1851 Colton Map of Central America - illustrating the Mosquito Question

Map of Central America 1851. - Main View

1851 Colton Map of Central America - illustrating the Mosquito Question


The Mosquito Kingdom question.


Map of Central America 1851.
  1851 (dated)     13 x 18 in (33.02 x 45.72 cm)     1 : 4800000


A rare map easily dismissed but of great significance, this is J. H. Coton's 1851 separate-issue map of Central America illustrating the Mosquito Coast / Miskito Kingdom conflict associated with the development of an interoceanic canal.
A Closer Look
Some might dismiss this map due to its superficial resemblance to later Colton atlas maps of Central America and subsequent Johnson maps, for which it is the prototype, but it in fact represents rarely seen information. At the time, Central America was both in political flux and hotly disputed due to anticipated completion of an interoceanic canal in one of three possibly locations: Panama (New Granada), Nicaragua, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Mexico) - all of which are identified here in blue. The map also includes three 'pretended' boundaries (red) for the Mosquito Kingdom in 1846, 1848, and 1850, each progressively more ambitious. An inset in the upper right details the route of the Panama Railroad - what would become the Panama Canal route.
The Mosquito Kingdom
The Mosquito Coast, also known as the Miskito Coast and the Miskito Kingdom, was an amorphous state located on the eastern coast of what is today Nicaragua and Honduras. In the mid-16th century, after several failed attempts by the Spanish to occupy the region, the British established a loose alliance with the local leader, the Miskito King. After the English capture of Jamaica in 1655, they were able to more directly influence the Miskito, signing a formal Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1740. The language of the treaty included what was essentially a surrender of sovereignty, and can be considered the founding of a British protectorate over the Mosquito. The Miskito peoples were instrumental to the British strategy during the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739 - 1749). When the American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783) broke out, the Spanish took it as an opportunity to harass British interests in the Mosquito Kingdom, leading to a general British evacuation in 1787.
The Mosquito and the Interoceanic Canal
The British government declared a second protectorate over the Mosquito Kingdom in 1844. In doing so, they were hedging against American incursion into Central America, and by extension control of the Atlantic-Pacific trade. Their central fears were motived by the impending U.S. Annexation of Texas and the race to punch an interoceanic canal through the isthmus. The initial borders of the Mosquito Kingdom prior to 1846 extended from Cape Honduras, near Truxillo, Honduras, to Blewfields. However, in 1848, in an effort to prevent U.S. control of a possible canal extending through Nicaragua, the Nicaragua Route, the British Mosquito Kingdom extended its borders into traditionally Nicaraguan territory, claiming the strategically important city of San Juan del Norte - the likely eastern entrada to the potential Nicaragua Canal route. Nicaraguans attempted to fight, but were no match for the better trained and equipped British soldiers, and so ultimately signed a treaty ceding San Juan del Norte to the Mosquito Kingdom. The British promptly renamed the city 'Greytown', for Charles Edward Grey, governor of Jamaica. In a little-known episode, the British then attempted to extend their borders even further south, into Costa Rica, as far as the Chiriqui Lagoon. Anticipating the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, British leaders such as Lord Henry John Temple Palmerston, Frederick Chatfield (UK Consul to Central America), William Dougal Christie (Consul General of Mosquito, 1848), and Daniel Florence O'Leary (British Minister to New Grenada) advocated that the British Mosquito extend its claims south, claiming
… looking into the probable destines of these countries, considerable advantages might accrue in after times, by reserving for settlement with Central America in Costa Rica the rights of the Musquito beyond the San Juan River … if the Mosquitian pretensions could be maintained to this extent, the Chiriqui Lagoon, which affords good anchorage, would likewise form a secure frontier.
While the Mosquito claims southward into Costa Rica were put on record, the British never pushed them or advocated for actual annexation. Part of this was because they found that it was just as easy to exert direct control over Costa Rica through the existing governance.
Publication History and Census
This map was issued in 1851 by Joseph Hutchins Colton, the preeminent American mapmaker of the period, to illustrate the heated debate then raging over this territory. This is, as far as we know, the only map illustrating this debate. The map was latter retooled and revised to reflect updated political data and published in the 1855 first edition of Colton's atlas. When Colton sold or leased his map plates to A. J. Johnson in 1860, Johnson also used a revised version of this map in his own atlases.

The present separate issue from 1851 is unique and is not reflected in any known collection. It does have an OCLC reference, but no specific holdings are identified.


Joseph Hutchins Colton (July 5, 1800 - July 29, 1893), often publishing as J. H. Colton, was an important American map and atlas publisher active from 1833 to 1897. Colton's firm arose from humble beginnings when he moved to New York in 1831 and befriended the established engraver Samuel Stiles. He worked under Stiles as the 'Co.' in Stiles and Co. from 1833 to 1836. Colton quickly recognized an emerging market in railroad maps and immigrant guides. Not a cartographer or engraver himself, Colton's initial business practice mostly involved purchasing the copyrights of other cartographers, most notably David H. Burr, and reissuing them with updated engraving and border work. His first maps, produced in 1833, were based on earlier Burr maps and depicted New York State and New York City. Between 1833 and 1855 Colton would proceed to publish a large corpus of guidebooks and railroad maps which proved popular. In the early 1850s Colton brought his two sons, George Woolworth Colton (1827 - 1901) and Charles B. Colton (1832 - 1916), into the map business. G. W. Colton, trained as a cartographer and engraver, was particularly inspired by the idea of creating a large and detailed world atlas to compete established European firms for the U.S. market. In 1855, G.W. Colton issued volume one the impressive two volume Colton's Atlas of the World. Volume two followed a year later. Possibly because of the expense of purchasing a two-volume atlas set, the sales of the Atlas of the World did not meet Colton's expectations and so, in 1856, the firm also issued the atlas as a single volume. The maps contained in this superb work were all original engravings and most bear an 1855 copyright. All of the maps were surrounded by an attractive spiral motif border that would become a hallmark of Colton's atlas maps well into the 1880s. In 1857, the slightly smaller Colton's General Atlas replaced the Atlas of the World, which lacked the border. Most early editions of the General Atlas published from 1857 to 1859 do not have the trademark Colton spiral border, which was removed to allow the maps to fit into a smaller format volume. Their customers must have missed the border because it was reinstated in 1860 and remained in all subsequent publications of the atlas. There were also darker times ahead, in 1858 Colton was commissioned at sum of 25,000 USD by the government of Bolivia to produce and deliver 10,000 copies a large format map of that country. Although Colton completed the contract in good faith, delivering the maps at his own expense, he was never paid by Bolivia, which was at the time in the midst of a series national revolutions. Colton would spend the remainder of his days fighting with the Bolivian and Peruvian governments over this payment and in the end, after a congressional intervention, received as much as 100,000 USD in compensation. Nonetheless, at the time it must have been a disastrous blow. J. H. Colton and Company is listed as one of New York's failed companies in the postal record of 1859. It must have been this that led Colton into the arms of Alvin Jewett Johnson and Ross C. Browning. The 1859 edition of Colton's General Atlas lists Johnson and Browning as the 'Successor's to J. H. Colton' suggesting an outright buyout, but given that both companies continued to publish separately, the reality is likely more complex. Whatever the case may have been, this arrangement gave Johnson and Browning access to many of Colton's map plates and gave birth to Johnson's New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas. The Johnson's Atlas was published parallel to Colton's atlas well in to the 1880s. The Colton firm itself subsequently published several other atlases including an Atlas of America, the Illustrated Cabinet Atlas, the Octavo Atlas of the Union, and Colton's Quarto Atlas of the World. They also published a large corpus of wall maps, pocket maps, and guides. The last known publications of the Colton firm date to 1897 and include a map and a view, both issued in association with the Merchant's Association of New York. Alice M. Colton married August R. Ohman (May 3, 1859 - April 22, 1934) on January 5, 1897. In 1898, Ohman joined the Colton firm, which continued to publish as Colton, Ohman & Co. until 1901. More by this mapmaker...


Very good. Minor verso reinforcements. Some toning and wear on original fold lines.


OCLC 1051237359.