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Texas Before the Compromise of 1850

Nice example of the early map Texas, issued in Samuel Augustus Mitchell's Universal Atlas.

The map is noteworthy for among other things its removal of the so-called "Judicial Counties" (see below), which had appeared in the Tanner-Mitchell sequence of Texas maps up to 1846.

While a number of counties are shown in the east, the Western part of the Republic is still dominated by Bexar, Milam, and Robertson County, with a massive San Patricio County in the south.  Fort Alamo is shown, along with a few dozen other place names. About 15 early roads are shown.

The map includes a large inset map of Texas north of the Red River.  

Dating the Map

Curiously, this map retains the date of 1847, although the counties have not been updated from 1846.

The map includes Fannin County, established March 13, 1846.  Curiously, the Fannin Land District is not shown.  Created on March 14, 1846. Fannin Land District was eliminated and became part of Cooke Land District and Denton Land District when those districts were reorganized and expanded on February 13, 1854.

The map does NOT show Leon County or Grayson County, which were formed 3 days after Fannin County, on March 16, 1846, nor do they show the group of counties formed on March 23, 1846 (Comal County, De Witt County, Anderson County, Burleson County).

The Texas Compromise of 1850: Balancing Power and Territory in Antebellum America

The mid-19th century in the United States was marked by tensions and conflicts surrounding the institution of slavery. As the nation expanded westward, the debate over whether new territories should permit slavery intensified, leading to several legislative attempts to maintain a fragile peace between the North and the South. Among these was the Compromise of 1850, of which the Texas Compromise was a critical component.

The roots of the Texas Compromise lay in the annexation of Texas into the United States in 1845. Texas, which had been an independent republic, entered the Union as a slave state, causing considerable alarm in the North. Further complicating matters, Texas claimed a substantial portion of present-day New Mexico, which had been acquired by the U.S. following the Mexican-American War in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Texas's claim threatened the delicate balance between free and slave states in the Senate, and it also raised the contentious issue of slavery's status in the new territories.

The Texas Compromise emerged as part of a broader package of bills known as the Compromise of 1850, shepherded through Congress by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay and supported by other prominent legislators like Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. The main provisions of the Texas Compromise involved:

  1. Boundary Resolution: Texas would relinquish its claims on parts of present-day New Mexico. In return, the U.S. government would assume Texas's public debt, which amounted to $10 million.

  2. Slavery in New Territories: While the Compromise of 1850 allowed for California's admission as a free state, other territories like Utah and New Mexico would decide the issue of slavery through popular sovereignty, a principle which allowed settlers in a territory to determine whether to allow slavery.

  3. Preservation of Slavery: While the slave trade would be abolished in Washington, D.C., slavery itself would remain legal.

The Texas Compromise, like the broader Compromise of 1850, was an attempt to put off an inevitable confrontation over slavery. While it succeeded in preventing immediate secession and potential conflict, it was only a temporary solution. The principle of popular sovereignty, particularly, would soon lead to violent clashes in places like Kansas, earning it the moniker "Bleeding Kansas." 

Judicial Counties

The present map no longer shows the Judicial counties, which had appeared in earlier states of the map. These included Burleson, Burnet, DeWitt, Guadalupe, Hamilton, La Baca, Madison, Menard, Neches, Panola, Paschal, Smith, Spring Creek, Trinity, Ward, and Waco.

During the early years of the Republic of Texas (1836-1845), the Congress of the Republic felt the need for a new type of subdivision. These "judicial counties" were created for judicial and electoral purposes but lacked the full functions of the typical counties, which had administrative and local government powers. In essence, these judicial counties were intended to serve areas not yet formally organized into standard counties, making it easier for residents in those areas to access courts without having to travel long distances.

However, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 1842 that these judicial counties were unconstitutional. This decision resulted in the abolition of judicial counties.

Samuel Augustus Mitchell Biography

For over fifty years, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, his son, and his successors some of the most prominent publishers of maps and atlases in the United States. Samuel Augustus Mitchell Sr. was born in Bristol, Connecticut on March 20, 1792. His father had emigrated from Scotland in 1773. While little is known about his early schooling, it is known that Mitchell found the quality of early geography text books to be lacking, and determined that he would write and publish better works. This decision led him to relocate to Philadelphia in 1829 or 1830, which was then the center of commercial publishing in America.

Mitchell’s first cartographic work was the re-issue of Anthony Finley’s New American Atlas in 1831, a work first issued by Finley in 1826, in response to Henry Schenk Tanner’s monumental work of the same title, issued in serial format from 1818 to 1822 and as a complete work from 1823 onward. While the map content in Mitchell’s edition of the New American Atlas is the same as Finley’s edition, each map has been significantly improved and revised, primarily with the addition of new towns and roads. This is especially true in the south and west. Finley had originally collaborated with D.H. Vance and J.H. Young in the preparation of the maps, although Vance’s name is removed from the Mitchell edition. Mitchell continued to work with Young, an association which would continue for several decades.

Following publication of the New American Atlas, Mitchell began issuing the individual maps in pocket map format. From 1834, Mitchell began offering reduced sized Tourist Pocket Maps of a number of states in the United States. J.H. Young and D. Haines are listed as the engravers on these maps. In 1832, Mitchell offered the first edition of his Travellers Guide Through the United States, A Map of the Roads, Distances, Steam Boat & Canal Routes &c. By J.H. Young . . ., which would become one of his most popular and enduring works. The map of the United States was done by steel engraving, one of the earliest uses of the technique in map publishing in America. In the same year, the first edition of Mitchell’s Map of the United States, by J.H. Young was issued, bearing the copyright date of October 10, 1831. This map would be revised and issued until 1844. Young also compiled A New Map of the United States in 1833. These two wall maps would come to dominate the market and their success led to several later US wall maps issued by Mitchell. This second map was also issued under the title of Mitchell’s Reference and Distance Map of the United States, which was printed until 1851. 

Mitchell was neither a cartographer nor an engraver. His primary function was as the editor and business manager of his publishing company, with Young working as the primary maker of maps. Beginning in 1839, Mitchell also began publication of his school atlas. This work and variant editions for older and younger students, was issued by Mitchell and his successors from 1839 to 1886. In 1845, Mitchell acquired the rights to Henry Schenk Tanner’s New Universal Atlas from Carey & Hart, which had previously acquired the copyright from Tanner and had published editions of 1843 and 1844. Mitchell changed many of the maps and issued two editions of the atlas in 1846. He changed the copperplates to lithography, utilizing Peter S. Duval in Philadelphia to produce the stones. Mitchell re-issued the atlas at least annually until 1850, when he sold the rights to the work to Thomas, Cowperthwait & Company. 

In 1860, Mitchell’s son, Samuel Augustus Mitchell Jr. began issuing Mitchell’s New General Atlas. While his father had continued to issue wall maps and other works, this appears to be his son’s first entry into the trade. The New General Atlas was issued by SA Mitchell Jr. until 1887. From 1880 to 1887, Bradley & Company also published the atlas. Various other minor publishers, including A.R. Keller, produced editions as late as 1894. The elder Mitchell died in 1868. Samuel Jr. continued the business until the 1890s. At its height, the Mitchell Company employed 250 people and sold 400,000 publications annually.