The Connected Map of Austin’s Colony, 1837
Often called the “Father of Modern Texas” for his contributions to the establishment of the empresario system and the Anglo colonization of Texas, Stephen F. Austin also deserves credit as one of the first Texas mapmakers. Keeping close to his surveying roots, Austin first charted the rivers and bays of Texas in order to locate the land best suited for his colony. Once he had accomplished that, he produced maps of Texas that became the primary cartographic references for the territory for decades, promoting further immigration to and the colonization of Texas.
In 1833 Stephen F. Austin tasked Gail Borden, Jr., a land surveyor and Austin’s colonial secretary, to create a map of the lands granted through the empresario’s contract. The enormous undertaking included all land grants between the San Jacinto and Lavaca Rivers, an area covering approximately 15,400 square miles in nineteen present-day Texas counties. The original colony plats (or drawings of the divisions of the pieces of land) were drawn on a scale of 2,000 varas to the inch. Borden reduced the scale to 4,000 varas per inch when he realized the larger scale would render a final map measuring over fifteen feet square.
The Texas Revolution, and the events leading up to it, disrupted the work being done on the map. On March 24, 1836, fearing the destruction of records by Santa Anna and his troops, Robert Peebles, the acting land commissioner of Austin’s colony, packed up all of the colony’s papers and other important materials and sent them via wagon to Fort Jessup, Louisiana, where they remained until October of 1836.
Unfortunately Austin did not live to see the map of his colonies completed. After his unexpected death on December 27, 1836, Austin’s brother-in-law and the executor of his estate James F. Perry took up the task of overseeing the project of the connected colony map. Perry asked Borden to hire as many assistants as he needed to complete Austin’s map. Borden enlisted the help of his brothers Thomas and John, with John P. Borden, who was later named first Land Commissioner of the Republic of Texas, ultimately taking the lead role on the massive project. Assisting John was a nephew of Austin’s, Moses Austin Bryan, and Robert D. Johnson, a Virginia lawyer recently immigrated to the Republic. It is unknown who actually drew the map as all three Borden brothers are credited on the document. Based on handwriting comparisons from other maps, it is generally accepted that Thomas H. Borden was the primary cartographer.
On November 3, 1837, Perry submitted to the Senate of the Republic of Texas the report it had requested of the land grants issued in Austin’s Colonies. The connected map provided striking visual evidence of these grants. The majority of the grants are league or quarter-league tracts of land. Within each surveyed area is the name of the original grantee and the dimensions of the grant in varas.
Composed of nine separate paper sheets glued together, and measuring almost seven feet square, the connected map is one of the oldest cadastral (land ownership) maps in the GLO’s collection. It is also one of the largest; a custom-made map cabinet was built specifically to house it in the GLO Map Vault. It has a large color title block in the lower right hand corner bearing the title “Connected Map of Austin’s Colony, Commenced by S. F. Austin, 1833, Completed by J. F. Perry, 1837, Projected by John P. Thomas H. and Gail Borden.” An ornate compass rose occupies an open space on the top right of the map, with a heart and spear tip indicating North and a multi-colored eight-pointed star to indicate the cardinal and primary intercardinal directions.
Because the connected map was a working legal document, in 1892 GLO draftsman F. G. Blau made a tracing of it. The original was stored, rolled atop a map cabinet for nearly a century, until the early 1980s. The map was conserved in 2002 thanks to a generous donation from the law firm of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. This map is an incredibly important piece of Texas history and an impressive work of cartographic craftsmanship.
The Connected Map of Austin’s Colony and several other maps of Texas are currently on display through September 5th, 2016 in the exhibit Mapping Texas: From Frontier to The Lone Star State at The Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas.