Beautiful example of Nicholas Visscher’s “Novi Belgii”

Engraving, 18 ¼"h x 21 ¾"w plus margins, fine hand color (likely original color with later retouching). Very minor soiling and a bit of staining to upper-left edge and a tiny chip to upper edge, but about excellent.

A lovely example of Visscher’s important promotional map of the New Netherlands and New England, composed for the Dutch West India Company. Also sought after for its fine inset prospect of Manhattan, the earliest obtainable view of what became New York City.

Dutch interest in the region began with the formation of the Dutch East India Company, properly the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, chartered in 1602. The company sponsored expeditions to the region led by the famous English mariner, Henry Hudson. As commercial interest grew, the Dutch West India Company (Geoctrooieerde Westindische Compagnie, or GWC) was established in 1621 to manage the Atlantic trade with the Americas, with the colony of the New Netherlands established soon thereafter to exploit the North American trade in furs.

The particular background to the Visscher map, and its prototype by Joannes Janssonius (1651), was the proposed Treaty of Hartford (1650), an agreement to cede the Connecticut River region to the English. The treaty highlighted the problem faced by the Dutch colonies, at the time essentially a string of thinly-populated trading posts, confronted by the English, who were conducting an aggressive settlement policy. It seems likely that the Janssonius map, and Visscher’s after it, were issued as promotional pieces to encourage increased settlement to provide a broader foundation for the New Netherlands.

The Janssonius-Visscher map of the New Netherlands and New England
Neither Janssonius or Visscher had direct connection with the GWC, but clearly the Company allowed access to its archives in order to advance its own objectives in the region. Notably important among these sources was a manuscript map ascribed to Adriaen van der Donck, which focused on the region between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers, claimed by the Dutch as the New Netherlands. That region is the focal point of the present map.

Geographically, as might be expected, the most accurate part of the map is the Dutch region from New York up the Hudson River beyond Fort Orange (as modern-day Albany was then called) to the Mohawk River and thence westwards along the Mohawk to Otsego Lake, one of the sources of the Susquehanna River, which flows south, emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. Fort Orange (and its predecessor Fort Nassau) were the earliest Dutch settlements in the region, originally trading posts established as a hub for the lucrative trade in furs with the n.

Manhattan Island is correctly shown as an island, with the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam at the southern end clearly marked, established in 1624 and designated the provincial capital the following year. The inset view at lower left depicts the settlement’s early skyline as it existed in the early 1650s, with the Battery and warehouses along the waterfront clearly visible, a valuable snapshot of the city as a growing mercantile community. A lot of ink has been spilled speculating on the original source of the view, but it is generally thought to have been drawn in 1652, while Visscher’s version is regarded as the earliest obtainable version thereof and thus the earliest obtainable printed view of New York City.

Beyond the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys, the map relied on other sources and is rather weaker. The most visible errors are the misplacement of Lake Champlain far to the east of its correct position and the north-south compression of the country between Fort Orange and the St. Lawrence. Both likely derive from reliance on Samuel de Champlain’s mapping of the St. Lawrence River and adjacent regions.

Offered here is the fourth state of the Novi Belgii, which appeared in or around 1684 after the founding of Philadelphia. By the time this map appeared, the English had wrested the New Netherlands from the Dutch and renamed it New York, William Penn had founded Pennsylvania, and geographic knowledge of the region had advanced considerably. These developments necessitated substantial revisions to the map, including the naming of Pennsylvania and the addition of Philadelphia.

For all these important alterations, Visscher could not bring himself to acknowledge the fundamental geo-political shift represented by the English conquest of the New Netherlands: There is no mention of New York, and a vast “Nova Belgica sive Nieuw Nederlandt” continues to dwarf tiny New England.

Baynton-Williams, “Printed Maps of New England to 1780, Part II: 1670-1700,” #1655.01d (at Burden, The Mapping of North America, vol. II #315, state 4. Campbell, “The Jansson-Visscher Maps of New England,” #6 (in Tooley, The Mapping of America). Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, vol. 1 pp. 147-148 and plate 7-B (describing and illustrating the first state). Background from De Koning, “From Van der Donck to Visscher,” Mercator’s World vol. 5 no. 4 (July/August 2000), pp. 28-33.