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Deep in the Heart of Mexico: Lone Star Reflections in an 1830 Map of Mexico City

By Guest Contributor: Bruce Clavey, Author of The Inquisition of Stephen F. Austin.

Texans know the story of the despondency of Stephen F. Austin as he sat isolated in a Mexico City prison. Austin had been arrested in 1834 on suspicion of sedition and placed in an Inquisition dungeon. Separated from home and family by hundreds of miles, he struggled to steer Texas colonies through the worst discord of their twelve-year saga. Part of the story of their troubled relations with Mexico is reconstructed from the vantage point of the people, places, and events in Texas, but a close-in view of the struggle from the capital city itself is obscured by the two centuries of dust that has settled on Austin’s footprint there. Recovering the rich perspective in historic moments like this often involves the search for contextual detail from parts of the primary record that are not easily found in local repositories.

Published in 1830, this map presents Mexico City as it was known to Stephen F. Austin and his contemporaries. Source: Plano General de la Ciudad de Mexico. Levantado Por el Teniente Coronel Don Diego Garcia Conde en el Año de 1793. Aumentado y corregido en lo mas notable Por el Teniente Coronel retirado, Don Rafael Maria Calvo En el de 1830, New York, 1830, Map #95354, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

A map recently acquired by the Texas General Land Office provides a fascinating view into this tucked-away chapter of the Lone Star story. “This map of Mexico City was created at an important time in Texas history, and it helps illustrate the view of the capital city that Stephen F. Austin experienced when he was conducting so much important business,” explains James Harkins, GLO Director of Public Services for the Archives and Records. The 1830 publication year of the map provided the state agency with significant motivation to secure the document as a critical research tool. “Mexico City was the seat of power in Mexico, and Austin needed to work there for several reasons. He traveled to the capital to confirm his empresario grants and press Texas’ claims, and he was later imprisoned there. This map helps tell the story of Texas through Austin’s efforts to develop and settle the northern portions of the Mexican Republic during visits to the capital.”

The GLO acquired the 1830 map with an awareness of the unique role played by this type of document in the reconstruction of history. In the hands of a researcher, a map sheds light on how a region was visualized at a particular moment in history. In the eyes of a contemporary user, however, the same map was the source of detailed geographic data that was of regular use and vital importance. Inevitable deterioration of such practical, frequently used documents eroded their accuracy and made them less usable.

This is a principle observed again and again in the lineage of the Mexico City map. With the capital in sore need of a quality street-level guide in 1792, New Spain’s Viceroy Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla commissioned a plat at the city’s own expense. The draft produced one year later by his designee, Lieutenant Colonel Diego Garcia, came to be regarded as the definitive representation of Mexico City of the first half of the nineteenth century. Though not formally published until 1807, Garcia’s work endured as the direct source for ten other map updates documenting varying degrees of interim capital city developments between 1811 and 1865.[1]

[left] Portrait of Stephen F. Austin, artist unknown, 1840. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. [right] Portrait of Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, attributed to artist Josephus Arias Huerta. Iturbide was crowned Emperor of Mexico in July 1822 and ruled until March 1823, when he was deposed by proponents of a republican political system.

The 1830 map’s own title described itself as a materially “expanded and corrected” edition. It includes enhancements to city infrastructure that occurred after the prior edition’s release, most of which were completed during Mexico’s first decade of independence from Spain. Because this same slice of time covers the inaugural period of Texas as a development site under the empresario settlement system, the map bears crucial testimony to a watershed decade for the nation. Texas may not appear graphically on the 1830 map, but it can be coaxed from the evidence of national formation hiding in the color between its lines.[2]

The capital city was a hive of activity when Stephen F. Austin arrived at the end of April 1822 to confirm his authority to function as a land agent in the northern Mexican province of Coahuila y Texas. His colonization endeavor was grounded in an experiment chartered by Spanish governors, in contract with his father, to create settlements that consisted of American immigrants in the sparsely populated territory of Texas. However, with the death of his father and withdrawal of the empire, the colonization contract had passed tenuously from Spain and Moses Austin in one year to Mexico and Stephen F. Austin quite literally the next. The unrealized interests of the Texas empresario now blended with the overall uncertainty that ruled the capital of the newly independent nation.

[top] The 1830 Mexico City map provides the location for the Plaza de la Constitución, the main square of the capital. Known today as the Zócalo, the square is the center of government for the nation and was the area most frequented by Austin in the business that he brought to accomplish in the capital. [bottom] Eastward view of the Zócalo, in an illustration dating to June 1850. Construction for the cathedral on the north edge of the plaza lasted for two centuries and was fully completed only a few years before Austin’s arrival in 1822. The National Palace, where many of the ministries were housed in the post-independence era, occupies the eastern edge. Source: Complete History of the late Mexican War (New York: F.J. Dow & Co., 1850 <> [Accessed April 18, 2019].

On a night three weeks into Stephen F. Austin’s stay, the Mexican general soon to be crowned emperor appeared at his residence balcony to address a throng of military personnel firing guns into the air and civilians chanting “Viva Iturbide!” Austin joined the swell of adulation. “Participating in the Sentiments of joy manifested by the nation at the recent political change,” he wrote to Iturbide a few days later. “I make a tender of my services, my loyalty, and my fidelity to the Constitutional Emperor of Mexico.” [3] His pledge of support extended to all from Texas. “This is our adopted Nation. We look to the Sovereign Congress as the pure fountain whence those blessings are to flow which will diffuse peace, improvement, intelligence, and happiness over this new born Nation.”[4]

Setting immigration policy was just as important to the Mexican government as establishing a land business was to the would-be empresario. “There were really two distinct issues that directly concerned Austin,” writes Austin biographer Gregg Cantrell, “a general colonization bill that was already being drawn up in committee, and his own individual application to have his grant confirmed.”[5] These objectives brought Austin into contact with national leaders with widely contrasting positions on the cultivation of colonies of foreign settlers. He also met authority figures who later rose to historic roles in the Texas story, such as colonization committee member Lorenzo de Zavala, congressional representative Manuel de Mier y Terán, and future presidents General Anastasio Bustamante and Valentín Gómez Farías. “Austin wisely befriended men of all ideological persuasions,” concludes Cantrell. “Simultaneously currying favor with both sides in Mexico’s political struggles became one of Austin’s standard tactics.”[6]

This Mexico City map, published in 1811, is the first of numerous copies that derived from the cartographic original published in 1807. The 1811 version predated the wave of change in capital city infrastructure that required the drafting of the newer “expanded and corrected” 1830 edition featured in this article. Source: Eduardo Mogg, Plan General de la Ciudad de Mexico. Levantado Por el Teniente Coronel Don Diego Garcia Conde, en el Año de 1793, y Gravado en Miniatura en Londres por Eduardo Mogg, el de 1811, London, 1830, David Rumsey Map Collection at Stanford University Libraries, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The 1830 Mexico City map, then, is the perfect artifact of the early independence political ferment that had given rise to Mexico’s generous colonization laws. Published as a 20- by 22-inch document that unfolded from a pocket wallet, it was simultaneously a product and a driver of change in the capital. As a tool of historical reference, it is a snapshot of the Mexico City that went on to grant Austin’s empresario status, then to survive the rapid turnover of power through a provisional government and numerous rulers with their reforms. For modern map users, it provides a snapshot of the city that served as the national capital of Texas for a respectable 146 years of its three centuries as an organized jurisdiction (1690–1836), a mark only eclipsed by Washington, D.C. in 1991 (1845-present).

To James Harkins, it is an example of the conscious mission of the General Land Office Archives to personalize the critical historical eras of the state: “This map helps shed some light on how Stephen F. Austin, and other Americans who came to Texas in the 1820s and 1830s, would have understood their national capital.”

Texas endured as a fixture of Mexico for another five years after the map went into circulation. The portions of the document that attract primary attention relating to this period might be the ones making silent reference to the growing Texas discord with its federal governance. In an effort to resolve the frustrations of a people who were fracturing over Mexico’s stances on immigration and statehood, Austin returned to the capital in 1833. His pursuit of legal concessions from the nation’s highest legislative bodies climaxed unexpectedly in his own arrest and imprisonment. Four blocks north of the immense cathedral marking the heart of the city, the Texas empresario disappeared into the featureless rectangle of the Palace of the Inquisition. His months of solitary pondering that ensued is often claimed in both Mexican and Texas narratives to have spawned events that forever altered the geography and politics of the North American continent, on both sides of the Rio Grande.[7]

The 1830 Mexico City map is marked to indicate the location of the three prisons where Austin was held in 1834: the Palace of the Inquisition, the Acordada, and the capital City Prison. The inset images reflect early architectural designs for edifices to be constructed at two of these sites — the Acordada (1759) and Inquisition (1657) — filed with the royal treasury of New Spain. Sources: From the National Archive of Mexico (AGN), Acordada image in Cárcel de la Acordada, 1759, AGN, Acordada, vol. 6, exp. 11; Palace of the Inquisition image in Planta de las cárceles secretas, 1657, AGN, Real Fisco de la Inquisición, vol. 6, f. 26v; graphic by Bruce W. Clavey.

A political prisoner now, confined alone in a place where thousands of souls had languished over the centuries of Spanish rule and unable to track the everyday business of Texas or sustain regular communication, Austin’s thoughts wavered. At times they would drift to the loyalty of his first days in the capital: “Mexican patriots conceived, undertook, and are perfecting here the most difficult, most lofty, and most noble work that has been known of or seen in the world since the time of Adam.” [8] Not hours later, the tone from his once-enthusiastic pledge to Iturbide would embitter. “This system might conform to laws, though I do not know which, nor what right an accused has or if he even has any, but such a system most certainly does not conform in any way to justice, nor reason, nor common sense.”[9]

Following his release, Austin left the capital city in mid-1835, but the quest to comprehend more fully the break in relations between Texas and Mexico has never ended. In the search for resources that provide context for that collapse — as well as to help tell the many interesting stories of Texas — cartographic assets offer a remarkable vantage point. “The map of Mexico City is an example of how the GLO offers resources relating to the Spanish and Mexican heritage of Texas that have not been historically easily accessible in the state,” concludes James Harkins. “The Texas General Land Office has a world-class archival collection that focuses on Texas. We’ve learned that with certain topics in Texas history, there can sometimes be a scarcity of resources to study. That is one of the reasons why the GLO is so proactive in sharing the resources that are available within our Archives.”

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1. José Omar Moncada Maya and Irma Escamilla Herrera, “Diego García Conde, un militar español en la transición al México Independiente.” Revista de Indias 76, no. 267 (2016): 455.. This Spanish-language essay details the production of the original map by García and its full cartographic legacy.

2. Maya and Herrera, “Diego García Conde,” 469. The original map that was released in 1807 was the basis for two other editions (1811 and 1824) published before the “expanded and corrected” 1830 edition featured in this article. Seven subsequent editions were released in 1837, 1849, 1853, 1858 (2), 1860, and 1861.

3. Stephen F. Austin to Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, May 25, 1822, in Eugene C. Barker (ed.), The Austin Papers, (3 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1924–28) I, 519. Jaime E. Rodríguez O. reviews the May 18, 1822 festivity at the Palace of Iturbide in the essay “The Struggle for Dominance: The Legislature versus the Executive in Early Mexico,” in Christon I. Archer (ed.), The Birth of Modern Mexico, 1780–1824 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc, 2011), 219.

4. Stephen F. Austin to Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, May 25, 1822, in Barker (ed.), Austin Papers, I, 519.

5. Gregg Cantrell, Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 123. Cantrell skillfully reviews Austin’s campaign to meet and engage Mexican national leaders in pages 120–127.

6. Cantrell, Stephen F. Austin, 122.

7. The Texas Declaration of Independence cites the 1834 imprisonment of Austin as a predicate for the separation of Texas from Mexico. Resources outlining the Mexican narrative for watershed events of the nineteenth century often specify the same event as a contributing factor to the Intervención Estadounidense (American Intervention) that resulted in the loss of 55% of its sovereign territory. For one example, see Emilio Lamadrid Sánchez, “1845 1846 Notas para la historia de Tampico en la guerra con EU,” Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Tamaulipas (IEST Anáhuac) <> [Accessed April 18, 2019]. Of stunning coincidence is that key figures from the Mexican revolution from Spain (Servando Teresa de Mier) and the Texas revolution from Mexico (Stephen F. Austin) occupied at different times the same Inquisition dungeon cell. Austin even visited Mier in the prison during his 1822 Mexico City sojourn; see Bruce W. Clavey, The Inquisition of Stephen F. Austin (Self-published, 2018), 41–43.

8. Entry dated April 27 in the journal kept by Stephen F. Austin while imprisoned at the Palace of the Inquisition in 1834. For an online presentation of this entry, see “Prison Diary,” Briscoe Center for American History (The University of Texas at Austin) <> [Accessed April 18, 2019]. English translations of Austin’s original Spanish-language texts are provided by the author.

9. Entry dated April 29, “Prison Diary,” Briscoe Center, <> [Accessed April 18, 2019].



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