Mitchill’s “The Picture of New-York”, with a fascinating map of the city

16mo (3 ½” x 6”). viii,223pp plus folding engraved map (12 ¼”h x 12 ¾”w, uncolored). Later brown calf, printed spine label. Text with a few spots of foxing, map trimmed close and backed with linen or muslin, minor scuffing to corners and edges of boards, but better than very good.

An 1807 guide to New York City by one of its most eminent citizens, physician, scientist and politician Samuel Latham Mitchill. Illustrated by a most interesting map of the city based on the famed and all-but-unobtainable “Mangin-Goerck Plan”.

Though a number of New York directories had appeared in the 1790s, Mitchill’s work was the first general guide for visitors to the city. By his own telling, Mitchill wrote itto remedy the flaws of existing accounts of New York, written by people who “treat our city and its inhabitants with their accustomed neglectfulness or perversion.” In so doing, he treats the city’s geography, history, form of government, businesses, public and private institutions, schools, &c, &c.

Plan of the City of New-York
Mitchill chose to illustrate with his work with a remarkable little map of lower Manhattan, clearly recognizable as such but with the irregular shoreline smoothed and in places extended into the East and Hudson Rivers. The street grid, both existing and projected, is shown with all streets named, parks and squares noted, and no fewer than 52 important buildings numbered and identified by a legend at top left. Of these no fewer than 32 are places of worship reflecting over a dozen denominations, testifying to the relatively high level of tolerance that characterized the city’s culture since its founding in the 17th century.

The real story of the plan, however, lies in what is not shown or explained. It is a fairly close copy (albeit on a much smaller scale) of one made for the City Council in 1803 by Joseph Mangin and Casimir Goerck. The two men had been commissioned by the City Council to produce the first real estate map of New York, including houses, lot lines, landowners &c.  Instead they delivered a visionary plan for the city of the future.  This entailed adding a hypothetical street grid north of present-day Houston Street and tidying up existing-but-often-irregular streets and shorelines with rectilinear renderings.  Visionary as the plan was, it was a wildly impractical, and would have required a colossal program of landfill in the East River and run into the opposition of landowners along the existing riverfront.

Mangin and Goerck’s map was suppressed by the City Council, and Augustyn and Cohen estimate that only perhaps ten examples survive today.  This reduced-scale version by Bridges is thus the only realistic means for a collector to obtain a version of this most unusual map.

It should be noted that Mangin and Goerck were only slightly ahead of their time:  Just a few years later the so-called “Commissioner’s Map”, also signed by William Bridges and engraved by Peter Maverick, extended the grid layout three-quarters of the way up Manhattan Island.

Samuel Latham Mitchill, William Bridges, and Peter Maverick
A native of Hempstead, New York, Mitchill (1764 –1831) received a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1786, then returned to America and established a successful medical practice in New York City.  Mitchill had a diverse range of interests and made significant contributions to various fields. He became a professor of chemistry, botany, and natural history at Columbia College (now Columbia University), and in 1797 co-founded the Medical Repository, the first American medical journal. He also engaged in politics at a high level, serving as a (Democratic-Republican) U.S. Senator from New York from 1804 to 1809 and later as a Congressman from 1810 to 1813. During his political career, he was an advocate for public health and sanitation, supporting measures to combat epidemics and improve living conditions in urban areas. He was a strong supporter of the Erie Canal, a founding member of the New York Historical Society and its president from 1816 to 1820, and briefly advocated for renaming the United States “Fredonia”.

Mapmaker William Bridges (1771-1814) was born in England and must have emigrated to the United States by 1805-6. He seems to have been an unscrupulous character, being accused by the Federalists of election fraud, then claiming the credit for the highly influential “Bridges Plan” of New York (1811), though the bulk of the surveying was done by John Randel, Jr. In a similar spirit, on the plan of Manhattan offered here, Bridges makes no mention that the plan is based on the work of Mangin and Goerck.

Prolific map engraver Peter Maverick (1780-1831) was the son of engraver Peter Rushton Maverick (1755-1811). Active for most of his career in New York City, he engraved among others maps to illustrate Christian Schultz’ Travels on an Inland Voyage through the States of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee (1810); the aforementioned “Commissioner’s Plan” of New York City (1811); John Eddy’s Map of the Country Thirty Miles round the City of New York (1812); and many others.

The book: Howes, U.S.-Iana, M-702. Sabin #49746. The map: Augustyn & Cohen, Manhattan in Maps, pp. 96-99 (illus.); Haskell, Manhattan Maps:  A Co-operative List, #642.