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Nuevo Mapa Geográphico de la América Septentrional, 1768

Dedicated to the “wise members” of the Royal Academy of Science in Paris, José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez’s “New Geographic Map of North America” depicts Spanish North America based on the information available to him in the archives of Mexico City. The map is divided into the six religious districts (one arzobispado, archbishopric, and five obispados, bishoprics) in New Spain at the time, and it is also one of the first to identify the area that would become Texas as the “Provincia de los Texas.”

José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez, Nuevo Mapa Geográphico de la América Septentrional, Paris, 1768, Map #93835, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez (1737–1799) was an internationally recognized cartographer, scientist, and priest born in Ozumba, New Spain (Mexico). He received his theology training at the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico and was also a member of the Académie des sciences of France and Spain’s Sociedad de Amigos del País, organizations which sought to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment and of scientific inquiry.[1]

Detail of legend showing the archbishopric (archdiocese) and 5 bishoprics (dioceses) of New Spain.

Alzate y Ramírez built upon the maps of his predecessors when producing his own. He derived this 1768 map of New Spain from earlier maps (most notably one by Francisco Álvarez Barreiro), updating it with new information from the Mexico City archives. Alzate y Ramírez was among the first cartographers to designate Texas as its own geographical region on a map, and this work is noted for its rarity as a printed Spanish map.[2] In Texas, Alzate indicates major rivers such as the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande), Guadalupe, Brasos de Dios (Brazos), and the Trinidad (Trinity). The settlements of San Antonio de Bejar (and its missions), San Sabas, El Paso, and Loreto are all shown.

Artist unknown, “Portrait of José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez,” 18th century, Museo de la Medicina, Palacio de la Escuela de Medicina, Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México, Mexico City.

Like many cartographers in this era, Alzate y Ramírez constructed his map with a mix of factual and mythical information. John Kessel notes, “Alzate fills the Great Basin with an imaginary ring of random mountains… Next to his fantasy Laguna de Teguayo…Alzate places an intriguing note: ‘From the environs of this lake they say the Mexican Indians set out to found their empire.’”[3]

Detail of map showing the Provincia de los Texas, its Gulf Coast, known rivers, missions, presidios, and settlements.

This group of non-existent mountains seems to be taken directly from Barreiro’s 1728 map Plano corográfico é hidrográphico… which has a similarly labeled feature that translates as “Laguna de Teguayo or Estero Azul from where the Mexican Indians left with their Prince to settle Mexico.”[4]

[left] Detail from the Barreiro map, most likely the source of the Laguna de Teguayo information on the Alzate y Ramírez map.[6] [right] Detail from the Alzate y Ramírez map showing the Laguna de Teguyo and indicating the mythical origins of the Mexican Indians.

The precise geographic origin of the Mexica (Aztecs) is unknown, though it is generally thought that they came from northern Mexico or the southwestern US. Many cartographers (including Alzate and Humboldt) placed onto their maps three “mansions” — or castles — of the Mexica where they rested/stayed on their trek from their home of Aztlán (thought to perhaps be in the plains of North America) to their final destination in the Valley of Mexico in the 13th century.[5]

[left] Detail of the “First Mansion of the Mexican Indians.” [center] Detail of the “Second Mansion of the Mexican Indians” and Casa Grande in modern-day Arizona. [right] Detail of the “Third Mansion of the Mexican [Indians],” also known as Casas Grandes. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the archaeological zone of Paquimé, Casas Grandes is located in the modern-day Mexican state of Chihuahua.

The Nuevo Mapa Geográphico de la América Septentrional provides information on the indigenous tribes, traces the routes of Spanish explorers — both scientific and religious — and marks the towns, missions, and presidios of New Spain.

This map is part of the Frank and Carol Holcomb Digital Map Collection.

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[1] “Alzate y Ramírez, José Antonio de (1737–1799).,” Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. Encyclopedia.com. Accessed 2 May 2017, http://www.encyclopedia.com

[2] Handbook of Texas Online, Robert S. Weddle, “Spanish Mapping of Texas,” accessed April 10, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uws01.

[3] John L. Kessell, Whither the Waters (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017), p. 57.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Aztecs,” History.com, accessed May 2, 2017, http://www.history.com/topics/aztecs; An 1803 reprint of Barreiro’s map was a source for cartographer Alexander von Humboldt’s 1809 seminal map, Carte Générale du Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne, which includes a note about the Laguna Taguayo and all three “Mansions of the Mexican Indians.”

[6]Francisco Álvarez Barreiro, Plano Corografico é Hydrographico de las Provincias de el Nuevo Mexico…Provincia de los Tejas…de la Nuebla España, (Mexico: Don Luis de Surville, July 4, 1770, copied from Barreiro’s 1728 map). Accesses May 3, 2017, http://www.thehistorycenteronline.com/exhibits/grid/imagining-texas-an-historical-journey-with-maps/676.

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Articles from the Texas General Land Office Save Texas History Program

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