“A seminal map of New York City” (Cohen & Taliaferro), produced by Great Britain’s most important military engineers working under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
John Montresor (1736-99) was a British military engineer with a long, varied and almost unbelievably accomplished career in the American Colonies, beginning with service during the French and Indian War and not concluding until 1778, by which time he was Chief Engineer in North America. In the mid-1760s he was based in New York City as a senior engineer reporting to General Gage, Commander in Chief of British forces in North America. In December 1765, during the upheavals accompanying the Stamp Act, Gage ordered him to “Sketch him a Plan of this Place on a large Scale with its environs and adjacent country.” (Montresor, Journals, p. 342) Montresor promptly complied, though in the toxic environment he was compelled to work “Sub Rosa as observations might endanger ones house and effects if not ones life.” (p. 345) Despite the difficulties, he was able to present a fair copy to Gage in February of the following year. Later returned to England for several months leave, during which time he oversaw the engraving of this and other maps by P. Andrews at the firm of Mary Ann Rocque (p. 392). The map was issued separately no earlier than mid-1767 and in copies of Jefferys’ General Topography of North America in 1768.
Montresor was a deeply flawed character, and his arrogance, xenophobia, entitlement and apparently boundless capacity for resentment leap from the pages of his Journals. Nevertheless he deserves to be remembered and greatly admired for his immense talent, energy and contributions to the British conquest and mapping of North America, among them his Plan of the City of New York. This is the first large-scale map of Manhattan extending beyond Collect Pond as far north as Greenwich Village and the first to convey a sense of the island’s rather rolling, even hilly topography prior to later development. To achieve the latter Montresor used a variety of styles of shading and hachuring to differentiate built-up areas, areas of elevation, wetlands, woodlands, fields &c. A table of References at the bottom identifies particular points of interest, including Fort George, the Battery and other military facilities at the southern tip of the island; 14 religious establishments representing more than 10 denominations, including “the “Jews Synagogue” near Broad Street (with their “burying ground” well north at the apex of Bowery and Love Lanes); and King’s “Collegde” (now Columbia). North of town several new blocks are laid out in the Bowery, field boundaries are indicated, and much attention is given to the fine country manors of the De Lancey, Rutgers and other leading families north of the city, with their geometrically-arranged formal gardens clearly visible.
At lower left a long note summarizes the history and geographical position of the city, along with more extensive observations about the layout and inadequacies of Fort George and the Battery, the latter of which “is in a ruinous situation, & was constructed at an Enormous Expence, & seems to have been intended for Profit & Form then [sic] Defence.” At upper left an inset chart shows New York Bay and Harbor from Manhattan to Sandy Hook. In broad outline the geography and style closely resemble earlier charts (Consider for example the “Navysink” Highlands, crudely rendered in an archaic style out of character for Montresor.) However, closer inspection shows numerous differences in place names, soundings &c, probably reflecting Montresor’s own work (In September 1766 he had been ordered to survey “the Islands in the Harbour together with Red Hook,” and later that month he delivered his “General plan of the Harbor” to Gage along with the plan of the city.)
For all the map’s merits, Augustyn and Cohen rightly point out that it has significant flaws, including imprecision in the street plan, lack of detail in the settled areas, and the omission of docks on the East River. These were likely the result of the very difficult circumstances under which Montresor was working rather than any inattention to duty on his part.
Offered here is an impression of the second state of the map, which appeared in 1775 or 1776 and differs only minimally from the first state of 1766. The imprint of Andrew Dury is added, and there is additional hydrographic information in the inset. Dury also altered date of survey in the title cartouche from 1766 to 1775, disingenuously disguising the fact that the map had been drawn a decade earlier.
Augustyn & Cohen, Manhattan in Maps, pp. 70-72 (1st state). Cohen & Taliaferro, Catalog Two, #18 (1st state). Cumming, “The Montresor-Ratzer-Sauthier Sequence of Maps of New York City, 1766-1776,” in Imago Mundi, no. 31, pp. 55-56. Haskell, Manhattan Maps, #307. Phillips, Maps of America, p. 525. Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #1105. Stokes, Iconography, vol. I pl. 40 and pp. 339-340. Quotes from Montresor’s Journals are from the New York Historical Society edition of 1882.
Several expertly-repaired marginal chips and tears, some of the latter extending into image and one a long horizontal tear just inside upper neatline. Upper-right corner and small area of decorative border reinstated in skillful facsimile. Lined with tissue on verso. Withal, a clean, attractive appearance, the faults visible only on closer inspection.