First Printed Map to Apply the Name “Texas” as a Toponymn

Among the Rarest Maps of the Spanish Southwest

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234. [MAP]. ALZATE Y RAMÍREZ, José Antonio de. Nuevo Mapa Geográfico de la América Septentrional, perteneciente al Virreynato de Mexico: Dedicado á los Sabios Miembros de la Academia Real de las Ciencias de Paris Por su mui rendido Servidor y Capellan D. Josef Antonio de Alzate y Ramirez. Año de 1768. [lower left between statements of longitude and the neat line] Publicado bajo privilegio de la Academia Real de la Ciencias de Paris. [Below neat line at lower left] Se hallará en Madrid, Calle de Atocha, frente de la Casa de los Gremios. [below title, table of religious districts] I. Arzbispado de Mexico. II. Obispado de Puebla. III. Obispado de Vallodolid. V. Obispado de Guadalaxara. VI. Obispado de Durango. [to right of religious districts, key to symbols on map] Cabeza de Arzobispado... Cabeza de Obispado... Residencia de Audiencia... Cabeza de Govierno... Presidio existente... Presidio Antiguo... [to right of key, table of longitude and latitude] Nueva Vera Cruz... Mexico... S. Josef... Madrid or Paris, 1768. Copper-engraved map on four joined sheets of laid paper, hand colored outlining and shading to boundaries and coasts; neat line to neat line: 53 x 64.2 cm; overall sheet size: 58.5 x 68.5 cm. Other than old fold lines and one small crease, very fine. Exceedingly rare.

     This map was the first printed map to apply the name Texas to a geographic region (“Provincia de los Texas”). The map was the basis for a later, smaller, reworked version from a book (see LORENZANA herein). Alzate’s map is usually cited as the only printed map of Mexico and the Spanish Southwest published in Spain in the eighteenth century. Alzate’s sometimes controversial map has been both dismissed as inaccurate and hailed as a magnificent improvement over all that came before. Wherever the truth may lie about the map itself, it is undoubtedly the most famous Mexican map of its time. Highly prized for the science it embodies, it is also important because it apparently accurately reflects Mexican and Spanish knowledge about the geography of Mexico itself. Although the interior of Mexico, for example, is quite accurate, the hinterlands, especially Texas and the Far West United States, lack any specific details and are sometimes inaccurately shown. An embodiment of the general intellectual foment that was happening all over Europe and the New World, Alzate made significant contributions to science in the fields of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, botany, and geography. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Science in Paris, a distinctive honor for a Mexican colonial.

     The publication information on this map is contradictory. One line indicates “Publicado bajo el privilegio de la Academia Real de las Ciencias de Paris,” whereas another one states, “Se hallera en Madrid, calle de Atocha, frente la casa de los Gremios.” Such confusing statements make it difficult to determine if the map was printed in Madrid and distributed in Paris, or the other way around. However, one issue has the notice of Chappe d’Auteroche’s corrections based on his observations of the Transit of Venus; it also has below the neat line the imprint of Dezauche. The cartobibliography of this map has never been satisfactorily sorted out.

     According to Jack Jackson Shooting the Sun, Plate 37, I, pp. 131-139 & I, pp. 253-255 (27C): “This map was printed in both Paris and Madrid, with some disagreement as to which issue came first.... There are slight differences between the two. For example, one version has ‘Geographico’ in the title (as Alzate spelled it), whereas the Spanish imprint uses ‘Geografico.’ Weber (TI, 308) states that the Madrid imprint lacks the box around the title. If this is true, in the Paris imprint ‘Pacifico’ appears as ‘Pazifico,’ and there are other such minor deviations.”

     Wheat (Mapping the Transmississippi West #149, p. 87 & Plate following p. 146) cites the version like the present copy, giving priority to it and assigning publication at Madrid. Wheat points out that the Madrid version labels the Colorado River “Ro. Colorado ó del Norte, cuyo origen se ignora,” whereas the other version has “Rio Colorado, ó del Norte cuyo Origen Seignora.” The present copy reads: “Ro. Colorado ó del Norte, cuyo origen se ignora.” Wheat’s Plate 149 reproduces the Madrid version, and in his text, Wheat comments (p. 218): “Another copy, re-engraved in Paris by Dezauche, has some curious errors” and cites the re-engraved version as having “Ro. Colorado, ô del Norte cuio Origen Seignora.”

     Martin & Martin #20 (pp. 100-101) comment on the importance of the map:

During the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment reached its peak in Europe. Stressing the potential for rational understanding of the world, the Enlightenment fostered a spirit of critical inquiry that developed into modern scientific method. In the colonies of Spain, a leading participant in the Enlightenment activities was José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez, a Mexican-born cleric. Alzate had an insatiable curiosity about the world around him that was characteristic of the age. He made significant contributions to science in the fields of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, botany, and geography. He was elected to membership of the Royal Academy of Science in Paris, a distinctive honor for a Mexican colonial, and that august society published several of his papers. Alzate’s stature as a man was such that when the Mexican National Academy of Science was founded in 1884, it was called the Alzate Society.

In 1768 Alzate published a map of that part of North America which belonged to Spain, dedicated to his Fellows in the Royal Academy. As a prominent scientist, Alzate was given access to official information, available in Mexico at the time, and he plainly based his map on reports and sketches of the expeditions of the early eighteenth century. Alzate depicted the interior of Mexico reasonably well, but in the Texas regions, as well as in the delineation of the West Coast, the map contained little detail and it was distorted in form. He displayed the rivers of Texas with a strict north-south orientation, rather than their true southeasterly direction. He completely omitted the Pecos River; the Nueces, with its tributaries the Frio and the Hondo, he showed as a minor branch of the Rio Grande. The Medina, actually a small tributary of the San Antonio River, was shown instead as the greatest river of the area, heading in the mountains east of Santa Fe and flowing into the Gulf of Mexico near the correct position of the Nueces. The Guadalupe was also extended and shown to flow into the Bay del Espíritu Santo without the waters of the San Antonio. The Colorado and the Brazos were shown as one. The Trinity, also greatly exaggerated, was drawn flowing across regions where the Arkansas and its branches actually run. He also gave the Red River a north-south orientation. Scattered villages of Apaches, and no other natural features, were all that was to be found in that area to the north of Texas.

As the only printed Spanish map of the area produced in the eighteenth century, Alzate’s effort starkly illuminated the dearth of information available to the Spanish authorities concerning the interior provinces of New Spain, and a comparison with earlier productions like Delisle’s document show how little had been learned in the interim.

     Jackson, Shooting the Sun, I, pp. 131-139:

Alzate, as Weber has correctly stated, was “less interested in the specific coastal configurations and more interested in the location of correct latitude and longitude.” Such a concern, we might add, was critical to the scientific development of cartography, and Alzate was therefore well justified in his attention to such matters. While his maps have been sluffed off as representing poor cartography for their time by writers since Humboldt’s day, they nonetheless were based to a large extent on the best sources available to Alzate and they were influential for years to come.... What we have from Alzate, even with its many faults, is magnificent in its own way. He drew maps that are beautiful expressions of cartographic art, poised on the verge of scientific knowledge that would have taken them out of the decorative realm. This knowledge was slow in coming, and Alzate was fully aware that his productions were far from being correct. More observations were needed—especially in the northern provinces and especially concerning longitude—but Alzate pressed ahead with what he knew. That he did not “know it all” (no one else did either) is hardly a measure of his success. If we mortals waited to do something until no chance for error existed, we would have few records indeed of our search for truth. Alzate left us his contribution so that others might, by standing on his shoulders, see farther than he had been able to do. For this, he takes his place among the other giants of his era and deservedly ranks among the brightest minds of colonial Mexico.

     Streeter Sale 150, with TWS commenting as follows, noting that any state of the map having the reference to the Transit of Venus was printed ca. 1772 or after:

Humboldt in his Political Essay on...New Spain mentions this map as having been “hitherto looked on as the best map of Mexico.” Besides showing in detail the locations and dates of Father Kino’s activities, the map shows San Antonio de Bejar and the Texas missions. The area is labeled “Provincia de los Texas,” an early record of Texas as a province. This is probably an issue of about 1772 as shown by the reference to the French expedition of 1769 to observe the transit of Venus, the results of which were published in 1772.—TWS

     As noted above, there are two issues of the French 1768 edition, one of which, as Streeter notes, has a reference to the French 1768 expedition to Southern California to observe the transit of Venus (“Depuis l’envoy de cette carte, le Voyage de Mr. Chappe a la Californie a procure des corrections dans la position de differens endroits qu’il est interessant d’indiquer ici”). Thus, the Transit of Venus issue could not have appeared until around 1772 or after. See also: Lowery 515 and 516. Wagner, Cartography of the Northwest Coast of America 612 (use with caution).

     Frank R. Secoy, in an article on the Comanche entitled “The Identity of the ‘Paduca’: An Ethnohistorical Analysis” in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 53, No. 4, October-December, 1951, pp. 539-540, gives a good background on the international politics of the time that provides some understanding of how relations between France and Spain had thawed enough for intellectual cooperation at the time Alzate made his map:

[Alzate’s] map includes all of Mexico and the Spanish dominions of the Southwest and Texas. Toward the east, it only extends as far as the old boundary between Texas and Louisiana.... Interestingly enough, the inscription on the Alzate map states that it was dedicated to the Royal Academy of Science of Paris and that it was published with the approval of that body. This indicates clearly that the author participated in that trend toward a fusion of French and Spanish geographical traditions which was greatly accelerated after 1763 by the transfer of western Louisiana from France to Spain, but which had existed sometime previously, possibly as a result of the alliance between France and Spain through the acquisition of the Spanish Crown by the royal family of Bourbon, under the manipulation of Louis XIV.

That Alzate was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Science in Paris, his association with the Academy undoubtedly smoothed the way for cooperation between France and Mexican colonials.


Sold. Hammer: $28,000.00; Price Realized: $34,300.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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