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2006 Catalog > John Disturnell, Mexico

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The Rare 1848 Disturnell Map of Mexico

“John Disturnell's map of Mexico is of historic importance because it was the first official cartographic reference consulted in negotiating the peace treaty of Feb. 2nd, 1848, which terminated the Mexican War and is commonly referred to as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The map actually became a part of the treaty and has figured prominently in settling boundary disputes.”
— Martin and Ristow, “John Disturnell’s Map of the United Mexican States”

35. John Disturnell. “Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico” (New York: J. Disturnell, 1848. Revised Edition). First 1848 edition, 14th edition of 23 of the map. Lithographed pocket map on two sheets joined as one, with excellent original full and outline hand color. Map professionally backed with archival tissue to stabilize marginal losses and several losses along old folds. 28 3/4 x 41" at neat line. Sheet: 29 3/4 x 41 3/4". With two tables and six inset plans of battlegrounds of the Mexican-American War including the new inset added in the Atlantic for this edition: "Diagram of the Battle Ground Feb 22nd and 23rd 1847." At u. r. is the emblem of the Republic of Mexico featuring an eagle with a snake in its beak. Old signature in ink below title: AD Frye [?]. Along with original 16mo folder with title and Mexican Republic emblem embossed in gilt; same signature in ink on back endpaper. Overall darkening to sheet. A very good example of this important Mexican-American War document, rare in any edition or condition.

Price: SOLD.

Considered by Walter Ristow as the latest of three maps "especially significant in the history of the United States," John Disturnell's map of the United States of Mexico, first published in 1846, reflects the important boundary established between America and Mexico after the Mexican-American war. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed February 2, 1848, and its ratification several months later officially ended the war. The treaty’s ratification signaled the shift of 500,000 square miles of territory from Mexico to the United States. In the treaty, both nations agreed, in general, to a boundary that would run from the Rio Grande to the Pacific, giving the U. S. the Mexican provinces of New Mexico and Alta California. The treaty also confirmed the claims of the former Republic of Texas, now known as the state of Texas, to the Rio Grande. The map offered here is the fourteenth or 1848 edition of Disturnell’s map and is important as the first edition of the Disturnell sequence to show the new boundary and the lands just acquired from Mexico. It is also likely the first published map in general to reflect the new status of greater Texas and Upper California.

Disturnell’s work is actually a reprint of White, Gallaher, and White’s map of 1828, which was itself a plagarism of an 1826 map by H. S. Tanner. Despite contemporary criticism by Randall B. Marcy that the map was “one of the most inaccurate of all those I have seen,” the piece gained immediate currency by its association with the famous treaty. Copies of the seventh and twelfth editions of the map were attached to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. As a result of this association, Martin and Martin note, the map “received widespread acceptance as an authority for the geography of the greater Texas region, and Disturnell issued it in twenty-three separate editions between 1846 and 1858.” Martin and Martin suggest that the various errors pointed out by Marcy—primarily concerning the locations of El Paso and the Rio Grande—actually encouraged the important government exploration and interior surveys of the following two decades. The lands in question were significant to the prospective railroad route to California and its newly discovered gold mines—a land-ownership debate that resulted in the purchase by the United States in 1854 of the Gadsden Territory. About the map’s role, William H. Goetzmann writes:

When Nicholas P. Trist composed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, he did so almost entirely in ignorance of the country through which the boundary line between the two nations would run. . . . Nevertheless, with time pressing hard upon him . . . he managed to create a version of the boundary line which satisfied Mexican negotiators. . . . The southern and western limits of New Mexico were to be those specified on J. Disturnell’s “Map of the United States . . . 1847,” a map known at the time to be inaccurate, as were all others available, but nonetheless pressed into service as an arbitrary definition of the limits of New Mexico. The use of this map and the difficulty of deciding on the true boundary of New Mexico caused the most trouble in the final negotiations between the United States and Mexico. Because of this, the explorer as boundary surveyor was called upon to exercise maximum influence on the course of American history.
The present map is a very good example of this highly desirable and important document of the Mexican-American War. Few maps in United States history have had a role as interesting as that of the Disturnell Map.

Ref.: Cohen, Mapping the West, p. 142 (1847 illus. in color); Day and Dunlap, 1028; Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire, pp. 258–259; Martin and Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, pp. 137–139, no. 38, color plate VII, p. 59, see also cover of 2nd revised edition; Martin and Ristow, "John Disturnell's Map of the United Mexican States " in A la Carte, p. 217; Schwartz and Eherenberg, Mapping of America, plate 170; Taliaferro, Cartographic Sources, no. 283; Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West, vol. III, p. 51, no. 556.

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