On February 15, 2018, UNT Libraries celebrated the one-millionth item uploaded to The Portal to Texas History with the addition of a Dutch map of the Gulf of Mexico dating from 1680.
The map, officially titled De Cust van Westindien van La Desconoscida tot C. Escondido, illustrates a stretch of coastline spanning from a point labeled “La Desconoscida” in the south to “Ciudad Escondido” in the north. Between these two points, a large bay, “Bahia dal Spierito Santo” is shown as the major geographical landmark.
The exact locations of the places referenced on the map are debated amongst cartographic scholars, although most believe the coastline in the map references locations between the Sabine River and Veracruz, Mexico. Although there are over 60 place names included on the 1680 map, many do not correspond to any known geographical location. European maps of the North American continent during the 17th century relied on questionable information from a variety of sources. Language barriers and legibility of writing on manuscripts further contributed to the corruption of various place names over time.
The 1680 map was originally published as part of a complete North American sea atlas. The mapmaker, Arent Roggeveen, was a land surveyor, mathematician, and teacher of navigation. Born in the Netherlands, he lived in Middelburg, the home to the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company. Roggeveen’s sea atlas, which included a series of maps of the North American coast, was a major landmark in cartography of the period.
The sources for this map were likely Spanish maps, sourced from the East and West India companies, which still hold many Spanish maps of this period in their archive today.
Roggeveen originally published the map in 1675. The map was printed in Amsterdam, from engraving plates created by the leading maritime engraver of the time, Pieter Goos. The outline of the map is hand colored. The paper in use at the time was high quality cotton fiber paper, which is known to last hundreds of years without appreciable fading or deterioration.
After Roggeveen’s death his publisher purchased the plates, added his name to the title, and reissued the map in 1680. That is the year in which this particular map was printed.
The 1680 map is extremely rare. Most maps produced during this period were on a much larger scale, and the relatively small size (40 x 50 cm) of this map indicates that it was made to be used as a working sea chart aboard a ship. The vast majority of maps this size were destroyed by use or discarded when new versions were obtained.
De Cust van Westindien van La Desconoscida tot C. Escondido is housed in the UNT Special Collections department and is currently on display now through May 4, 2018, in the Sarah T. Hughes Reading Room as part of the spring exhibit Destination: Special Collections.