Rare 1740 English-Language Navigational Guide to the Spanish Main, with Maps

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162. GONZÁLEZ CARRANZA, Domingo (attributed). A Geographical Description of the Coasts, Harbours, and Sea Ports of the Spanish West-Indies; Particularly of Porto Bello, Cartagena, and the Island of Cuba. With Observations of the Currents, and the Variations of the Compass in the Bay of Mexico, and the North Sea of America. Translated from a Curious and Authentic Manuscript, written in Spanish by Domingo Gonzales Carranza, his Catholick Majesty’s Principal Pilot of the Flota in New Spain, Anno 1718. To which is added, An Appendix, containing Capt. Parker’s own Account of his Taking the Town of Porto Bello, in the Year 1601. With an Index, and a New and Correct Chart of the Whole; As Also Plans of the Havannah, Porto-Bello, Cartagena and La Vera Cruz. London: Printed for the Editor Caleb Smith (Inventor of the New Sea-Quadrant) at his Office, for Insuring Ships and Merchandize, in Castle-Alley, Cornhill: And sold by Mess. Strahan, Meadows, Brotherton, Clarke, and Willock, Booksellers, in Cornhill; Payne in Pope’s-Head Alley; Innys in St. Paul’s Church-yard; Robinson in Ludgate-street; Manby on Ludgate-Hill; Senex and Whiston in Fleet-street; and Mr. Nourse without Temple Bar, 1740. [ii] iii-xi [1, blank] 13-136, [8, index] pp., 5 folded copper-engraved maps and charts (list below), occasional engraved text ornamentation. 8vo (22 x 13.6 cm), modern full vellum (into which text block has been inexpertly inserted), new endpapers. First signature detached, mild uniform age-toning and occasional light soiling, pp. 131-132 (leaf I2) with ragged tear at outer blank margin), maps with a few splits and reinforcements (no losses), overall a very good copy, maps fine.

List of Maps

[1] A New and Correct Chart or Map of the West Indies. &c. Neat line to neat line: 28.2 x 38.9 cm. Compass rose. Gulf of Mexico, Southern U.S., Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. The northernmost location on the Atlantic coast is “Hatteras.” Texas is shown as part of Florida and “New Biscay.” Locations in Texas include Lake of St. Bernardo (Matagorda Bay), Lake of S. Joseph (Port Aransas-Corpus Christi Bay), and R. del Morpata (Rio Grande?). Phillips, Maps of America 1055. Short clean tear at top blank margin, another short tear a juncture with book block, otherwise fine.

[2] A Plan of the Harbour and City of La Vera Cruz [below neat line] P. Harrison Delin. Neat line to neat line: 18.3 x 16.4 cm.

[3] A Plan of the Harbour & City of Cartagena [below neat line] P. Harrison Delin. Neat line to neat line: 17.9 x 15.1 cm.

[4] A Plan of the Harbour and City of Havana [below neat line] P. Harrison Delin. 18.3 cm x 18.9 cm.

[5] A Plan of the Harbour and Town of Porto Bello [below neat line] P. Harrison Delin. 19.2 x 21.8 cm. Captain Parker's appendix has the key to the buildings and locations on the map. A few small tears into border and map at upper folds (no losses).

     First edition? This is one of two versions that came out in 1740. The other printing has a different collation (xi [1] 124 [8] pp., 5 maps), imprint listing only Caleb Smith, and no errata (see European Americana 1740/140). Apparently no one has yet sorted out which edition came first.JCB III (1, 1700-1771) #668. Cox II, p. 215. European Americana 1740/141. Maggs, Spanish America (Catalogue 612) 138. Palau 105157. Phillips, Maps of America 1055. Rich, Bibliotheca Americana Nova, II, p. 60. Sabin 11030, 27899 (sic, i.e. 27799). Spain & Spanish America in the Libraries of the University of California 219. Wilgus, The Historiography of Latin America, p. 277. Not in Lowery or Medina, Hispano-Americana.

     The work has been questioned as perhaps a fabrication published simply to encourage its own sales. Lawrence C. Wroth brilliantly deconstructs this intriguing English navigation manual for the Spanish Main (Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, including Florida, Texas, Mexico, Central America and the north coast of South America). In his lengthy article “Some American Contributions to the Art of Navigation 1519-1802” (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 68 October, 1944-May, 1947, pp. 72-112), Wroth states on pp. 76-78:

In the year 1740 there was published in London a book entitled A geographical Description of the Coasts, Harbours, and Sea Ports of the Spanish West-Indies...Translated from a Curious and Authentic Manuscript, written in Spanish by Domingo Gonzales Carranza. In its “Preface” and “Advertisement” appeared assertions to the effect that it was the translation of an incomplete manuscript book of sailing directions recently brought to England by a gentleman long a prisoner of the Spanish at Havana. It is probable that the book was published in time to be of service of the English naval officers in the prosecution of that truly nasty conflict which is called the War of Jenkins’s Ear. Whether the statement concerning the origin of the book was true or not, it would have been good advertising policy for its publisher to claim it as deriving from a Spanish manuscript. Because of the scarcity of the printed book, however, and the absence of records of such a manuscript as that described, there could have been few opportunities for confirmation of the publisher’s claim until, some months ago, the John Carter Brown Library acquired a manuscript with the following title and declaration of authorship: “Mapa de las Derrotas, y otras Observaçiones a las Corrientes, con la Variacion de la Abiya de Marear, hechas por el Capitan Dn Domingo Gonzalez Carranza.” Comparison showed beyond question that the English book, A geographical Description, was indeed a translation of large passages in the Spanish manuscript of Domingo González Carranza, thus verifying the claim made two centuries earlier by its London publisher. Further comparison showed either that the manuscript brought to England by the prisoner from Havana was fragmentary or that the English translator made only a selection of what seemed to him its important passages. The Carranza manuscript contains a much more extensive text than the English book, and its geographical scope is larger. Another difference between the “Mapa de las Derrotas” and the English translation is that the Spanish original contains a whole section devoted to the niceties of shipbuilding with particular application to the construction of spars and sails.

The sailing directions of the Carranza manuscript cover the same area of land and sea portrayed upon a chart in the John Carter Brown Library constructed in 1740 by the naval lieutenant Antonio de Matos, that is, the area of the Gulf, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Coast as far north as Cape Hatteras. Joined in their use, the two must have constituted an aid to navigation of the first importance. The Spanish governmental ban upon the printed publication of maps and written guides to the coasts of its colonies prevented these two works from coming into world-wide usefulness. One may not doubt, however, that many manuscript copies of the Carranza pilot were to be found in the cabins of Spanish ships in the American trade and of Spanish-American ships engaged in coastal traffic. It is permissible to designate...the Carranza pilot and the Matos chart, as American contributions because, obviously, neither could have been created without long and close first-hand acquaintance with coasts on the part of their authors.

This account of the Carranza sailing directions, more complete than other known manuscript guides to the Gulf and Caribbean waters, brings to a close our consideration of Latin-American productions composed as aids to navigation.

     Publisher Caleb Smith (fl. 1734-1745) was an English insurance broker in London and amateur astronomer. A designer of compasses and other nautical instruments, he invented an “Astroscope” or “Sea-Quadrant” in 1733. Various design elements of Smith’s Astroscope made it more difficult to use than other quadrants appearing at the time, and it was never widely adopted. Smith dedicates the book “To The Merchants of Great Britain; The Commanders of Ships; and Others; Who were pleased to subscribe for this Treatise.” Smith’s stated motives for publication are to promote navigation and commerce, to prevent losses due to navigators sailing in unknown regions, and to assist with the King’s “Preparations for carrying the War on in the most proper Places, and in the most vigorous and effectual manner, from which Intimation, it is hoped, the Spanish West Indies, will be the Scene of Action.”

     There appears to be another English translation of Domingo González Carranza, A general description of the American coasts and seas, particularly those under the Spanish government, shewing the true bearings and distance of the most noted capes and headlands and the variation of the compass... Tr. from an authentick Spanish manuscript, S.l., s.n. (OCLC reports only microfilm copies held by Cornell). González Carranza was principal pilot to the King of Spain’s Fleet; see Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers (revised edition), Vol. I, p. 237. The text and maps include information on Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and the South. The appendix contains the account of Captain William Parker (d. 1618, see DNB) of his taking of the town of Porto Bello with a small band of men in February 1601 in a privateering expedition which netted 10,000 ducats, two frigates, plate, and merchandise.


Sold. Hammer: $1,500.00; Price Realized: $1,837.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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