The Pearl of the Antilles and the Crescent City: Historic Maps of the Caribbean in the Latin American Library Map Collections

New Orleans and Havana, Cuba are tied together historically, culturally and geographically. Some of these connections are represented in maps of the region, and the Latin American Library has chosen a handful of these for display. Aside from being beautiful and fascinating documents, maps such as these can be extremely useful resources in historical and other forms of research.

The first display case contains one of the oldest maps in our collection, taken from a 17th Century Dutch atlas (A). Havana is shown, having been established on the north coast of Cuba 134 years before, in 1519. New Orleans will not appear for another 65 years, and though the coastline of North America is well mapped, the interior of the continent is mostly terra incognita to European cartographers.

The second case contains three 18th Century maps of the same region, the largest of which (D) shows the territorial claims of the competing colonial powers as of 1798. Note that Spain controls both Louisiana and Cuba at this time; in fact, much of the civil and ecclesiastical administration of colonial New Orleans was done through the Captaincy-General and the Archdiocese of Havana. The Spanish dominion of Louisiana lasted from 1763 to 1803, and strongly influenced the culture, architecture and economy of New Orleans.

The third case contains an assortment of maps from the 19th Century. Two city plans of Havana (G & H) show the development of that city over a span of 93 years. New Orleans, now under the flag of the United States, is still very much a Caribbean city, and cultural connections with Havana remain strong during this period. Prominent anti-abolitionist Southerners plot to annex the slave-holding Spanish colony of Cuba, and strongly support Cuban independence. The Cuban flag is flown for the first time in 1850, by Narciso López's forces in Cárdenas, shortly before Colton's map of Cuba (I) is published in New York. This is a strong example of cartography as political propaganda: the republican flag of Cuba is shown in full color, though Cuba will not achieve formal autonomy from Spain for another 51 years (May 20, 1902).

The final case contains maps which highlight the continuing economic relationships between New Orleans and Cuba. The reproduction of Julio Popper's 1898 map (J) shows the steamship connections between New Orleans and Havana. These ships ferried writers, musicians, and businessmen between the two cities. Investment flowed freely, as demonstrated by the two maps (K & L) produced by the New Orleans-based Bankers Loan & Securities Company to guide American investment in Cuba.

Please note that this exhibit represents only a small sample of the maps in the Latin American Library map collections. The overall map collections include approximately 3,000 individual maps; with Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Peru, and Brazil strongly represented. The maps are catalogued in a ProCite map database which is available for use in the Latin American Library office.

A Plan of the City and Harbour of Havanna,
Capital of the Island of Cuba.
[London: for R. Baldwin, 1762.]

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Last updated: January 21, 1999