Urrutia y de las Casas, Joseph Ramón de (1739–1803)

By: Jack Jackson

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: August 11, 2020

Joseph Ramón de Urrutia y de las Casas, cartographer, was born in Casa de la Mella, Vizcaya, Spain, on November 16, 1739. He became a cadet in the infantry regiment of Murcia in 1755 and studied at the Military Academy of Mathematics in Barcelona. By the time he volunteered for service in New Spain in 1764, he was a second lieutenant in the regiment of Guadalajara and a member of the elite Royal Regiment of America. Upon his arrival Urrutia was stationed at Veracruz, until he was selected by Viceroy Joaquín de Montserrat, Marqués de Cruillas to accompany the inspection of the Marqués de Rubí as a cartographer. He was promoted to first lieutenant on July 8, 1767, while on the northern frontier with Rubí and his engineer, Nicolás de Lafora. Although Lafora is often credited with authorship of the inspection's general map, Rubí observed that Lafora's 1771 copy was "reduced in minute detail from the one which the Captain of Infantry Don Joseph de Urrutia had made previously." In addition to this general map, Urrutia drew twenty-two plans of various presidios and towns visited on the 1766–68 inspection. His originals have survived in the British Library, further proof that Urrutia's role in the mapping of the northern frontier was as significant as Lafora's and perhaps more so.

Between 1768 and 1770 Urrutia labored on various engineering projects around Mexico City and then went with the Royal Regiment to the Canary Islands for more surveying work. He solicited a position as assistant to the commandant inspector in November 1772 (after the adoption of the New Regulations for Presidios), but it seems that he never returned to America. Instead, he taught mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Ávila and rapidly rose in the king's service. He fought in the blockades of Gibraltar in 1779 and 1782 and the conquest of Minorca in 1782. Carlos III and his successor sent him to various European courts to observe how other nations solved their engineering problems. On one such assignment he took part in the Russo-Turkish War in 1787–91 and received from Potemkin the Military Cross of Saint George and the Sword of Merit. Upon his return to Spain he was made a field marshal, and by 1795 he was named captain-general of the armies of Spain. Upon becoming engineer-general and a member of the king's Supreme Council of War in 1797, Urrutia undertook to reform the royal engineering corps. His ideas culminated in the 1802 formation of the Regiment of Sappers and Miners and the 1803 adoption of an ordinance for the entire corps. He was awarded the distinguished Order of Calatrava del Campo de Almodóvar in 1800 and died in Madrid on March 1, 1803. A full-length portrait of Urrutia by Francisco Goya is conserved in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. It is interesting to note that the American Southwest served as the training ground for this illustrious career, launched when Urrutia was in his late twenties. Sadly, his contribution to the "Lafora" map has gone unrecognized, but extant copies fully confirm Rubí's statement that Urrutia drew the early stages of the map. See also SPANISH MAPPING OF TEXAS.

Mariano Alonso Baquer, Expedición General Urrutia (1990).

  • Exploration
  • Explorers (Spanish)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jack Jackson, “Urrutia y de las Casas, Joseph Ramón de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/urrutia-y-de-las-casas-joseph-ramon-de.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996
August 11, 2020