A month ago I visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the south Texas Coast, the wintering grounds of the last wild flock of whooping cranes. The great white birds can be seen feeding in the vast marshes of the refuge, and also foraging in pastures and agricultural fields in nearby communities such as Lamar. In 1858, there were probably a lot more of them. That was the year when James W. Byrne, a native of Ireland and a veteran of the Texas Revolution, sent this map of the area to the Hartford gun manufacturer Samuel Colt, urging him to establish a gun factory in Lamar. Colt was evidently interested, and he acquired several large parcels of land. The last transaction between the two men took place on April 2, 1861, barely ten days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Colt died in 1862 without ever visiting Texas. Byrne died in 1865. It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened, if the factory had been built. Today Lamar is a sleepy little town catering to hunters and fishermen and birdwatchers, but the captain of the boat that took me out to see the cranes knew all about Sam Colt.
In 2011-2012, with support from Connecticut Humanities, the Connecticut Historical Society digitized more than 800 historic maps from its collections. To see more maps, explore our online catalog.