The earliest obtainable state 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 scarce second state of Visschder’s map, ca. 1656, with the addition of Fort Casimir (‘t Fort Kasimier) just above the entrance to the Delaware River, following its recapture from the Swedish in 1655.
Nicolaas Visscher the elder (Nicolaas Jansz.) (1618-1679)
The map was published separately by Nicolaas Jansz. Visscher (1618-1679), the second of three generations of his family working in the Dutch map trade, as engravers, mapmakers and publishers. The firm never attained the commercial heights of the Hondius-Janssonius and Blaeu behemoths, but its output of wall-maps, separately published maps, particularly cartes-à-figures and news maps, is no way inferior. It was really only with the decline of the rival Hondius-Janssonius and Blaeu firms that the Visschers began to focus on atlas publishing.
The Visscher map was first published as a separate in 1655-1656. The first printing is very rare, with Burden recording but three locations of that state. It was soon superceded by the second state offered here, also separately published. It was reissued in 1684 by Visscher’s son Nicolaas II, and Peter Schenck issued a final state, from the same plate, in or around 1729. The map’s importance was such that dozens of other variants in the so-called “Janssonius-Visscher” series were issued over the course of a century, by the firms of Ottens, Seutter and others. There was even a London edition by John Speed, tweaked to celebrate the 1674 English conquest of the New Netherlands and published in 1676.
Burden, Mapping Of North America, #315 (state 2). Campbell, “The Janssonius-Visscher Maps of New England,” #5 (in Tooley, The Mapping of America). Deak, Picturing America, #042 (ill.) McCorkle, New England In Early Printed Maps, #655.1 (ill.) Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, vol. 1 pp. 147-148 and plate 7-B (state 1). Background from De Koning, “From Van der Donck to Visscher,” Mercator’s World vol. 5 no. 4 (July/August 2000), pp. 28-33.