1850 Manuscript of 18th Century Manuscript Map of Nuevo Santander, Mexico

[Mapa de la Sierra Gorda] - Main View

1850 Manuscript of 18th Century Manuscript Map of Nuevo Santander, Mexico


A painstaking copy of a seminal map, interrupted


[Mapa de la Sierra Gorda]
  1850 (undated)     19.25 x 15 in (48.895 x 38.1 cm)     1 : 2243789


This is an anonymous, 19th century manuscript copy of an important and (in its original form) unobtainable document in the history of Colonial-era Mexico, the José de Escandón Mapa de la Sierra Gorda. This is a map of the Colonia del Nuevo Santander and its neighboring provinces, an area now encompassing the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, part of the state of Veracruz, and what is now the state of Texas as far north as San Antonio Bay. It maps the coast, the area's rivers, and labels the surrounding provinces or 'Jurisdictions.' While cities and missions are not yet named on this unfinished copy, markings corresponding to these do appear on the original map.
The 1747 Manuscript
In the first half of the 18th century, the northeastern parts of New Spain had not been heavily colonized. Alarmed by the increasing influence of the French and English in the North, Spain decided to fully conquer and colonize the borderland, appointing José de Escandón governor. As part of his proposal, Escandón had undertaken an expedition to the region and produced a map of the territory, which he proposed to name 'Nuevo Santander.' This map, drawn in or around 1747, was executed by, or on behalf of Escandón, and now resides Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain. The map - which covers northeast provinces of Nuevo Santander, Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and parts of Texas - illustrates 23 towns, Native American settlements, and a large number of missions. Its text and its map symbols would be copied faithfully in later iterations, even as they updated the map to show new settlements, and even roads.
Manuscript Reproductions
Lacking any printed versions of the map - a result of Spanish policies of cartographic secrecy - only manuscript copies of the map were produced prior to the 20th century. Such copies survive in several institutions. One - also dated 1747 but probably later (based on the settlements shown along the Rio Grande) is in the Library of Congress. We are aware of an English copy dated 1748, in the British Library; a 1756 iteration appears in the Briscoe Center at the University of Texas Austin. The New York Public Library has an example dated 1763.

For our purposes, the most important copy of the map has been preserved in a manuscript collection of historical documents entitled Monumentos para la historia de Coahuila y seno Mexicano within Archivo General de la Nación. This example has been dated to 1792. Visually, its bright colors set it apart from its predecessors; its red borders, provincial lettering, and markings for cities and missions match the color used in our, present example of the map: it is fortunate that the artist chose to start with that color, as it clearly identifies the source absent the text upon which we would otherwise rely. Also, digitized examples of the 1792 map show infilled damage to the paper affecting the text in the area of 'Jurisdicion De San Luis Potozi,' causing the loss of some text from the word 'Jurisdicion.' Our example's text preserves this omission (the relevant word reads 'J___sdicion,' matching the surviving text of the original. Sadly, it is not known when this damage to the 1792 map occurred, which interferes with our efforts to date this example.
A Tantalizing Late Example
The University of Virginia has in its collection - but alas has not digitized - an example of this map noted True copy from the original, found in the 29 vol. of the manuscript edition of the 'Monumentos para la historia de Coahuila y seno Mexicano,' 1746, R.E. Lee, Capt. Engr., City of Mex., Jan. 1848 This 1848 example - produced by then-Captain Lee in the newly-occupied Mexican capital - appears to have been produced from the same, 1792 source as ours (though absent a scan we are unable to confirm it conclusively.) That a diligent, talented officer in his prime would undertake to copy the manuscript - then more than fifty years old, and reflecting geographical and political data predating Mexican independence by more than thirty years - is equally a testament to the detail of the original and the paucity of contemporary American geographical knowledge of its neighbor and newly defeated foe.
An Interrupted Labor
The present, undated map promised to be a painstaking manuscript copy of the 1792 manuscript. In red, the border, legend boxes and lettering has been completed, including the red portions of the markings corresponding to missions, villages and Indigenous settlements. Green and brown watercolors have been applied, roughing in rivers, provincial borders, shading for mountains and shading for the native figures illustrating the map. Likewise, the color for the compass rose has been applied. Unfortunately, at some point after the completion of the black lettering for 'Sierra Gorda,' labor on this map ceased: thus the black text place names and symbols, river and mountain outlining, figure drawing, and the text in the legend boxes are all absent, barring the lone 'Tampico.' We are given no clue whether this was a copying project entirely abandoned, or whether this represented a first draft set aside for the completion of a superior finished product. We are dating this work tentatively at 1850: we are resisting the urge to place it two years earlier. Much earlier does not agree with our assessment of the paper, and yet the pronounced oxidation demonstrated by the green watercolor suggests that this work is earlier than 20th century.
Publication History and Census
This map, first executed in 1747, was never intended for print, and survived only in manuscript examples produced over the course of the 18th century and into the 19th. No print examples were produced until lithographic facsimiles were executed in the 20th century, first by the Mexican government in 1929 and later by the Texas GLO. (The facsimiles are universally luridly bright approximations of the 1792 map upon which this manuscript is also based.)


José de Escandón, conde de Sierra (May 19, 1700 - 1770) was a Spanish soldier, slaver, and the founder and first governor of the colony of Nuevo Santander, (extending from Veracruz to the Guadalupe River in Texas.) Born in Spain, Escandón arrived in New Spain in 1715. Joining the military at an early age, he fought against the English but his campaigns were predominantly against Native Americans: his wars were against the Apaches and the Pames (indeed, he was known as 'Exterminator of the Pames of Querétaron') 1732 he subdued rebelling miners at the Guanajuato silver mines, and was promoted to sergeant mayor of the regiment. In 1732 and 1733 he subdued rebels at the silver mines in Guanajuato and Irapuato. In 1734 he put down a Native American rebellion of 10,000 at San Miguel el Grande. His efforts won him a colonelcy. The War of Jenkins' Ear Brough him to Veracruz in 1742, but by the time he arrived the conflict had largely blown over. In 1749 he returned to quelling revolts of famine-stricken Indian populations. During this period, he visited the missions in the Sierra Gorda, introducing reforms in their administration, while also fighting the Tamaulipecos of Nuevo León. In order to impede the spread of French and English in the North, Spain determined that Mexico's gulf coast should be fully conquered and colonized. José de Escandón was chosen to execute these efforts, having already undertaken an expedition to the region and produced a fair map of the territory, which he proposed to name 'Nuevo Santander.' Between 1748 and 1755, he founded more than twenty settlements and many missions in the colony. As governor of the new colony, he earned infamy, garnering accusations of murdering and enslaving the indigenous population of the colony (to his great enrichment,) using Indian labor in his textile mills, and permitting the use of the port of Santander to smuggle English contraband. In spite of these horrors, he had been considered one of the great statesmen of New Spain in the eighteenth century, exercising extraordinary auctocratic power in assigning activities and crops to each settlement. A great builder, he saw the erection of a mansion and a church at Santander, a reservoir, kilns, sugar mills and flour mills. It can be assumed that were there trains, he would have made them run on time. He died a virtual unknown in 1770, his crimes having caught up with him (although he was posthumously exonerated and rehabilitated, probably in order to prevent his son's loss of title. Learn More...


Good. Several mended tears in surface of map with virtually no loss. Paper toned; hand colored river and border areas oxidized.


see mss. OCLC 191688518 (1747), 556684677 (1748), 728657139 (1763) 64667016, (1848).