European cartographers imagined the territory that became Texas as a vast region eager to be claimed and colonized despite the existence of indigenous communities. Mapmakers borrowed from native informants, European explorers’ writings, and other printed sources to chart coastal areas and waterways and ease the navigation and exploration of the territory. Their vague, and often contradictory, information led to contested claims that fueled further exploration. These campaigns spurred the eventual establishment of fortifications and cities from which to govern the territory. While Spain and France made inroads into territorial claims in Texas, England concerned itself with charting the waters of the Gulf.
The oldest map in the GLO’s online database is Martin Waldseemüller’s Tabula Terre Nove [The Admiral’s Map]. Based on Portuguese charts and Spanish reports, this woodcut map is one of the first maps of the Americas to appear in an atlas. Published in 1513 as part of Johann Schott’s edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, this map presented evidence of the New World’s existence. Though North and South America are joined together by a continuous coastline, the Gulf of Mexico is recognizable as are the islands of Cuba (Isabella) and Haiti (Spagnolla). The area that would become Texas is almost unidentifiable, with no text or features included save for the gulf coast.
The map shows all four continents of the Atlantic World — North and South America, Europe, and Africa. The islands off the northwest African coast, which were colonized by Portugal, are also shown. The only European city noted on the map is Lisbon, Portugal — the departure point for many of the New World explorations in the sixteenth century. South America is listed as terra incognita, unknown land, and other than a few coastal rivers the Americas are wholly blank.
Waldseemüller’s woodcut is a landmark map in the history of mapping the Americas. Not only was Waldseemüller an eminent cartographer of this First Age of Exploration, but he was also a humanist scholar that helped “revolutionize the traditional concepts of global geography.”
This map is part of the Frank and Carol Holcomb Digital Map Collection at the Texas General Land Office.
 Scholar’s debate exactly who Waldseemüller means with the title “The Admiral’s Map,” but the consensus is that he is referring to Amerigo Vespucci.