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How is Aransas County shown on historic maps?
By Pam Stranahan
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
Maps created by mariners and explorers begin to show the Texas coast as early as the 1500s. Although not very accurate, they do show some details. The European powers -Spain, France and to some degree England- were interested in establishing colonies in order to claim the “riches” they anticipated finding in the New World. Maps of the territory that would become Texas show their claims.
In 1570 when Spain controlled the territory, a map by Abraham Ortelius, shows Aransas County as “Hispanica Nova.” Ortelius was a Dutch businessman who compiled information from many sources for his popular atlases.
By 1705 Nicholas de Fer, a cartographer for the French throne, put future Aransas County near “Baye de St. Joseph.” De Fer’s work was known for its ornamentation rather than accuracy. Guillaume Delisle was geographer to Louis XIV and in 1718 his map shows the county in the territory of “Caouaches” - presumably the name for the local Native Americans. The French were eager to challenge the Spanish for the territory in North America and encouraged mapmakers to produce accurate maps.
By 1768 Alzate, a Spanish cleric, shows Aransas County in “Nuevo Santander - Provincia de los Texas.” This map was based on official Spanish sources. This was unusual because most Spanish charts were held in secret. For years cartographers created maps only from travelers’ descriptions and military records that were not very accurate.
The 1833 map by David H Burr titles the territory the “Power Grant” and shows “Copano and Aransaso (sic) Bay.” An interesting sidebar on a map relates “Land Grants: Grants are tracts of land granted by the Legislature of Cohahuila (sic) and Texas to persons of influence and respectability styled Empresarios or Undertakers, who engage to settle or locate on their Grants within the time specified thereby the required number of settlers.” James Power proposed to settle Irish Catholics and Mexican families in the area from the Nueces River to the Guadalupe River.
During the time of the Republic of Texas (1836-1845), the future Aransas County was part of Refugio County. Delegates from Refugio County to the convention to declare independence from Mexico were James Power, David Thomas, Edward Conrad and Sam Houston. After the Texas revolution, inland Refugio County was settled by farmers and the coastal area by traders.
By 1841 John Arrowsmith, a London cartographer, created a map with the seals of the Republic of Texas and the General Land Office (GLO). This map designates Copano, Live Oak Point and Lamar, all located within Refugio County. This 1841 map became known for its accuracy and was one of the most popular maps of the new republic. The Refugio County prospered after the Mexican War (1845-48). Residents favored the Confederacy and voted 91 percent in favor of secession. The coastal towns of Refugio County (Lamar and St. Mary’s) were shelled by the Union forces and federal navy patrols tried to prevent gunrunners from using the bays. After the Civil War the cattle industry grew and towns developed along the coast.
After several altercations about location of the county seat for Refugio, the state legislature voted to establish Aransas County in 1871. On an 1879 map Charles Pressler defined Aransas County and locates Rockport as the county seat. Pressler was an employee of the General Land Office. He created the first truly accurate maps because he used actual surveys.
The History Center for Aransas County at 801 E. Cedar St. will feature the exhibit “Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence,” in March. The Center is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The History Center is a venue within the Aransas Pathways project.