One of the very first known maps of Texas and the Gulf Coast region was drawn by the Spanish explorer and cartographer, Alonso Álvarez de Pineda. In 1519 he led an expedition from Santiago (today's Jamaica) with the intent to map an area from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Panuco River, near present-day Tampico, Mexico. During his voyage to Mexico, he followed the Gulf coastline from Florida, stopping at a large river on June 2, 1519, where he observed over forty Native American villages. He named the river Espíritu Santo, which early historians assumed was the Mississippi but more recently is believed to have been Mobile Bay and the Alabama River. On June 24th, he stopped to explore another large bay and river, naming it Corpus Christi Bay.
When he finally arrived at the Panuco River (Las Palmas), he spent over 40 days making ship repairs and working on a map of his Gulf Coast transit. Tragically, de Pineda was killed in a battle with Huastec Indians at the Panuco River, but his map made it back to the Governor of Santiago and then to Spain. This rather crude map was important for its establishment of Spain's North American coastal boundaries, verification that Florida was a peninsula rather than an island and invalidated the belief in a sea passage to Asia through the Gulf. The original map is now stored at the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain.
During Spain's influence in southwestern North America, the French also had designs on the Gulf Coast. The Claude Bernou Carte de l'Amerique septentrionale map was the product of the explorations of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. After several expeditions from the north, down the Mississippi River, LaSalle established the first French colony in Texas with the building of a fort (Ft. St. Louis) near Arenosa Creek and Matagorda Bay in 1685. He had originally intended to locate this settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but the poor maps he had available and several navigational errors resulted in a landfall 400 miles to the west. The colony survived only three years, after it was beset by Native American raids, epidemics and extremely harsh weather. La Salle continued to lead expeditions to locate the Mississippi, but was ultimately unsuccessful. During these journeys, he explored much of the Rio Grande River area and parts of east Texas.
In 1686, when the colony's last ship was wrecked, cutting them off from resupply by the French colonies in the Caribbean, La Salle repeatedly traveled east on foot to find the French settlements along the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. His last trek for help ended along the Brazos River near Quintana in early 1687, where La Salle and five of his men were murdered during a mutiny.
As a coda for La Salle's adventures, the Spanish, upon learning of his Texas colony and fearing the threat to its own Gulf Coast claims, sent expeditions to locate and eliminate the settlement. When the Spanish finally discovered the remains of the fort in 1689, they buried the cannons and burned the buildings. Years later, they would build a presidio at the same location. In 1995, researchers uncovered La Salle's ship, the La Belle, in Matagorda Bay, with several sections of the hull remaining virtually intact. Ft. St. Louis was rediscovered in 1996, and the area is now an archaeological site. Excavations in 2000 found three of the original structures as well as graves of three French colonists.
The Dutch were some of the most talented and artistic mapmakers in the world. A 1695 map of the Gulf of Mexico called Pas Kaart van de Golff van Mexico was part of a maritime atlas and shipping guide, the Zee-Fakkel (Sea Torch), that was printed in several languages by Johannes Van Keulen. Generations of sailors used the Van Keulen's maps and guides for navigation.
Drawn by Dutch cartographer, mathematician and writer Claes Janszoon Vooght, the map is a chart of the western Gulf of Mexico based on Spanish explorations showing the early Texas coastline.
The area hand-colored pink and labeled "Mexico" is modern-day south Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
Near the notation Costa de Piscadoris (Fishermen's Coast) is the opening of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande River). On the right-hand side is Espíritu Santo, the mouth of the Mississippi River. The original map featured highlights of gold leaf on the compass rose and the mirrors held by the cherubs. This quality of work and detailing was often undertaken by Dutch mapmakers for wealthy clients of high social standing.
Thomas Jefferys was a British mapmaker based in London. He was the geographer to Frederick Price of Wales and from 1760 to King George III. He is most known today for his maps of North America and for his important place in the map trade. His map titled The Western Coast of Louisiana and The Coast of New Leon, was published in 1775, and is the only 18th century map to focus on the Texas coast. Author and map collector Henry Taliaferro notes ironically, "This map is remarkable both for its large scale and for the poor state of its geography. No previous printed map had focused so closely on the Texas coast, which makes the depiction's jumbled nature even more striking. Jefferys was the world's leading, most respected cartographer in 1775, and his ignorance of the coast's geography is testimony to the obscurity of eighteenth-century Texas."
It was also known that Jefferys relied heavily on sketches and other maps captured by the British from Spanish warships. The Quintana area is approximately located by the river mouth titled Rio Barroso. Just west is the Bay of St. Louis (present-day Matagorda Bay) near where La Salle's colony was located (now Inez, Texas). Further west and south is the Rio Grande River, known at the time by three different names: Rio Del Norte, RioBravo and Wild River.
Stephen F. Austin began bringing colonists into Texas in1823 for his settlement located inland from Quintana along the Brazos River. An 1822 map that was part of a U.S.-designed book entitled A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas featured a more accurate representation of the Texas coastline. Authored by Alexander von Humboldt, the book was printed in Philadelphia in 1822 by H.C. Carey and I. Lea. This was the first American atlas that displayed explanatory text around the map. Both the Colorado and Brazos Rivers are accurately depicted as well as Galveston Bay and Matagorda Bay, with a notation that nearby Matagorda was the location of LaSalle's settlement (but incorrectly dated 1683).
In its framing commentary it also describes something familiar to everyone who lives on the Texas Gulf Coast: "In the low plains on both coasts the heat is very oppressive, and the climate unhealthy to Europeans..." The Atlas's cover was finely bound in half leather tan paper covered boards with "American Atlas 1822" stamped in gilt along the spine.
By 1846, the lands that comprised the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas, and where Austin had built his colony, had seen tumultuous changes. Not only had the Texians won independence from Mexico in 1836, but they also formed the independent Republic of Texas and continued to skirmish with Mexico for nearly ten years before finally becoming a U.S. state on December 29th, 1845.
The map titled Map of Texas from the Most Recent Authorities displays a more mature and recognizable image of the Texas coastline, including one of the first notations of the location of the towns of Quintana and Velasco (modern-day Surfside).
The map was published by Samuel Augustus Mitchell in Philadelphia as part of an atlas, which is important in American printing history because it was the first set of maps to be converted from engraved plates to lithographic plates, greatly reducing printing cost and making the atlas widely affordable by the public.
El Camino Real in Texas, sometimes known in the 18th century as the Camino Real de Los Tejas, was not a single trail. It was a network of regional routes separately known as the Camino Pita, the Upper Presidio Road; the Lower Presidio Road, also called the Camino de en Medio; the Camino Arriba; and the San Antonio-Nacogdoches Road or Old San Antonio Road of the mid-19th century, portions of which are still marked with the designation “OSR” on Texas highway maps and road signs.