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Spanish Dominions in North America Northern Part (Texas, Mexico, Rocky Mountains, Upper California, etc.),

John Pinkerton
Philadelphia, 1818

L. Hebert and John Pinkerton, Spanish Dominions in North America, Northern Part, Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson & Son, 1818, Map #95133, Map Collection, Archives and records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Scottish antiquarian and “armchair geographer” John Pinkerton, an unorthodox and often polarizing figure, published this partial map of Spanish North America in his New Modern Atlas. Based in London, Pinkerton issued the atlas as a subscription series from 1808–1815, with this map first appearing in 1811. The GLO’s copy was printed in an American edition published in Philadelphia in 1818.[1] The atlas grew from Pinkerton’s earlier work, a two-volume publication titled Modern Geography (1802). He intended that publication to serve as a “new plan” for the field of English commercial geography.

Part of Texas is included within the intendancy of San Luis Potosí, which stretches from east of the Sabine River along the Gulf Coast across the present-day state of Tamaulipas.

Lacking finances but encouraged by the initial popularity of Modern Geography (which was reissued several times and translated into French), Pinkerton soon began compiling a new world atlas under his own Eurocentric organizational “plan” that prioritized continents and countries he deemed more “important” than others — notably, Europe received top billing, and Africa lowest. Its maps, drawn by L. Herbert under Pinkerton’s supervision, catalog the “historical, political, civil, and natural” features of each place.[2] Reflecting Pinkerton’s disdain for overly fanciful or historically oriented cartography, the detailed maps are otherwise visually austere, lacking flashy cartouches or exotic historical scenes. Once Herbert completed his work, Samuel John Neele produced the engravings used to print copies of the atlas for sale to the public.

A key in the lower-left corner explains the symbols found on the map.

Pinkerton based this map, one of eight in the atlas focused on North America, primarily on the work of Arrowsmith and Humboldt, whose papers he had browsed in 1804. It features the Spanish intendencias (intendancies) from the Rocky Mountains in the north to Central Mexico and up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco, as well as the U.S. territory of Louisiana as far northeast as St. Louis. Typical features appear throughout the map, including topography, hydrography, settlements, and the locations of numerous Indigenous groups. A key in the lower-left corner identifies symbols for capitals, towns, villages, mines, farms, muleteer stations, and military installations.

[top] Notations on the map highlight the “Pre[idio] de Bejar” and the “Settlement of Mr. Salle in 1683.” [center] The Presidio del Paso del Norte marks the site of present-day El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. [bottom] The map places special emphasis on the Río Grande and notes the location of its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Click each image to enlarge.

The map includes part of present-day Texas within the intendancy of San Luis Potosí, though its territory does not extend as far north as the Red River. A notation identifies the Pres[idio] de Bejar as the “Capital of the Province of Texas” near missions San Antonio Valero and Espada. To the northwest, Presidio del Paso del Norte marks the site of present-day El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The “Settlement of Mr. Salle in 1683” appears west of Galveston Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The map names and charts Texas’ rivers fairly accurately, with particular emphasis on the “R. Bravo or Del Norte” (Río Grande), the mouth of which is marked in the gulf east of Reinosa. Following Humboldt, Pinkerton extends the boundaries of Spanish Texas east beyond the Sabine River, approaching Natchitoches, Louisiana. While the geographic data on Pinkerton’s map remained valuable, the internal political divisions it represents shifted over time and were largely overwritten by Mexico’s independence from Spain a decade after its initial publication.

  1. See O.F.G. Sitwell, “John Pinkerton: An Armchair Geographer of the Early Nineteenth Century,” The Geographical Journal 138: no. 4 (December 1972), 470–79; A.A. Wilcock, “‘The English Strabo’: The Geographical Publications of John Pinkerton,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers №61 (March 1974), 35–45; Patrick O’Flaherty, Scotland’s Pariah: The Life and Work of John Pinkerton, 1758–1826 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), 147–79.
  2. John Pinkerton, Modern Geography: A Description of the Empires, States, Kingdoms, and Colonies . . ., 2 vols., (London: Cadell and Davies., 1802).

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