east. There are about 20 small islands in the eastern part of the lake. It emits its waters by the River Kataraqui and the Lake of the Thousand Isles, which afterwards become the St. Lawrence.
The other principal lakes of the north are :-In Canada, St. John's, Nipissing, Mississagua, Muskoka, Trading, Simcoe, Cameron's, Sturgeon, Pidgeon, Shemong, Trout, Rice, Rideau, and Mississippi ;-in the British Territory North-west of Canada, Lake of the Woods, Winnipeg, Winnepegoos, Athabaska, Great Slave Lake, Abbitibbi and Misstassin ;-in the United States, Champlain, George, Oneida, Otsego, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Crooked, Canandaigua, Honedoye, Hemlock, Chatauque and Canesis, all in New-York ; Temiscouta, Baamchenungamock, Pongokwahem, Moose, Chesuncook, Pemadumcook, Moosetogmaguntic, Umbagog, Schoodic, and Upper Schoodic, in Maine; Winnipiseogee, in NewHampshire; and Memphremagog, between Canada and 'Vermont. There are numerous others which it is impossible to mention. In Louisiana, are the great lakes of Pontchartrain, Borgne, Ouacha, Grand, and others formed by the waters of the Mississippi ; Bodeau, Cado, Bistinoe, Caunispia, Bayou-Pierre, Spanish, Black, and others formed by the Red River and its branches. In Wisconsin, is Lake Winnebago, formed by Fox
River; the Four Lakes, Kushkaning, Geneva and Red Lake. There are several extensive lakes also in Florida.
The Lakes of California will next claim our attention, which, though situated within the United States, will, from their location in a different physical region to that which has been already described, warrant a separate paragraph. The Tule Lakes extend in the direction of the coast, from south-east to north-west, for about 200 miles; they are by no means so capacious or deep as some of the smaller northern lakes; the Pyramid Lake, in the centre of which a natural pyramid erects its granite sides, was but lately discovered by Capt. Fremont, and is fully described in his “ Expedition, &c.” There are several others of considerable size, among which the Great Salt Lake of the desert is pre-eminent.
The Lakes or Mexico are situated on the plateau of the mountains : the Zumpango, Christoval, Tezcuco and Chalco, are small bodies of water in the elevated plain of Mexico; but the largest lake in the country is that of Chapala, in the plain of Xalisco, which is traversed by the River Santiago. It is about 90 miles long and from 12 to 18 wide.
The Lakes of Central America are of great importance to that country, and furnish valuable means of transporting merchandise from one part to another. Lake Nicaragua, between 100 and 120 north latitude, and 84o and 86° west longitude, is 95 miles long and 30 in breadth. At a little distance from the shore it is from six to ten fathoms deep, and in some places more; it contains several islands, chiefly of volcanic formation, the most remarkable of which is Ometepe, not far from the north-west shore, which contains a losty volcano. The surface of the lake is 128 feet above the level of the sea. It discharges part of its waters by the River Tepitapa into the Lake of Managua or Leon, which is 45 miles long and 15 wide, and deep enough for the largest vessels, but has no navigable outlet; the greatest part of the waters of the Lake Nicaragua are discharged through the San Juan. There is some probability that this river and lake may be fixed upon for a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific, (see p. 19 ;) at the present time but small boats of two or three tons are able to navigate the river. There are some other lakes in Central America: Itza, in Guatemala, about north latitude 16° 8', and west longitude 91° 16', is thirty miles long and six broad, containing eleven islands, and surrounded with lands fertile in the extreme. Golfo Dolce, also in Guatemala, is 28 miles long by 12 miles broad.
A multitude of Islands belong to North America. We shall briefly notice the principal, in the order of the seas in which they are situated. In the Atlantic Ocean there is the Archipelago of St. Lawrence, at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence; its principal islands are Newfoundland, Anticosti, Prince Edward's Island, and Cape Breton. The great Columbian Archipelago or West Indies, though properly belonging to North America, will be treated of in the second division of this work. The Bermuda Islands are off the coast of Carolina, and consist of a great number of small islets, few of which are habitable. These will be described under the head of “ British North America.” In the Pacific Ocean, the largest islands are in the Archipelago of Quadra or Vancouver; and that of King George III., on the north-west coast, with the Aleutian Archipelago in Russian America. In Behring's Sea, are the group of Pribylof and Nounivok, also belonging to Russia. The Arctic ARCHIPELAGO, in the Arctic Ocean, presents a vast number of islands, the majority of which,
previously to the later voyages of discovery, were regarded as part of the American Continent. Balbi proposes to subdivide them as follows:-1. Eastern or Danish Arctic lands, comprising the great group of Greenland and Iceland, belonging to Denmark, and Jan Mayen's Land, without stationary inhabitants. 2. The West or British Arctic lands, extending to the west and north of Baffin's and Hudson's Bays, the principal groups of which are New Devon, North Georgia, with the islands of Cornwallis, Melville, &c. And 3. The Archipelago of Baffin, consisting of Parry's Land, with the Islands of Cockburne, Southampton, New Galloway, &c. However plausible this may appear, such a division, with the progress of discovery, will soon be insufficient, and require modifying; and even at present it can be of no practical use
North America abounds in what are termed natural wonders and curiosities. Natural bridges, mammoth caves, petrefactions, Indian antiquities, &c., are by no means uncommon. This, however, is not the place to describe these marvellous creations; but full accounts will be found of each in the description of their several localities.
The climate of North America is almost as celebrated for its preponderance of cold as Africa is for the preponderance of heat. With the exception of the maritime coast of the Pacific, beyond the Rocky Mountains, the temperature in the same latitude is everywhere inferior to that of the old world. Countries which, from their geographical position, we should suppose to be temperate and mild, are exposed to long and severe winters, and in point of fact, countries in the same parallel with England, are almost entirely too rigorous for the habitation of man; and even in the 45th parallel on the north side of the great lakes, winter enshrouds more than one half of the year. Frost is no unfrequent visitant on the low shores of the Gulf of Mexico, which are on the same parallel with Morocco, Cairo and Suez. This predominance of cold has been ascribed to a variety of causes : one, and not the least, is the greater elevation of the surface. Not only is the continent traversed by immense mountains, covered with perpetual snow, but in Mexico very extensive plains are found at an elevation of from 6,000 to 10,000 feet above the level of the ocean. In some parts, where the plateaux rise rapidly, there is often within a few leagues, an extraordinary change of temperature. At Vera Cruz and the whole eastern coast of Mexico, northward to the Rio Grande, the heat is generally quite oppressive, while a few hours' journey brings the traveller to the " tierra templada," where the air is clear and the heat moderate, and thence is but a short distance to the high plateau, where an overcoat and blanket would not be found uncomfortable. Such is the rapid succession of climate, that within a short time and distance, the polar cold and the tropic heat may be successively experienced.
These different climates have different vegetable productions. “Hence, the traveller journeying down the deep descent of one of those magnificent ravines, (leading from the plateau of Mexico,) through forests of birches, oaks and pines, finds himself suddenly on the level shores, surrounded by palms, and has an opportunity of seeing the animal products of the north and south, of the Alpine regions and tropics—nay, of the eastern and western hemispheres, mingled together. Wolves of northern aspect dwelling in the vicinity of monkeys; humming-birds returning periodically from the borders of the frozen zone, with the northern bunting and soft feathered tit mice, to nestle near parrots; and the common European whistling-duck and teal,
swimming in lakes which swarm with syrens and Brazilian parras and boat bills."
Another cause of the inferior temperature of the new world may be partly ascribed to the great indentation of the sea between North and South America, and the absence of those extensive sandy deserts in the tropical regions, which, by reflecting the rays of the sun, render Africa so uncommonly heated. The place of these is supplied by dense forests, and traversed by the largest rivers of the world, which powerfully diminish the influence of the solar beams. A strong and abundant vegetation is, in fact, the distinguishing characteristic of North as well as South America, and to this fact may be attributed much of the difference which distinguishes the old from the new world.
And with respect to North America, we may add, that while but a small portion of it is within the torrid zone, it reaches far within the Arctic circle, where it also attains to a great breadth. The north-west wind prevails in the winter. This wind, sweeping over a desolate country, overspread with marshes, forests, frozen lakes, and mountains buried under eternal snow, contracts an intense degree of cold, and in its progress southward, passing over a wilderness, where the forests shade the earth from the sun, its original character is in no respect changed. It slowly yields to the dominion of latitude, and retains its boreal character long after it has penetrated into the natural regions of heat. Throughout North America the north wind is accordingly felt to be keen and piercing. It increases the rigor of the seasons, and extends the influence of winter far into those latitudes, which, in the other hemisphere, are blessed with perpetual spring.
The countries lying within the tropics are exposed to the inroads of the northern blasts; and the great heats felt at Vera Cruz and other sea-board cities, are often suddenly reduced by strata of cold air brought by the north winds from the polar regions. These winds blow from October to March, frequently bursting forth in tremendous hurricanes—"northers," and cooling the air to such a degree, that at Vera Cruz the thermometer very frequently falls to 60° Fahr. In the basin of Mexico, the temperature has sometimes marked the freezing point, and thin ice has been formed on stagnant pools.
To the prevalence of these north winds, therefore, combined with the extraordinary elevation of the surface and the yet uncultivated state of the country, overspread with vast forests, the inferior temperature of North America seems ascribable. But with this great inconvenience, the climate of the continent is healthy, and the rate of mortality not greater, in the more elevated regions, to that of the old world, and in some of the middle districts longevity is a distinguishing feature in its vital statistics.
Stretching, as North America does, from the Arctic regions to far within the tropics, and possessing soils of every elevation and quality, her vegetable productions are necessarily of varied character. Owing to the humidity and comparative coolness of the climate and the natural richness of the land, fertilized by the successive decays of ages, her forests and pastures are of unrivalled extent, luxuriance and magnificence.
The forests consist, generally, of very heavy timber, including many species of pines and larches, unknown to the old world, with an endless variety of oaks, maples, cypresses, tulip trees, mahogany, log-wood, &c., &c.; nor are the agricultural products less peculiar or less diversified. The potatoe is eminently an American tuber, and tobacco, now the greatest luxury of both