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Mexicque, ou Nouvelle Espagne, Nouv.lle Gallice, Iucatan &c. et autres Provinces jusques a L’Isthme de Panama

[Mexico, or New Spain, New Galicia, Iucatan &c. and other Provinces as far as the Isthmus of Panama]

Nicolas Sanson
Paris, 1656

Nicolas Sanson, Mexicque, ou Nouvelle Espagne, Nouvelle Gallice, Iucatan &c. …, Paris, 1656, Map #95831, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The prolific French cartographer Nicolas Sanson was known for his precision, research skills, and extensive cartographic productions totaling over 300 works. He published this map in his world atlas, Cartes generales de toutes les parties du monde, ou les empires, monarchies, republiques, etats, peuples, &c.[1] It came at a point in the mid-seventeenth century when New Spain, ascendant in its prosperity, served as a crucial link in a global trade network extending from the Iberian Peninsula to the Philippines and China. The viceroyalty was the Spanish Empire’s principal provider of silver, a mineral wealth that attracted intense interest from Spain’s European neighbors despite — or perhaps because of — the Spanish Crown’s policy of imperial secrecy.

[left] Diamonds represent mines in northern New Spain, a critical source of mineral wealth for the Spanish Empire. [right] Spanish territory stretching into Central America falls under the jurisdiction of the “Audienca de Guatimala” (Audiencia de Guatemala). [click images to enlarge]

Sanson’s map provides an intricate outsider’s view of the Spanish Empire’s crown jewel in North America. He likely gleaned this information, held closely by Spanish authorities and infrequently published to a broad audience, from Spanish accounts of the empire’s conquest of the region.[2] Diamonds indicate mining centers concentrated in the central-western Bajío region (Pachuca, Guanajuato) and the northern present-day Mexican states Zacatecas and Durango. Circles and crude representations of churches represent other settlements, the largest of which is Mexico City. Sanson’s focus on the region’s geography includes topography and hydrography from northern Mexico through the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America. He illustrates political boundaries with dotted colored lines and notes the viceroyalty’s three administrative and judicial districts known as audiencias (Mexico, Guadalajara, and Guatemala).

[left] Colored lines illustrate political boundaries, and circles and drawings of churches represent towns and settlements. Mexico City receives the largest such drawing. Additional mines at Guaxanato (Guanajato) and Puchuca (Pachuca) appear near the city. [right] A small portion of present-day Texas appears as part of Florida, where only the Escondido R. (Río Grande) stretches into the mainland and somewhat resembles its true course. [click images to enlarge]

A portion of what later became the Spanish province of Texas appears as part of La Florida, a territory that in the mid-seventeenth century extended from the Florida Peninsula to the Río de las Palmas (Soto la Marina River) in present-day Tamaulipas. Sanson sparsely depicts Texas’ rivers, with only the Escondido (Nueces River) extending into the mainland and resembling its true course.[3] French interest in the Gulf Coast region increased in the decades following this map’s publication, leading to the mistaken arrival of René Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, near Matagorda Bay in 1685. Having missed his intended target at the mouth of the Mississippi River, La Salle established a colony in Spanish-claimed territory that prompted Spain to entrench its own presence in the region, thus setting the stage for the increased settlement of East Texas.[4]

  1. Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc., “Mexicque ou Nouvelle Espagne . . .,” Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc., accessed November 16, 2021, https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/62226/mexicque-ou-nouvelle-espagne-nouvlle-gallice-iucatan-c-sanson.
  2. Jordana Dym and Karl Offen, eds., Mapping Latin America : A Cartographic Reader, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
  3. Gene Rhea Tucker, “Coronelli’s Texan Mississippi: A Reinterpretation of the America Settentrionale of 1688,” Terrae Incognitae 40 no.1 (2008): 82–101.
  4. Robert S. Weddle, “La Salle, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 16, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/la-salle-rene-robert-cavelier-sieur-de. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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Texas General Land Office

Texas General Land Office

Official Account for the Texas General Land Office | Follow Commissioner George P. Bush on Twitter at @georgepbush. www.txglo.org