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“A Mapmaker of Imperialistic Intent”

“A Remarkable Map by Dr. John Hamilton Robinson…A Great Rarity”—Wheat

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356.     [MAP]. ROBINSON, John H[amilton]. A Map of Mexico, Louisiana and the Missouri Territory, including also the State of Mississippi, Alabama Territory, East & West Florida, Georgia, South Carolina & Part of the Island of Cuba, by John H. Robinson. M.D. Member of the Military Philosophical Society of America, Member of the Western Museum Society of Cincinnati, and Brigr General in the Republican Armies of Mexico &c. [Dedication] To Maj. Gen. Thomas Hinds, Brigr. Gen. John Wood, Col. Coles Mead, Edward Turner Esqr. Jonathon Thompson Esqr. Vela Metcalfe Esqr. & James Metcalfe M.D. This Map is Respectfully inscribed as a testimony of their Patronage, in Promoting the Publication by the Author Engd. by H. Anderson; Philada. Copy right secured according to law. A.D. 1819 Printed and Coloured by John L. Narstin of Philadelphia [top right: cartouche with vignette symbolizing friendship of United States and Mexico, a man (Robinson?) in military uniform bowing before three female figures, two of whom hold shields bearing the eagles of Mexico and the U.S.] [lower right in vignette] Engraved by H. Anderson [8 insets in lower left corner consisting of tables, latitude and longitude, population, nations of Indians, etc.]. Philadelphia, 1819. Copper-engraved map printed from 6 plates on paper (12 sections), boundaries with original hand-coloring, neat line to neat line: 169 x 180.1 cm (66-1/2 inches x 63-1/2 inches); overall sheet size: 170.1 x 160.4 cm (67-3/4 x 64-1/2 inches), graphic scale: about 40 miles to an inch, prime meridians: Greenwich and Washington. Map mounted on archival tissue. Recently cleaned and deacidified. Minor marginal chipping with occasional losses, some of which have been supplied in facsimile; some small losses along interior edges of some sections and tables at lower left; several larger voids at upper center provided in facsimile (including coloring). Top half of map moderately wrinkled. Overall darkening. At lower right is faint ink stamp of Library of Congress (provenance papers available). New wooden frame and under Plexiglas.

     First edition, Martin’s third issue, with “Western Limits of the United States” added on the 42nd parallel, both the 40th and 42nd parallels colored; and the word “Former” added to the phrase “Western Limits of the United States” along Rio Grande. The University of Texas at Arlington and Library of Congress copies are the second issue, identical to the third issue except for the word “Former.” Yale’s copy is the third issue, although it lacks the colored line at the 40th parallel. (According to Martin, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and the New York Public Library copies are also the third issue.). “There are apparently fewer than ten extant originals of the Robinson” (Narrett).


Allen, John L., “Patterns of Promise: Mapping the Plains and Prairies, 1800-1860” (in Mapping the North American Plains, edited by Luebke, et al.), Fig. 3-4, pp. 41-62: “Perhaps the greatest map of the decade was one produced not in the ateliers of Europe or even the eastern United States but in Natchez…. Robinson’s map was an augury of the future rather than a reflection of the past, and among all the maps of the decade it most clearly depicted the patterns of promise.” Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 105-107 (color illustration): “The largest printed map of the West published up to that time…. The map has now become a much sought after rarity.” Francaviglia, Mapping and Imagination in the Great Basin: A Cartographic History, p. 68: “When cartographic historian Robert Martin called Dr. Robinson’s map a blue print for revolution, he was correct. As keys to the West, maps now became weapons in the hands of expansionists heeding the early call of an impulse that would be called Manifest Destiny by the next generation.” Jackson, Shooting the Sun: Cartographic Results of Military Activities in Texas, 1689-1829, Vol. II, pp. 331, 380-384 (illustrating a detail on p. 382), 401, 457, 521-522 (#72D). Martin, Robert S., “The Notorious Doctor Robinson: A Mexican Revolutionary’s Map of North America” in Donna P. Koepp (editor), Exploration and Mapping of the American West (Chicago: Speculum Orbis Press, 1986), pp. 29-49. Martin & Martin, p. 29; Color Plate V (p. 51); Plate 27 (pp. 116-117): “[Robinson] highlighted the compromise boundary established that very year in the Adams-Onís Treaty, and thus illuminated graphically for the first time the territories in question. Many Americans preferred to focus on what they had given up rather than what they had gained, and Robinson’s map is an interesting glimpse at the region on the eve of Anglo colonization.” Phillips, America, p. 373 & 408. Schwartz & Ehrenberg, pp. 245, 248. Streeter 1073. Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers, revised edition (specifically citing Robinson’s map), Vol. I, p. 29 (engraver Hugh Anderson, 1782-1866); Vol. III, p. 308 (printer and colorist John L. Narstin, dates unknown); Vol. IV, p. 57 (cartographer John Hamilton Robinson, 1782-1819). Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #334, Vol. II, pp. 69-73 & illustrated after p. 68:

The year 1819 witnessed the publication of a remarkable map by Dr. John Hamilton Robinson, who had been with Pike in New Mexico, and who had later been a Brigadier General in the Mexican revolution army. His map [is] an immense affair, and today a great rarity…. Along the Pacific Coast here is a legend reading, ‘This portion of the coast was laid down from the map made by Don Juan Pedro Walker by order of the Captain General of the Internal Provinces in 1810.’ This is the first reference to Walker on any printed map…. Robinson’s map was derived in part from the map of Walker, in part from Lewis and Clark, in part from Pike, perhaps in part from Lafora…and in part from Padre Font and Miera…. This may be as near to Walker’s lost map of 1810 as we will ever get…. All in all, Robinson’s map must be deemed more a curiosity than a contribution to western cartography, but it is an interesting map at that…. In his diary entry for March 2, 1826, Josiah Sibley wrote (at Santa Fe), ‘Sent Robinson’s map to the Govr as a present, having no further use for it, it being not worth taking home. If offered for sale it wd not bring a Dollar here.’ This makes one’s mouth water, knowing its rarity today (see Wagner-Camp [3d edition] 9n).

Wheat, Maps of the California Gold Region #3: “This large, showy and monumental map is not only excessively rare, but is a distinct novelty, insofar as California is concerned.”


See: David E. Narrett, “Liberation and Conquest: John Hamilton Robinson and U.S. Adventurism toward Mexico, 1806-1819” in Western Historical Quarterly (Vol. XL, No. 1, Spring 2009, pp. 23-50). Dr. Narrett’s excellent article is highly recommended, and in it are six details of Robinson’s map in color, including a folding plate of the upper portion of the map. Dr. Narrett comments that Robinson was a “mapmaker of imperialistic intent” and continues:

A grand and influential work [and] an astonishing personal compendium of fact and imagination [with] an element of self-aggrandizement bordering on deception…. Robinson’s map has been called a document of ‘revolutionary ardor’ [and] was an expansionist document that challenged Spanish colonial boundaries but left a number of important issues unresolved…. Although A Map of Mexico, Louisiana, and the Missouri Territory may be interpreted as an unresolved political landscape, it understandably struck Robinson’s like-minded contemporaries more as a bid for empire…. John Hamilton Robinson was a schemer and an idealist who perceived no contradiction between the disparate causes he favored. To conquer New Spain was to liberate the American continent along with Mexico—to chart a new course for the western hemisphere with the United States unquestionably in the lead. His plotting along the Louisiana-Texas frontier in 1814 was a precursor to James Long’s filibuster of 1819—in which Anglo-American adventurers, acting contrary to their own government, crossed the Sabine and declared a Texas republic with barely a fig-leaf of Tejano or Mexican participation.

     Historical context and information on Robinson and his intentions toward Texas will be found in Carlos Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, Vol. VI, pp. 90-93, 129-132. In his chapter “The First Republic of Texas” discussing the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition of 1812-1813 (the early filibustering expedition against Spanish Texas), Dr. Castañeda includes a subsection on “The Strange Mission of Robinson.” He gives a riveting glimpse of this enigmatic Robinson that seems to define the man and his chameleonic tendencies. Sent by Secretary of State Monroe to give a personal message to Mexican officials supposedly promoting trade, settling boundary questions, and expressing regret for invasion of the Neutral Ground by “banditti” (i.e., Gutiérrez and Magee), Robinson was soon in Magee’s camp of spies and counterspies. Dr. Castañeda writes:

Surprise and wonderment swept the encampment. There was no mistaking the importance of Robinson, for prominently displayed on his baggage was the flag of United States. Robinson was immediately conducted to Magee, who after questioning him closely, informed him that his army had already declared Texas a Republic from the Sabine to the Trinity. A council of war was called the next day to determine what action should be taken. It was agreed by Magee and his staff to permit Robinson to continue on his way on four conditions. Briefly, he was to leave behind him the American flag, take a passport from the new republic, sign a pledge not to reveal details concerning the army, and continue his journey alone. The conditions were duly drawn up, and Robinson affixed his signature to the document. This might be said to be the first official agreement entered into by the first Republic of Texas (pp. 91-92).

This same pattern of combined adventure and misadventure followed Robinson for the rest of his life and culminated in the present map, which is almost as confused geographically as Robinson was politically.

     Robinson (1782-1819) was a mélange of explorer, spy, diplomat, filibuster, and cartographer. Committed to the idea of Mexican independence from Spain, his various schemes in that cause led him into any number of situations. He first went West as part of Zebulon Pike’s exploring expedition, on which he served as the doctor and of which, Wagner (3d edition) suggests, he was the de facto head. Taken to Mexico with the rest of the expedition and treated kindly there, he apparently grew fond of the idea of an independent Mexico and worked toward that goal, even at one point volunteering to fight in its army and attempting to become a citizen. He was not blind, however, to the obvious riches to be had in the country and to his own country’s Western ambitions. In some ways, he saw Mexico as merely another field for U.S. exploitation that would subvert European designs on not only that country but also on all of South America. His schemes to raise an army of U.S. volunteers to fight in Mexico came to naught, however, on which see his 1813 manifesto and call to arms, Europe Enslaved Millions! America Liberated Them!, the only known printed copy of which is in the New-York Historical Society but of which a manuscript copy exists in the National Archives (Streeter 1053).

     Although a huge, expansive map, Robinson’s creation is not admired for its geographical integrity, which probably was not Robinson’s point in the first place. Three mysterious rivers, for example, supposedly based on Walker’s now-lost Pacific Coast map, drain into the Pacific. Mountain ranges rise where none really exist. Places that saw significant events, however, were often marked, such as the place where Philip Nolan was murdered, the site in Mexico where Morelos was defeated, and Pike’s Peak, which according to Robert S. Martin is the first appearance of the name on a map. Most remarkable, however, are his renderings of international boundaries, which vary from copy to copy of this map. Some copies, for example, fail to show the competing northern boundaries between the U.S., Mexico, and Great Britain that are shown in the present copy. Generally, however, the tangled situation in the Southwest is usually indicated.

     Robinson decided near the end of his life to produce the present map, not only as a political statement but also as a way to reverse his sagging fortunes. He died before the map’s sale could line his pockets but did persuade 400 subscribers to pay him $15 each for a copy. The map itself laid out in graphic terms the competing interests of Spain and the U.S. on the North American continent, with considerable preference given to the former’s territorial pretensions, but little to Robinson’s promise in his prospectus that it would be “the most perfect which has appeared before the public.” When Mexican independence became a reality just a few years later, the map assumed a different character since the borders now depicted potentially contentious issues with a near neighbor, rather than with a distant European power of waning influence. The seeds of the future may be seen here, for example, in Texas’ western border, which clearly overlaps that of Coahuila in an area quizzically shown as belonging to both countries. That question would be contested and decided on battlefields just a few years later. The northern border of the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific is shown at both the 40th and 42nd parallels, because Robinson apparently disagreed with the terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty, which set the boundary at the latter point.

     Thomas W. Streeter commenting on the Philip Ashton Rollins Collection at Princeton remarked of Rollins’ copy of the Robinson map:

The collection also includes some fine Western maps…. [A] map which Mr. Rollins prizes greatly is the John H. Robinson Map of Mexico, Louisiana and the Missouri Territory…. Philadelphia, 1819. Some twenty years ago we were friendly rivals for the only copy of the Robinson map which up to that time either of us had ever seen. I was the loser and for years tried to tempt my friend to part with his copy, pleading that it was essential to my Texas collection, to which he always replied that it was essential to his South Pass collection. Finally, a search of about a dozen years was rewarded by my finding a procurable duplicate of the map in a great institutional library. (Princeton University Chronicle, Vol. X, No. 4, June 1948, p. 203).

     Charles P. Everitt in The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter (Boston: Little, Brown and Company Boston, 1951, pp. 164-165) relates an amusing anecdote about Rollins’ acquisition of his copy of Robinson’s map from Ed Eberstadt, who bought the map for $75.00 from Everitt, who in turn had bought it at an Anderson auction for $12.50. Afterwards Streeter informed Everitt he had sold his copy too cheaply.


Sold. Hammer: $200,000.00; Price Realized: $240,000.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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