The first large-scale mapping of any part of Dallas, Texas

Gravé par Delamare, R. St. André des Arts, 45, PLAN DES TERRES Appartenant à la Société de Colonisation Européo-Américaine dans le Comté de Dallas TEXAS[.] Paris: Imp. Lemercier, R. de Seine 57, [1858].
Lithograph, 18 ¾”h x 22 ¾”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Minor wear and creasing along old folds, short edge tear at left.

A foundational document in the early history of Dallas, Texas, being the first large-scale mapping of any part of the modern city and recording considerable information about early land ownership and topography. Extremely rare, with no examples found in Texas.

This map depicts extensive settlement west of the Trinity River, including dozens of named parcels and structures, with particular focus on the landholdings of Victor Prosper Considerant’s European Society for the Colonization of Texas and its Réunion Colony, a failed-but-fascinating attempt at bringing settlers from France to the middle of Texas. This map predates by almost two decades the first proper map of the city of Dallas, the Butterfield and Rundlett, of 1875, known in one example at Southern Methodist University.

Victor Prosper Considerant and the Réunion Colony
By the middle of the 19th century France had a long, bleak record of colonization attempts in Texas. La Salle’s disastrous 1685 settlement at Matagorda Bay, was followed in the 18th century by failed attempts to establish trading routes and posts in the 18th century, Jean Laffite’s short-lived “republic” at Galveston (1818-20), and the even shorter-lived Champ d’Asile settlement by Napoleonic refugees on the Trinity River (1818).

The mid-1850s saw yet another colonization attempt, this time from the other end of the ideological spectrum. The mastermind was Victor Prosper Considerant (1808-1893), who after a short stint in the French Army became “one of the leading democratic socialist figures in France during the Revolutionary period of 1830 to 1850” and “the international leader of the Fourierist movement”. Considerant “deviated from pure Fourierism and came to advocate republican political activism, direct democracy, and the voluntary association of capital and labor in various types of cooperatives, rather than rigid communalism” (Handbook of Texas).

Exiled from France for his activities during the Revolution of 1848, Considerant traveled extensively in Texas during an 1852-53 visit to the United States. He came to advocate the establishment of a colony there and to promote his vision published Au Texas (Paris, 1854) and The Great West (New York 1854). More to the point, he founded the European Society for the Colonization of Texas, which purchased 2240 acres on the south bank of the Trinity River then perhaps three or four miles west of Dallas, to be the site of the Réunion Colony (The Society also acquired other parcels in the region totaling more than 9000 acres.) The Colony was “to be a loosely structured experimental commune administered by a system of direct democracy. The participants would share in the profits according to a formula based on the amount of capital investment and the quantity and quality of labor performed.” (Handbook of Texas)

Say what you will about the man, but Considerant moved quickly, if not wisely. The first settlers arrived at Réunion on June 16, 1855, and at is peak the Colony had perhaps 350 inhabitants. Unfortunately, the European Society for the Colonization of Texas was badly undercapitalized (I can only assume that potential investors had tired of Texas colonization schemes, or perhaps of Considerant’s politics). It had also wasted its limited funds acquiring large parcels of land miles away from the Colony site on the south bank of the Trinity River. Further, the settlers seem to have been drawn from the urban middle class and lacked the necessary agricultural skills (I found reference to at least one watchmaker being on hand); were battered by summer drought, winter cold, and rising prices; and grappled with both internal dissension and local opposition.

Already by January 28, 1857 it was announced that the Colony was dissolved, and by 1860 most of the settlers had abandoned the settlement. The site was overtaken by the urban growth of Dallas, “and no evidence of the communal experiment remains except a small cemetery near Fishtrap Road and a commerative marker in Reverchon Park, Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas, and well as other frequent use of the name Réunion” (Handbook of Texas)

The map
The map delineates land ownership within a roughly nine-by-twelve-mile area just west of the new city of Dallas, which had been settled in 1841 and chartered in 1856, and at the time had a population of perhaps 1000.

The area is shown divided into parcels, mostly 1-mile square sections or fractions thereof, a pattern reflecting the recent surveys of the Texas General Land Office. The owners of most parcels are identified by name, and herein resides much of the map’s value for the early history of Dallas. For example, just west of the Trinity is “Crockett”, almost certainly the homestead of John McClannahan Crockett the second mayor of Dallas and later a Lieutenant Governor of Texas. “Moulins” or windmills are scattered around the area, including one that was in construction as the map was being drawn. Roads from Fort Worth, Birdville, Mountain Creek, Cedar Spring, Preston, and Lancaster, Houston, and Austin are all labeled. A particularly intriguing parcel several miles west of Dallas is labeled “Establissement de Bains Sulfureux” or Sulfur Baths Establishment. The study of the early history of Dallas could be substantially aided by the georeferencing of this map in a modern GIS system and thereby tracing the locations of many of these lost plots and buildings.

The map was clearly issued to promote the lands owned by the European Society for the Colonization of Texas, and thus it also has great value as a unique document of that short-lived endeavor. Shaded gray are the Society’s holdings, consisting of numerous parcels totaling 11,450 acres, of which 2240 acres are already owned by individual “proprietors” with another 9210 are reserved for sale, to be acquired “by certificates”. Of particular note is the 225-acre area reserved for the City of Réunion, overlapping Parcels 3 and 4 three miles directly west of Dallas.

A Legend at lower right enumerates and describes the Society’s holdings. The first part list parcels already purchased by proprietors and the dimensions of each. Below and to the left of this the second part of the table lists the parcels available for sale and describes their dimensions and physical characteristics; Parcel 58, for instance, consists of 3119 acres of “post-oak wood and good meadow. Low meadow, pond and bottom woods. Cattle raising”.

At lower left is a “Plan of Building Lots and Gardens in Réunion”, showing in considerable detail the City of Réunion. The extent to which this plan corresponded with the reality of the Colony is not clear.

The map is undated, presenting a bit of a puzzle. Internal evidence suggests a date of 1854-56, during which time the Society was promoting La Réunion most heavily, and certainly no later than the Colony’s dissolution in 1857. However, more than one contemporary publication decisively dates it to 1858, suggesting perhaps that the Society was endeavoring to obtain new investment and/or entice another round of settlers to revive the failing Colony (See Courrier de la Librairie, July 17, 1859, p. 653)

The map is extraordinarily rare. I have been able to locate only two institutional holdings, neither of which in Texas, and find no other record of its having appeared on the antiquarian market.

In all, a extremely rare and interesting piece of Texana, tying together themes of European colonization of America, post-statehood immigration and development, and a case study in the (im)practical application of utopian-socialist theory.

As of October 2021, OCLC 494968309 (Bibliotheque nationale) and 1035275844 (Harvard). Background from “La Réunion” and “Considerant, Victor Prosper (1808-1893)” in the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas. Not in Eberstadt, Sabin, or Streeter, and a search of the late Dorothy Sloan web site yields no mention of the map.