An early view of New York City, based on an earlier, unobtainable work by William Burgis

[After William Burgis], The South Prospect of the City of New York in America. [London: R. Baldwin, August 1761].
Engraving and etching, 6 1/8”h x 20 ½”w plus margins, uncolored. Expert reinforcement to folds, trimmed close to neat line at left, very good overall.
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A most appealing 1761 view of New York City as seen looking west from Brooklyn Heights, capturing both the splendid natural setting and commercial energy of what at the time was really just a small town of around 14,000.

The view depicts perhaps a couple of miles of the city’s East River waterfront, from the very southern tip of Manhattan Island to the fine country houses at the far northern edge of settlement… a visual reminder of just how little of Manhattan was actually settled in the 18th century. From left to right, some of the more prominent features include Fort George, The Great Dock and its mole, Trinity Church, and the shipyard. The river is crowded with naval and commercial vessels, and at far right in the near ground the facilities of the Long Island ferry are visible.

This view appeared in the London Magazine for August 1761, while the French and Indian War was still raging and curiosity about Britain’s American colonies remained high. The image was accompanied by a one-page article (not present here), which begins

“The city of New York, capital of the province of that name, in North America, having made a great figure in the present war in America, and being so considerable for its commerce, &c. we thought the annexed beautiful SOUTH PROSPECT thereof, would be very agreeable to our readers.”

The article describes the city’s geography, Fort George and other public buildings, and the city government. A list of “References” at the end identifies the 22 numbered locations on the view as follows:

  1. The Fort [i.e., Fort George]
  2. The Chapel, in the Fort
  3. The Secretary’s Office
  4. The Great Dock with a Bridge over it
  5. The Ruins of Whitehall, built by Governor Duncan [i.e., Dongan]
  6. Part of Nutten [i.e., Governor’s] Island
  7. Part of Long Island
  8. The Lower Market
  9. The Crane
  10. The Great Flesh-Market
  11. The Dutch Church
  12. The English Church
  13. The City Hall
  14. The Exchange
  15. The French Church
  16. Upper Market
  17. The Station Ship
  18. The Wharf
  19. The Wharf for building Ships
  20. The Ferry-House, on Long Island Side
  21. A Pen for Cattle, designed for the Market
  22. Colonel Morris’s Fancy, turning to windward, with a Sloop of common mould

There are three known variants of the view. There is another, earlier[?] variant from the same plate as ours,[2] lacking only the “Engrav’d for the London Magazine 1761” imprint at the top. The third variant adds the word “North” to “America” in the title, adds more figures to the sailing vessels in the harbor, has numerous other minor differences, and is clearly from an entirely different plate. It is not which plate has priority, but it may be that the first wore from heavy use and required replacement.

This view is based on Thomas Bakewell’s 1746 reissue of A South Prospect of Ye Flourishing City of New York, originally drawn by William Burgis in 1717 and published in or around 1719. Bakewell had purchased the plates after engraver John Harris’ death in 1739, added a few buildings and a new dedication, and published it under his own name. One a handful of examples of either issue are known to exist today.

A scarce, attractive and informative image of 18th-century New York City.

References
Stokes, American Historical Prints, #1746 B-55. Weitenkampf, The Eno Collection of New York City Views, #18. Snyder, City of Independence, p. 57.