All Over the Map: Central America (Including Texas, California and Northern Mexico), Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1846

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Nearly five years after the arrival in Mexican Alta California of the Workman family from New Mexico, the American invasion of Mexico, our nation’s first war of conquest, was concocted by the Polk Administration.  Los Angeles was seized in September, retaken by Californios in a spirited revolt, and then reconquered by American forces in early January 1847 with William Workman playing an important role in those several months.

Meanwhile, in England, the brilliantly named Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge issued one of the last of a series of over 200 maps called “Central America II including Texas, California and the Northern States of Mexico.”  The Homestead has an original printing of this map, which shows the part of the Americas being rent asunder by the Mexican-American War.

The map contains a great many items of interest, including a clearly delineated boundary line between the recently annexed and formerly independent Republic of Texas and “Nueva, or Upper, California,” which is everything west of that line.

The question of the line is important, because when the Republic of Texas claimed that the Rio Grande was its natural western boundary this caused great consternation in New Mexico for many reasons.   One was the fact that the principal towns, including Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, in that Mexican department (that was the official term) were on the Texas side of the line.

In fact, William G. Dryden, a Kentucky native who had some influence with Texas’ president Mirabeau Lamar, proposed a commission of residents of New Mexico to help spread the word about the boundary preparatory to an “expedition” [read: armed force] of Texans coming to New Mexico.  Two of the three men suggested were John Rowland and William Workman.

This 1846 map from the Homestead’s collection of “Central America Including Texas, California and the Northern States of Mexico” was published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, established in England in 1826.

It is not known whether Rowland and Workman were aware of their nomination or if they were willing to support the scheme, but, when a new commission was created early in 1841, they were not on the roster.  Incidentally, Dryden turned up in Los Angeles in 1850 and renewed his connections with Rowland and Workman.  He became a lawyer for them in land claims cases and served as a highly colorful county judge until his death in 1868.

Meanwhile, the so-called Texas-Santa Fe Expedition headed out later that year and this whole issue undoubtedly was the prime motivation for Rowland, Workman and others to leave for Alta California, which was considered a safer alternative.  That, as noted above, was true for five years!

As to what constituted “Nueva California” in the minds of the British map-makers, this became a major dispute after the American conquest was completed early in 1847 and for a few years afterward.

There were many in California, including new arrivals caught up in the furor of the Gold Rush, which erupted just as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the war was ratified and signed, who wanted the eastern boundary as far east as possible!

Others, who wanted to ponder what would and could be done with the Great Basin (listed here as “Great Interior Basin of California”–now Nevada and Utah) areas between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain chains, were recommending something more modest in size for California.  Besides, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 establishing a pattern for admitting alternating free and slave states into the Union posed some issues for the newly conquered territory.

A detail of the map focusing on “Nueva, or Upper, California,” with its boundaries extending through modern Nevada, Utah, Arizona and portions of New Mexico.  With the American conquest of these areas of northern Mexico completed just after the publication of the map, boundaries were changed dramatically later!

Returning to notable aspects of the map, another applies to the migration of the so-called Rowland and Workman Expedition from New Mexico to California, specifically the identified route of what is referred to as “The Great Spanish Track,” actually the Old Spanish Trail.

The route, now a National Historic Trail of the National Park Service, avoided the Grand Canyon and the Apaches and other Indian tribes, by heading from Santa Fe northwest into what became central Utah and then moving northwest through the deserts, including a stop at a watering hole called Las Vegas, and then into greater Los Angeles through Cajon Pass.

Other curiosities includes the listing of the “Moquis” Indians, who “have Comfortable houses,” in distinction to other natives who, presumably, lived in discomfort!  Towards the bottom along the Gila River, which was a firm boundary line, though that international border had to be worked out differently later, is “Las Casas Grandes / Aztec Ruins (Garces 1773),” a reference to a myth that native ruins were from the Aztecs of central Mexico rather than local tribes.

Incidentally, William Workman was on a fur-trapping expedition in 1827 that went from Taos south to the Gila and then west to the Colorado, the modern border of California and Arizona.  While Workman and others returned to New Mexico, a portion of the group ventured to southern California and greater Los Angeles.

A route is shown on the map from the Colorado south of the Gila confluence up to this region through “Temecola” or Temecula and Temascal, near modern Corona. As to local place names, there is San Pedro, San Fernando and “Pueblo de los Angelos.”

003 (2)
Another detail taking in southern California shows the route of the “Great Spanish Track,” or Old Spanish Trail, used by the Workman family to migrate from New Mexico to this area about five years prior to the map’s publication.  The route ends at “Pueblo de los Angelos.”

As to the Society for the Diffusion of Local Knowledge, it has another connection to the Workman family back in England.  The organization was founded in London in 1826 with purpose of “imparting of useful information to all classes of the community, particularly to such as are unable to avail themselves of experienced teachers, or may prefer learning by themselves.”  A particular interest was to provide educational materials for middle and working class Britons.

With this in mind, the Society launched a program of publishing books, maps, a magazine and other items at low cost, due to recent advances in printing, for those who didn’t have formal education, which meant the majority of citizens in Britain.

One of the most popular products of the SDUK’s work was the Penny Magazine, launched in 1832 and which counted 200,000 readers at its peak.  The maps, too, proved to be quite successful with some 3 million sold.  The organization, however, declined rapidly by the 1840s and was discontinued the year this map was issued in 1846.

The SDUK’s father figure was Henry Brougham (1778-1868), who was raised mainly in Edinburgh, Scotland, but whose family had a large estate in Westmorland (now Cumbria) County in northern England just below Scotland.  In fact, Brougham Hall, the manor house which passed out of family hands in the 1930s and now run by a charitable trust, is only about seven miles from William Workman’s birthplace in Temple Sowerby and less than two miles from Clifton, where Workman spent most of his early years until he left for America in 1822 to join his brother David.

An attorney and member of Parliament, Brougham became a baron and then ascended to be Lord Chancellor from 1830 to 1834.   During his tenure, a major Reform Act was passed as was the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, but his removal ended his holding of offices, though he remained a peer in the House of Lords for over three decades and submitted several bills for state-funded public education, which were all denied.

A founder of the Edinburgh Review, and what is now University College, London, Brougham was also the designer of the carriage style that bore his name and helped make his last home, Cannes, France, a popular destination for tourism and health seeking, though it is now best known for its famed film festival.

Leave a Reply