Mapping an Expanding Empire State 1790-1830

Economic and Social Developments, 1790-1830

This chapter overlaps the previous chapter chronologically, and many of the themes discussed here are closely linked with the physical expansion of New York, which was a major subject of the preceding chapter. The extension and rapid settlement of the state increased the demand for roads and canals. Eventually, the growth of population and improvements in transportation infrastructure made possible commercial farming and industrialization, which in turn contributed to further dramatic changes, including the growth of cities. These developments have shaped much of New York’s history up to the present. As was the case both earlier and later, maps played an important role in implementing these changes, and they faithfully reflect many of the policies and preoccupations of New York’s political and economic elites.

Transportation Maps: Roads, Canals, and Nautical Charts

Along with property, transportation is the second major theme of the mapping of New York State during the early Federal era. This marks a significant departure from the colonial period. Prior to the Revolution, the settled parts of the future state had easy access to water transportation—to the Atlantic Ocean in the case of Long Island, and to the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers for the rest of the colony. Consequently, roads were of relatively little importance, and were used mainly for local transportation. But, as soon as Euro-Americans began to move into central and western New York, it was recognized that good roads and canals would be essential for the settlement of that part of the state. This led to an early example of the creation of infrastructure for economic development.

The linkage between property mapping and transportation planning and mapping is very close. The same individuals were often involved in both activities. For example, land agents like Charles Williamson and Joseph Ellicott were actively involved in promoting the construction of roads and canals. Peter Schuyler and Peter Porter were among the property magnates and politicians who promoted both turnpikes and canals. And Simeon De Witt, as surveyor general, was heavily involved in developing roads and canals, along with property registration and mapping. On a less lofty level, numerous surveyors were employed surveying roads and canal routes, in addition to property mapping.


The first manifestation of the post-colonial drive to improve the transportation infrastructure in New York was the movement for road construction. In comparison to the outpouring of literature on canals and railroads, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of roads in the early development of New York State.[1] Referring specifically to turnpikes, geographer D.W. Meinig succinctly summarized our ignorance on this subject: “In some cases it is difficult to discover exact routes; in others it is hard to be sure just how much of a proposed route was actually constructed; in most cases it is impossible to get much information on the actual condition of the roadway (an important and highly variable factor), and in nearly all there is no really satisfactory measure of the volume of traffic.”[2] For the period prior to the beginning of the turnpike movement (about 1797), even less is known about the state of the roads.

Nonetheless, road building was a major preoccupation of land developers, and of the state government, in the decades following the Revolution. Immigrants required roads in order to immigrate, and, once settled, they relied on them to obtain supplies and to move their produce to market. To meet their needs, land developers constructed primitive dirt roads on and to their lands. Most of these early roads were ungraded and unpaved. Many were widened Indian paths. Typically, road builders just chopped down trees to make a path wide enough for wheeled vehicles. There were few bridges over streams and rivers. In general, roads were also poorly maintained, and complaints about horrendous road conditions feature prominently in the travel literature of the time. In spite of all of this, roads were essential to the economy.

These primitive roads received particularly heavy use from sleighs in the winter, both by immigrants and by farmers who needed to get their products to the market. Although this is somewhat surprising at first glance, on reflection it seems reasonable, since winter travelers would not have had to deal with mud when the ground was frozen, and the snow would have smoothed out bumps in the primitive roads. Roads would have also been the only means of communication available when rivers and canals were frozen over. A hint concerning the extent to which sleighs were used for transportation is provided by this contemporary description:

“Feb. 28, 1795. —Five hundred emigrant sleighs passed through Albany between sunrise and sunset. It was estimated that 1200 sleighs, freighted with men, women, children and furniture passed through the city in three days, from the east, to settle in the Genesee Country—the treaty with Great Britain and with the Six Nations, having dispelled every apprehension of danger.”[3]

Primitive roads were built with great speed by land developers. A small network of roads was constructed by Phelps and Gorham in 1789, including a crucial stretch from Fort Stanwix (Rome) through Geneva to Canandaigua and the Genesee River.[4] In the early 1790s, Charles Williamson opened the “Susquehanna Trail,” leading from Chesapeake Bay to the Genesee Country.[5] Somewhat later, between 1800 and 1812, Joseph Ellicott supervised the construction of more than 1000 miles of roads in the lands of the Holland Purchase.[6]

The state government became involved at an early date in encouraging the construction of roads. The first legislative action for this purpose was a section of a law passed on February, 25, 1789, the broader purpose of which was to set rules for the disposal of a huge tract of land “purchased” from the Oneida Indians.[7] According to Durrenberger: “By the terms of this measure the commissioners of the land office were given permission to grant not more than 25,000 acres of the Oneida concession as compensation to any person or persons who would undertake to build roads or bridges ‘in or toward any part of the lands now belonging to the people of the state.’ The finished work was to be inspected by the surveyor general before the grant could be allowed. A similar amount of land was offered for opening a road between the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain.”[8]

To fund the building of roads, the legislature tried a number of other subsidies and funding schemes, including lotteries.[9] By 1800 an extensive network of roads had been constructed in central and western New York. Some were in seemingly unlikely places, including several that passed through the Catskill Mountains from the Hudson River to central New York. Many of these Catskill roads were promoted by cities in the Hudson Valley, which hoped to use them to capture a share of the trade with western New York. Some were also lobbied for by large landowners, who hoped that the roads would increase the value of their properties.[10] A number of these roads can be seen on De Witt’s 1802 state map.

Beginning in the late 1790’s, the legislature started encouraging private companies to construct and maintain toll roads or “turnpikes” (named after the gates that were raised after a toll was paid). The first turnpike was chartered in 1797, and it was followed by numerous others in quick succession.[11] By 1807, eighty-eight turnpike and bridge companies had been chartered.[12] According to Durrenberger, by 1821 there were 56 bridge companies and 278 turnpike road companies in operation, with a total capital of almost $12,000,000. They were authorized to build about 6000 miles of roads, and had actually completed about 4000.[13] Investment in turnpikes by private individuals became something of a craze, which helped along the rapid growth of the turnpike movement. Although not particularly profitable, investing in turnpikes and toll bridges became an important alternative to land speculation for those who wanted to become rich with little effort.[14]

These are impressive statistics, but they say nothing about the quality of the roads, which has not been studied in detail. Most of the extensive legislation about road and turnpikes passed by the legislature says little or nothing about how the roads were to be constructed. Almost certainly, most of the turnpikes were dirt roads, but at least some were graded and surfaced with gravel or crushed rock. The Albany-Schenectady Turnpike, which formed a crucial link between the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, has been cited for its exceptional excellence: its fourteen miles were paved with stone at the cost of $10,000 per mile.[15] Although varying in quality, the turnpikes were an improvement over the more primitive local roads. They were relatively well maintained, and usually had adequate bridges. They were sometimes fenced to keep livestock from straying into nearby fields. This was important, since roads at that time received heavy use from farmers driving their animals to distant markets.

The best of these turnpike roads were paved with macadam, which was the invention of one John McAdam (1756-1836). McAdam was born in Scotland, pursued a business career in New York City between 1770-1783, and subsequently returned to Britain, where he pioneered a method of road construction that involved laying down a waterproof surface of compacted stone and gravel. There were several types of macadam roads, and nothing is known about the quality of those laid down in New York. None of them involved coating the surface with tar or asphalt, which was characteristic of some macadam roads after the end of the nineteenth century. When properly done, gravel macadam worked quite well with wheeled traffic, although it had to be laid down on dry soil. Where the ground was swampy, other alternatives were attempted, such as plank roads, which became something of a fad later in the nineteenth century.[16]

The importance of roads in these years is to some extent reflected in their prominence in maps. Contemporary maps provide us with a good idea of the growth of the road network, although they say remarkably little about how good the roads were. A few early nineteenth-century maps differentiated between post roads or turnpikes and other roads, but that is the extent of what they tell us about road conditions. For some reason, it did not occur to early nineteenth-century map makers to show the quality of roads. An interesting case in point is John Melish, who in addition to being a leading cartographer, wrote extensively about his travels in New York and elsewhere in the United States. In his book of travels, Melish frequently mentions the condition of roads. Thus, he remarks that the road from New York to Jamaica ( Long Island) was the “finest road I had yet seen.” A road from the vicinity of Niagara Falls to Batavia was “the worst road I had ever seen.” Most roads he describes as either “good” or “indifferent.”[17] But he says nothing about whether roads were graded or surfaced, and his maps do not make any effort to differentiate between good and bad roads. Only after the advent of the bicycle and the automobile at the end of the nineteenth century did map makers routinely differentiate between various types of pavements.

Turning to actual maps, we see a rather uneven pattern. There was certainly a need for better road maps. The depiction of the road network on British maps published prior to the Revolution was often unreliable, as the generals of the opposing armies quickly learned. It has already been seen that during the Revolution Erskine and De Witt focused on producing better road maps for the American army. The rapid growth of settlements and roads after the conclusion of peace quickly made all previous road maps obsolete.

It should be kept in mind that almost all regional or state maps were “road maps,” in that they usually showed roads. Anyone interested in the development of the road network in a particular place should look at all available maps of an area of interest. A few maps can, however, be singled out because of the particular attention they paid to roads.

The first detailed post-Revolutionary road maps are in Christopher Colles’ famous Survey of the Roads of the United States of America, which was published in 1789 ( 9.1).[18]

9.1. Page from Christopher Colles, Survey of the Roads (1789). Courtesy David Rumsey Collection.

Colles (1739-1816) was an Irish engineer resident mostly in New York City who promoted a variety of visionary projects, which inevitably failed in part because they were too far ahead of his time. As W.W. Ristow has shown, Colles’ atlas is largely based on maps compiled by Erskine and De Witt during the Revolutionary War, although Colles supplemented this information by the use of a “perambulator,” which he designed himself, to measure distances. This measuring device was his variation of a type of wheeled mechanism that had been used at various times since the Renaissance to measure distances by counting the rotations of a wheel. The coverage of Colles’ Survey is particularly detailed for the area in which the Continental army was most active—the Hudson River Valley and adjoining areas. Colles optimistically claimed that with his maps it would be “impossible” for a traveler to lose his way, and in fact his maps were a great improvement over anything previously published. This work also contains a good deal of useful historical information about such things as the location of mills, taverns, and blacksmith shops. Unfortunately, Colles was unable to find a market for his maps, and his project had to be abandoned unfinished.

Colles used some of the materials from his Survey of the Roads in another publication, the Geographical Ledger.[19] This work, which also had to be abandoned, is even rarer than the Survey of the Roads. Only five sheets of this atlas appeared, but between them they cover all of New York west of the Genesee River. The areas not included in the Survey of the Roads were mostly copied from other maps, including Sauthier’s Chorographical Map of New York, and the road network shown on areas such as Long Island reflects Colles’ dependence on these sources.

More of an economic success, but less detailed, was Abraham Bradley’s post road map of the United States, which went through three editions, two of which appeared in several states, between 1796 and 1825 ( 9.2).[20]

9.2. Detail from Abraham Bradley, A Map of the United States Exhibiting Post Roads & Distances (1796). Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The 1796 edition of this map, which is available online, already shows two post roads reaching north and south of the Finger Lakes and as far west as the Genesee River. The importance of mail service to the isolated settlers in the newly established villages of central New York should not be underestimated. Presumably, these post roads were better than ordinary roads. There does not seem to have been any particular standard that post roads were supposed to meet, but the mail was generally carried on stagecoaches, so it is probably safe to assume that these roads were good enough for stage travel, which is not saying very much considering the horror stories told by coach travelers at the end of the eighteenth century.

The maps of Colles, Bradley, and others should be compared to Simeon De Witt’s 1802 map of New York State, which shows a much denser road network. The increase in the number of roads testifies both to De Witt’s conscientious work, and to the rapid pace of road construction in the late 1790s.

Because new roads were appearing every year, this feature of De Witt’s map was soon outdated. Among the maps that provided information about the development of the road network in subsequent years, particular attention should be paid to a map that appeared in 1809: William McCalpin’s A Map of the State of New York: Compiled from the Latest Authorities: Including the Turnpike Roads Now Granted As Also the Principal Common Roads Connected There With.[21] As indicated by its subtitle, this map particularly focuses on the road network. It carefully differentiates between “turnpike roads” and “common roads,” and gives the names of individual turnpikes (which is quite unusual). A note on the map states that it was “intended as well for the student in geography as a directory to the traveler.” All in all, it more closely resembles a modern road map in appearance and function than any other map of New York published during this period.

For the years between 1808 and 1830, the best sources of information about roads are general purpose maps. The maps of Amos Lay, J.H. Eddy, H.S. Tanner, and David Burr are particularly useful in this respect. These and other general purpose maps of New York will be discussed later in this chapter.


While the researcher interested in the history of roads in New York is faced with a dearth of published information, the student of canals confronts the opposite problem: a flood of written words. This is particularly the case with the Erie Canal, which from the beginning generated a peculiar amount of publicity and excitement. From the time of De Witt Clinton to the present, the Erie Canal has symbolized such things as economic growth, American inventiveness, and the “manifest destiny” of the United States to dominate North America, if not the world.[22]

There is some justification for this celebration of the Erie Canal. Canals did provide faster and less expensive transportation than turnpikes. They facilitated the settlement of the state, and the growth of New York to a leading position in the economy of the country. It is questionable whether New York would have attained the same position if it had built no canals, and if it depended instead solely on roads and (later) railroads for transportation.

The strategic importance of the route from the Mohawk River to the Great Lakes was recognized even in the colonial period. As early as 1724, Cadwallader Colden, wrote a memorandum pointing to the possibility of capturing the trade of the interior of North America from the French by utilizing a route to the Great Lakes similar to that later followed by the Erie Canal.[23] Colden did not go so far as to propose constructing a canal, but he was among the first to recognize the comparative ease with which the route could be traveled. Readers may recall the map (based on the work of De Lisle) that he had printed to accompany this memorial, which marked some of the portages along this route ( 4.3).

During the colonial period, the British attempted to implement part of Colden’s strategy by building a fortress and trading post at Oswego on Lake Ontario, which could be reached from the Mohawk River, via Wood Creek, Lake Oneida, and the Oswego River. Later in the colonial period, some work was actually done to improve navigation along this route by constructing small canals and clearing obstacles in Wood Creek.[24]

After the Revolution, with the St. Lawrence River in the hands of the British and with the beginnings of the westward movement, the importance of good water transportation to the west became even more evident.[25] As early as 1785, Christopher Colles published a book, accompanied by a map, proposing construction of a canal from Albany to Great Lakes.[26] The route that Colles proposed followed the colonial route from the Mohawk River via Lake Oneida to Oswego. As was frequently the case with Colles, he was ahead of his time, and nothing came directly from his proposal.

Similar ideas were taken up a few years later by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, which was chartered in 1792. This was a high-powered undertaking. Philip Schuyler was its main sponsor; its shareholders included such important s as Simeon De Witt, Thomas Eddy, and Elkanah Watson. Later in 1792, Schuyler and others made a systematic exploration of the route from the Mohawk River to Albany, which led the publication of a detailed report and a map (now lost).[27] Shortly thereafter, the company began improving navigation along Wood Creek and the Mohawk River. Most of its work consisted of clearing obstacles and constructing small bypass canals. Although not a financial success, the project significantly improved navigation between Albany and central New York. The interest generated by this project helped stimulate the later construction of the Erie Canal.

The early proposals for the construction of a western canal envisaged its terminus at Oswego on Lake Ontario, with a second canal bypassing Niagara Falls to connect Lake Ontario with Lake Erie. According to Simeon De Witt, Gouvernor Morris in 1803 was the first to propose constructing a canal directly to Lake Erie—a route which De Witt dismissed at that time as impractical and “a romantic thing.”[28] As late as 1808, De Witt opposed constructing a canal directly to Lake Erie, but when in that year De Witt was put in charge of surveying the canal route, he asked Joseph Ellicott, who was more familiar with the geography of western New York, for information on the feasibility of the Lake Erie route, which led him to believe that it might be workable.[29]

The actual survey of the route was made by James Geddes (1763-1838), another protégé of De Witt. Geddes’ report, which was submitted to De Witt in 1809, determined that the inland route to lake Erie was feasible, and recommended it as preferable to the Lake Ontario route.[30] In 1810, the commissioners, along with Geddes and J.H. Eddy, explored the path of the proposed canal, using surveying instruments called levels to measure elevations along the route. The results were published in 1811 in a report recommending the Lake Erie route. Both the 1809 and 1811 reports included maps by Geddes illustrating details of the proposed route.[31] The first published map showing the entire route appears have been drawn by J.H. Eddy following the 1810 expedition.[32]

Construction of the canal was delayed by political opposition, financial difficulties, and the interposition of the War of 1812. Just before the outbreak of the war, an unsuccessful attempt was made to obtain funding for the canal from the Federal government. The war itself demonstrated the importance of improving transportation to the Great Lakes region, and strategic considerations gave a boost to the construction of an all-inland route to Lake Erie.

Canal construction finally began in 1817. The canal was opened in sections, and completed with elaborate celebrations in 1825. These festivities celebrating “the wedding of the waters” were recorded, appropriately enough, by Cadwallader D. Colden, mayor of New York and grandson of the colonial surveyor general, the man who may have been the first to perceive the significance of the canal route for New York’s future.[33] Although the extent to which the Erie Canal was responsible for the rise of New York to “Empire State” status is debatable, it was an indubitable success. It quickly paid for its construction costs through tolls, and the cost of long distance shipping dropped dramatically. The canal had much to do with the rapid growth of agriculture, industry, and population in New York between 1825 and 1850, and with the rise of New York City as the nation’s economic capital. It stimulated the construction of a whole network of feeder canals throughout the state, and led to the abandonment of most long-distance turnpikes in New York. Toll roads were largely reduced to the role of feeders for the canal system.

The Erie Canal achieved a kind of iconic status even before its completion. As the first large-scale public works project in the nation, it attracted widespread attention beyond its potential economic benefits. This aspect of the canal contributed to its frequent portrayal in maps, starting well before the canal’s construction. J.H. Eddy’s 1811 map showing the route of the proposed canal was the first of a long series. Immediately after the authorization of the canal’s construction in 1817, the Canal Commissioners published their first official map of the proposed canal.[34] In 1821, they published an updated version of this same map.[35] Much more detailed maps of the canal were drawn at this time by the engineers, and can be found at several libraries.[36]

The commemorative volume prepared by Cadwallader D, Colden to celebrate the “Wedding of the Waters” in 1825 was embellished by several maps. One of these has been identified by W.W. Ristow as one of the earliest examples of lithography in the United States.[37]

Probably the most spectacular map celebrating the Erie Canal was published by John Ogden Dey in the year of the canal’s opening, 1825 ( 9.3).[38] Dey reprinted a detailed Map of the Western Part of the State of New York drawn by D.H. Vance in 1823, and embellished it with a variety of things, including statistical tables showing the growth of the state since 1800, and several views of landmarks along the route of the canal. Dey also included a geological profile of the route of the Erie Canal, which had previously been published by Amos Eaton.[39] Eaton’s profile, which will be described in the following chapter, is one of the first geological maps published of New York State. Dey’s fancy map would certainly have made an attractive souvenir for anyone attending one of the numerous celebrations of the completion of the Erie Canal. One copy, now at the New York State Library, was presented to the Marquis de Lafayette on his tour of the United States.

9.3. John Ogeden Dey’s 1825 reworking of D.H. Vance, Map of the Western Part of the State of New York. Courtesy David Rumsey Collection.

By the early 1820s, commercial publishers were already starting to include profiles of the canal on their maps of the state. Between 1825 and 1840 a “map and profile” of the Erie Canal was included with monotonous regularity as an inset on popular general-purpose maps of New York.[40] Like the state seal or the outline of the state itself, the Erie Canal had become a kind of cartographic icon. Like the sailing ships on seventeenth-century Dutch maps, the profile of the Erie Canal had become a symbol of pride and power.

Even before the completion of the Erie Canal, New York’s planners and engineers had started construction of a network of feeder canals. The first of these secondary canals to be completed was the Champlain Canal, which connected the Hudson River with Lake Champlain and ultimately with the St. Lawrence River. The Oswego Canal connected the Erie Canal with the Lake Ontario, fulfilling the design of New York’s earliest canal planners. Other important canals included the Delaware and Hudson (completed 1829), the Black River Canal (completed 1855), the Chenango Canal (1837), and the Genesee Canal. Most mid-nineteenth century maps of New York State show this canal network, along with roads and railroads. By the 1850s the canal network reached its maximum extension, and thereafter the mileage of canals gradually decreasedlargely because of competition from railroads. Detailed plans of these canals can often be found in documents published by the state legislature and elsewhere.[41]

Those with particular interest in New York’s canals should note that the most detailed canal maps were never published. These are multi-sheet maps produced by the surveyors and engineers of the canals, which often show such things as individual houses, bridges, and the details of locks. Such a map of the Erie Canal, produced by James Geddes, can be found at the New York State Library.[42] Geddes also drew a similar map of the Hudson River – Lake Champlain Canal, which is housed at the Onondaga Historical Society.[43]

Nautical Charts

Although this period saw a shift away from New York’s colonial reliance on river and coastal navigation, such traffic continued to be important for the movement of passengers and freight. In the production of nautical charts, we can one again see the familiar pattern of initial reliance on British products, followed by their eventual replacement by more detailed American charts.

In the years immediately following the Revolution, American ship captains continued to rely heavily on The English Pilot, Fourth Book.[44] Better charts could be found in Des Barres’ Atlantic Neptune, but these were expensive and hard to obtain. As we have seen, The Atlantic Neptune provided (for the time) extremely good coverage of New York Harbor, the lower Hudson River, the East River, Hell Gate, and parts of Long Island (including Oyster Bay, Huntington Harbor and the East End), although it lacked equally good coverage of most of Long Island Sound, and of the Atlantic Ocean off the South Shore of Long Island.

The need for widely available and reliable charts of New York’s harbors and coastlines started to be addressed in the late 1780s by the Boston map makers John Norman, Osgood Carleton, and Matthew Clark.[45] In the years after 1789, these cartographers, who frequently worked in collaboration, produced a series of charts of the Atlantic Coast of North America. Their charts were largely copied from Des Barres, but included some additional information. Their charts of the New York area were generally part of larger productions, although they sometimes included insets showing New York harbor.

The earliest of these charts that included coastal New York appears to be John Norman’s Chart of the Coast of America from New York to Rhode Island (1789).[46] This chart, which includes a fair number of soundings, provides a fairly creditable overview of New York Harbor, Long Island Sound, and the waters on the south side of Long Island. Several similar charts were published by Norman and Clark in the following decadenone of which improved greatly over the 1790 chart.

While Americans were attempting to adapt and improve on pre-Revolutionary British charts of the Atlantic Coast, the British were still publishing nautical charts of this area. In 1794, the London-based publishers Laurie and Whittle printed a new chart of the coast of New England and New York, which included considerably improved coverage of the neglected areas around Long Island ( 9.4).[47] This chart was attributed to a Captain N.[athaniel] Holland, who has been confused by some scholars with Samuel Holland, the former Surveyor General of the Northern District (who by this time was Surveyor General of Upper Canada). This confusion is probably the result of a deliberate ploy by the publisher, whose sales would have profited if it were thought that the chart was drafted by the most famous British surveyor of North America. In fact, it was compiled mostly from The Atlantic Neptune and unpublished British maps and naval surveys. Its coverage of the waters around Long Island compares favorably with any chart published prior to 1830.

9.4. Nathaniel Holland, Chart of the Coast of New England and New York (1794). Detail showing coast around Long Island. Norman B. Levanthal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

The British published several similar charts in the following years, some of which were intended at least in part for the American Market. In 1799, William Heather published a chart that closely resembles the one published a few years earlier by Laurie and Whittle.[48] In the same year, Heather published a similar chart with the revealing title To the Independent Mariners of America: This Chart of Their Coast from Savannah to Boston is Most Respectfully Dedicated.[49] Another indication that these charts were marketed in large part to Americans comes from the dedication of the 1809 edition of Nathaniel Holland’s chart of the Atlantic Coast, which was “respectfully inscribed to His Excellency Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States of North America, by his most obedient humble servants, Rob[er]t Laurie and Ja[me]s Whittle.”[50]

These British and American charts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have not received much study. Little is known about the relationships between them, the extent to which they are copied from The Atlantic Neptune and other sources, or about the existence of any unpublished surveys that might have been used in their compilation.

In addition to these relatively small-scale regional charts, British and American publishers produced several charts during these years that focused on New York Harbor. The most notable of these appeared in the 1784 and 1794 editions of The English Pilot, Fourth Book.[51] These charts are comparable in detail those that previously appeared in The Atlantic Neptune, and would have been much more accessible to both British and American mariners.

The name most closely associated with the mapping of the waters around New York in the early nineteenth century is that of Edmund March Blunt (1770-1862).[52] Blunt started his career as a printer and publisher of religious and other materials in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1796, he published his first nautical book, Capt. Lawrence Furlong’s The American Coast Pilot, and thereafter focused increasingly on nautical books and charts. Around 1810, he moved to New York City and opened a store on Water Street, which sold nautical charts and instruments. He frequently collaborated with the engraver William Hooker, and published with him several maps of New York City.

Blunt’s earliest charts of the waters in the vicinity of New York City area are not particularly impressive. His first effort was to republish a Chart of Long Island Sound (1809), which had been originally published by John Cahoone in 1805.[53] This chart included few soundings, and was notably sparing in its depiction of shoreline features. It failed to take advantage of the much better coverage of certain areas in The Atlantic Neptune, and it is overall considerably less impressive than the charts published by William Heather or Laurie and Whittle. In spite of its weaknesses, Blunt continued to reissue this chart with minor augmentations as late as 1827. Presumably he was able to sell this chart successfully by charging lower prices than his British competitors, and through his knowledge of the local market.

Another early effort brought Blunt into more direct competition with his British and American rivals. This is Blunt’s New Chart of the North Eastern Coast of North America(1813).[54] This chart very closely resembles the regional charts published by John Norman, Nathaniel Holland, and others. Its depiction of Long Island is obviously derived from late eighteenth-century British maps. Unlike Blunt’s chart of Long Island Sound, this chart also shows the waters off the south coast of Long Island, including soundings and bottom samples in that area.

After 1816, the Blunt firm started to improve its charts by commissioning its own original hydrographic surveys. In 1822, Blunt supplemented his stock with a credible chart of the entrance to New York Harbor, which included at least some new soundings.[55]

Only after 1825 did the firm succeed in producing nautical charts of the New York City area that clearly surpassed the British charts made during or shortly after the Revolutionary War. The new charts published by the Blunt firm were based in part on surveys conducted by Blunt’s son, Edmund Blunt (1799-1866). New York Harbor and vicinity received greatly improved coverage in two charts. The first appeared in 1827 under the title The Harbor of New York, and includes extensive soundings and other navigational information ( 9.5).[56] In 1830 an expanded version of this chart was published under the title The Harbour of New York with the Coasts of Long Island and New Jersey (1830).[57]

9.5. Edmund Blunt, The Harbour of New York (1827). Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Long Island Sound finally received a careful rendering in 1830 with the younger Edmund Blunt’s Long Island Sound from New York to Montauk Point.[58] This chart boasts extensive soundings and a detailed depiction of the shoreline.

Edmund Blunt (senior) retired in 1833, announcing that his unceasing labors on behalf of the nautical community had left him “with a constitution broken by exposure and fatigue, and a fortune literally ‘cast upon the waters,’….”[59]. Notwithstanding his sufferings, his broken constitution held out until 1862, when he died at the age of ninety-two, leaving behind a prosperous business for his heirs to manage. The careers of two of his sons, Edmund and George William, tell us much about the development of American hydrography in the nineteenth century. Edmund was primarily interested in surveying, and he joined the U.S. Coast Survey in 1832. His name appears on several important Coast Survey charts of the New York area that were published in the 1840s and later.

George William Blunt inherited his father’s business skills, and he was primarily responsible for the continuation of the family firm until his death in 1878. The Blunts continued to play a major role in publishing nautical charts and books prior to the Civil War, for it was a long time before the U.S. Coast Survey produced many charts. However, as the Coast Survey increased the number of its publications after 1844, it gradually displaced the Blunts. G.W. Blunt recognized the inevitable and perhaps even welcomed it. He extended the prosperity of his firm by cooperating in many ways with the Coast Survey. Not only was his brother one of the top officials of the Survey, but he became a close personal friend of the second Superintendent of the Survey, Alexander Dallas Bache, who was at its helm from 1844 to 1867. The Blunts became the New York agent for the Coast Survey, and the affairs of the Blunts and the Coast Survey were closely intertwined. Among other things, the Blunts sold navigational instruments to the Survey, and engaged in extensive lobbying on its behalf. Finally, after the Civil War, E.W. Blunt decided to close his business, and he sold the copyright and plates of The American Coast Pilot and other publications to the Coast Survey—which is how they came to be published by the U.S. government. Some of these actions would be regard as ethically dubious today, and would probably call down a Congressional investigation, but they do not seem to have raised any eyebrows at the time. For our purposes, they are significant in marking the transition from one era of American map making to another. Private firms, such as the Blunts, simply lacked the resources to engage in extensive original surveying. For new developments in coastal charting, it is necessary to turn to the activities of the Coast Survey itself, which will be done in the next chapter.

Although the Blunt firm dominated the production of nautical charts of the waters around New York in the early nineteenth century, a few other charts were produced that should be mentioned here. Several manuscript charts were drawn of Sag Harbor, which in the early nineteenth century was the second most important port in New York. Most of these can be found in the National Archives, along with the earliest printed map of Sag Harbor.[60] These maps reflect the involvement of the Topographical Bureau of the U.S. Army in the mapping of strategic locations in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

One of the most intriguing nautical charts published in the early nineteenth century is Ephraim Chesebrough’s chart of the eastern part of Long Island Sound.[61] For its time, this is an unusually detailed chart, which includes many soundings, reefs, current arrows, and observations on the composition of the sea bed. A note on the map states that it was “taken by actual surveys of the American squadron in 1811, and the British squadron in 1813 and 1814.” It shows the anchorages of British ships during the last years of the war of 1812, and is very similar to a manuscript map at the National Archives, which was supposedly copied from a map by the British fleet under Commander Hardy during the War of 1812.[62]

The inland waters of New York were neglected by the Blunts and other chart makers. No detailed charts of the Hudson River were created during this period, which is surprising given the heavy traffic between New York City and Albany. Not only was the Hudson River New York’s chief commercial conduit, but after the steamboat Clermont started operation in 1807, it became popular with tourists. One detailed map of the river created during this period deserves special mention, even though it is not primarily a nautical chart. This is Andrew Thompson Goodrich’s Map of the Hudson between Sandy Hook & Sandy Hill: with the post road between New York and Albany (1820).[63] It is a multi-sheet map, which was originally issued in booklet form. As its title implies, it is primarily a road map, but it is quite detailed, and identifies numerous notable buildings and other features. Its depiction of the Hudson River itself might have been of some use to navigators. It includes sparse soundings, and shows islands and other features in the river. It is not so detailed, however, that navigators could have relied on it entirely. They apparently depended mostly on their own acquired knowledge, like Mark Twain’s Mississippi River steamboat captains. There appear to have been no detailed nautical charts of Hudson River published before the 1850s, except for those covering New York Harbor and mouth of River. It is possible that continuing fear of British invasion may have discouraged the publication of detailed nautical charts of the Hudson, although there is no direct evidence for this.

Much the same can be said concerning the lakes and rivers of upstate New York. Immediately following the War of 1812, as will be seen below, the U.S. Army made a detailed survey of Lake Champlain, but it was never published. At various times, the British military conducted surveys of Lakes Ontario and Erie, as well as of the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers, but the resulting charts exist only in manuscript. Security concerns on both sides of the boundary may have inhibited the publication of charts of these areas, although the high cost of hydrographic surveying and the cost of publication also probably help explain the lack of detailed charting of this region prior to the 1850s.

Military Maps

During the fifty years following the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, military mapping played a much smaller role than it had during the final decades of British rule and the American Revolution. The major military event of this period was the War of 1812, and most of the military mapping of this period was directly or indirectly associated with that war. Although the war itself stimulated the production of some maps, continuing tensions between Britain and the United States, both preceding and following the war, also motivated the production of military maps.

Much of the fighting of the War of 1812 took place along New York’s northern frontier, and the British navy was also active in Long Island Sound and around New York Harbor. Many New Yorkers feared that the British might attempt to retake Manhattan, and there was a concern that the enemy might try to revive Burgoyne’s strategy of marching down the Hudson River from Canada to New York City. We now know that the British had no plans to carry out an invasion on this scale, but the apprehensions were real enough. These battles and fears are reflected to some extent in published maps, although the total number of military maps that appeared during the war is fairly small, and most do not show a great deal of detail.

During the war, maps showing either the entire “theatre of war,” or specific areas where fighting was concentrated, were published in both the United States and Great Britain. Typically, they showed towns, roads, some fortifications, and major geographical features, such as lakes and rivers. In upstate New York, most of the fighting took place along the shores of the Niagara River, and on or near Lakes Ontario and Champlain. For Americans, the most traumatic event in this region was the burning of Buffalo in 1813. The important American victory near Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain in 1814 was the most celebrated.

Some of the best overview maps published during the war are in John Melish’s Military and Topographical Atlas of the United States (1813).[64] The maps in this volume are essentially civilian maps, and several of them were originally published prior to the war. A few were updated to show the locations of major battles, but none provide us with much information that cannot be found on ordinary civilian maps. Other mapmakers, such as Amos Lay (who is discussed below), also attempted to take advantage of the wartime interest in military events by modifying older maps for the new market.

Battles and fortifications were the primary subjects of detailed military maps produced during or shortly after the war. Most of these originated as manuscript maps, some of which later provided the basis for maps published after the war. Much of the detailed military mapping was done by or for the U.S. Army. The outbreak of war made evident the need for more and better military maps. In an act passed in March, 1813, Congress established the Army Topographical Engineers Corps with a maximum of eight topographical engineers.[65] Colonel Joseph Gardner Swift held the title of Chief Engineer until he retired from the army in 1818 to become Surveyor of the Port of New York.[66]

The army engineers were especially active in and around New York City. In part because of New York’s experiences during the Revolutionary War, the inhabitants of the nation’s largest port were particularly concerned with protecting their city from invasion. A number of fortifications around New York Harbor had already been erected by the state and federal governments between 1800 and 1812, with the most extensive being constructed after 1808 as tensions rose between the United States and Britain.[67] These fortifications were substantial: according to Stokes, they mounted a total of 284 guns, and required an estimated garrison of 3,700 men.[68]

After the outbreak of the war, attention focused more on protecting the approaches to the city. Additional fortifications were constructed on western Long Island and upper Manhattan. Quite a few maps were made showing these structures, several of which were more than plans of individual fortifications, and covered large swaths of territory—thereby shedding considerable light on the development of the city. One of the earliest of these regional maps was by Joseph Mangin, a civilian contractor for the army, which was entitled Plan of the Shore of Long-Island from Wallabout Bay to Red-Hook, 1813.[69] It is carefully drawn, and covers much of modern Brooklyn. Along with fortifications, it shows topography, roads, and individual houses. It bears comparison with the maps of the same area made by the British during the Revolution, and reveals some of the changes that had taken place between 1783 and 1813.

A somewhat similar map, covering upper Manhattan, is included in an atlas of 33 manuscript maps compiled by Chief Engineer Joseph Swift. This map, drawn by I.E. Craig and James Renwick, bears the title Military Topographical Sketch of Harlem Heights and Plain, Exhibiting the Position and Forms of Field Works and Block Houses Which Have Been Constructed in That Neighbourhood for the Defence of the City of New York by General Swift, Chief Engineer. A good facsimile of this map is available in Stokes’ Iconography of Manhattan Island. As Stokes remarks, it covers much the same area as a revolutionary war map by Sauthier, and it is interesting to compare the two.[70] The volume compiled by Swift can still be found at the New York Historical Society, and it contains many other maps, plans, and views of fortifications.[71] The most detailed and wide-ranging of these is a map by Lieut. James Gadsen entitled Plan of Fort Green and Line of Intrenchments from the Wallabout to Gowanus Creek, with a Topographical Sketch of the Country (1814). This map, which shows the fortifications constructed in Brooklyn to protect New York City from assault, was later published in Valentine’s Manual.[72]

Several of the most interesting military maps of western Long Island were made shortly after the conclusion of peace. One consequence of the war was the recognition that a larger military establishment was needed for the defense of the United States. This led to increase in the size of the peacetime army, to the construction of numerous fortifications, and to increased mapping. Although the army Topographical Engineers Corps was disbanded in 1815, it was reestablished as the Topographical Bureau in 1816, and has remained in existence under various names ever since. The head of the Army Topographical Bureau from 1818 until his death in 1829 was Isaac Roberdeau.

One of the most striking maps of western Long Island made in the immediate aftermath of the War of 1812 was a large-scale survey by Charles Loss, which bears the title: Topographical Survey of the Western Part of Long Island: Exhibiting the Routes by Which an Ennemy [sic] May Approach the City of New York from the Atlantic Ocean.[73] This manuscript map, which was “commenced by order of B. Genl J.G. Swift, October 1818” provides an extraordinarily detailed picture of modern Kings and Queens counties. A careful survey, it could be used for such purposes as studying changes in the shoreline and wetlands of Jamaica Bay. It forms an important link in the sequence of detailed maps of this area, which starts with the maps of Taylor and Skinner during the Revolutionary War, and is continued by the maps of the U.S. Coast Survey in the 1830s. A rather different map produced around this time is James Kearney’s Survey of the Position of Throg’s and Wilkins’ Points and of the Adjacent Country (1819).[74] It also contains a good deal of topographic information, but it focuses more closely on the American fortifications constructed in the vicinity of Throg’s Neck to defend New York City from attack via Long Island Sound. Drawn at a scale of 12 inches to a mile (1:5,280), it is a classic example of a large-scale fortification map, and comes complete with diagrams showing artillery ranges.

The War of 1812 also left some cartographic traces further east on Long Island. The British fleet under Commodore Sir Thomas Hardy, a distinguished veteran of Trafalgar and other battles, controlled the waters around eastern Long Island, and effectively established a base on Gardiner’s Island in Peconic Bay. The British fleet traded with the locals, and engaged in several small raids, including an unsuccessful attack on Sag Harbor, which was then the leading port on eastern Long Island.[75] A curious map in the National Archives is a tracing made by Henry N. Thompson of the Topographic Engineers with the title Chart of Part of Long Island Sound Made by the British Squadron und. Comm.re Hardy during the Late War.[76] One wonders how the Americans got hold of a copy of this detailed nautical chart of the waters around eastern Long Island, which includes many soundings and shows anchorages of the British ships. Thompson’s chart, or something very similar, was used as the basis for Ephraim Chesebrough’s A New and Correct Chart of the East End of Long Island Sound, which was discussed above in the section on nautical charts.

The military mapping of northern New York during this period follows a similar pattern, with most of the detailed maps actually being produced after the end of the war. A fair number of manuscript maps of individual battles were drawn by participants on both sides, but only a few were published. One that made it into print is Patrick May’s map the battle of Sackets Harbor in 1813. It is a crudely drawn, but informative, battle map, which provides extensive information about fortifications, troop positions, the location of ships in the harbor, and other military matters.[77] Another battle map published during the war is a small but carefully drawn map of the Battle of Plattsburgh printed “to accompany B. Tanner’s print of MacDonough’s victory.”[78]

A number of detailed military maps made their way into accounts published shortly after the war. On the American side, the largest collection of published battle plans showing locations in New York appears is contained in an atlas volume accompanying General James Wilkinson’s Memoirs of My Own Times (1816).[79] This volume includes maps of the area around Niagara Falls, and a map showing the disposition of American troops at Sackett’s Harbor. On the British side, there is a similar collection of maps accompanying William James, A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America.[80]

After the end of the war, the newly reconstituted Army Topographic Bureau did a fair amount of surveying near the border between the United States and Canada. One of the most remarkable maps produced at this time is Richard Delafield’s Plan of Lake Champlain and Lake George and of Their Connection with the River St. Lawrence (1817).[81] A manuscript map, it appears to be the first detailed map of this area since Brasier’s map of Lake Champlain (drawn in 1762, published in 1776). The Topographic Engineers produced a number of even more detailed maps of strategic points and fortifications in this area, which can be found at the U.S. National Archives. Typical of this group is a Sketch of Crown Point with a Plan and Section of the Fort and Other Defenses from Actual Survey by J. Anderson and I. Roberdeau, U.S.T. Engineers, November 18.[82]

There was little surveying or mapping of roads and waterways in northern New York during the war of 1812. This is somewhat surprising, because wartime logistics were a major problem for both sides, and the expense and slowness of transporting men and material along bad roads to the Canadian border greatly hindered the American war effort. Peter Bernstein quotes from a report by General James Tallmadge, which claimed that it cost $1500 to $2000 to ship a cannon costing $400 to Lake Erie, and that a barrel of pork ended up costing the government $126.[83] Although some military roads were constructed during the war, I have been unable to locate detailed maps or surveys related to them. Much of the American military effort during the war was badly disorganized, which may partially account for the scarcity of this type of military mapping. The evident problems created for the army by poor transportation and logistics did, however, contribute to the growth of interest in roads and canals on all levels of government after the war.

Changes in the Community of Map Users

The decades following the American Revolution saw a significant expansion in map use. Prior to the middle of the nineteenth century, most maps were too expensive to be widely distributed, or be profitable to publish for a mass market. The high cost of paper and of engraving put limits on their production and limited their use to those who could afford them. Their purchasers were largely military officers, sea captains, wealthy merchants, and aristocrats. Many maps were published in magazines like the Gentleman’s Magazine, but these too were read largely by the upper classes.

Still, even in the eighteenth century, there was at least some use of maps by the general literate public. Although little research has been done on the subject, it appears that probably the ability to read maps coincided closely with general literacy. Middle class persons, such as clergymen, smaller merchants, and even craftsmen and farmers purchased a significant percentage of the atlases published by major British map publishers, and it seems that a similar pattern was followed in the American colonies.[84]

Less elaborate and expensive maps were sometimes sold as broadsides, and simple maps were often included in popular books, such as almanacs. Although not much is known about this subject, it appears that wall maps displayed in public buildings, such as taverns and courthouses, also provided the general public with some exposure to cartographic materials. Maps were also frequently available in libraries or reading rooms.

This situation gradually began to change after the American Revolution, although it was only after about 1840 that a real mass market for maps developed. As noted in the previous chapter, Martin Brückner has shown that simple maps of the United States and of individual states became important symbols of American identity. Brückner has also demonstrated that the study of geography played an increasingly important part in American education, as exemplified by the widespread use of elementary geography textbooks, such as those of Jedidiah Morse. As new land opened up, the American people became increasingly mobile, which raised the demand for maps showing areas of potential settlement, along with road and transportation maps to guide settlers to their new homes. This is reflected, to a modest extent, in the maps published by Charles Williamson, the Holland Land Company, and other land developers discussed in the previous chapter.

This general rise in geographic literacy and population mobility helped to drive a gradual increase in the publication of maps in the years between 1800 and 1830. In terms of map production, this period was one of transition, which helped prepare the way for the spectacular explosion of commercial cartography in the decades after 1830.

Maps of Towns and Cities, 1784-1830

Although the years around 1800 saw the birth of most of New York’s major cities, the population of the state remained overwhelmingly rural in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and except for New York City and Albany, the future metropolises of the Empire State were still small towns. In 1820, only 11.7 percent of the population of the state was made up of city dwellers.[85] In that year, the population of Syracuse was 1,814; Rochester’s population was 1,502; and that of Buffalo was 2,095.[86]. Under these circumstances, there was very little demand for printed maps of towns and cities, since most people do not need a map to find their way around a town with 2000 inhabitants.

However, a fair number of manuscript maps of smaller cities and towns in New York were produced. They were usually created for developers and used for planning purposes, or made to identify property owners for such purposes as collecting taxes. They would also have been paraded out to prospective home owners and investors in urban real estate. Doubtless such maps also appealed to property owners as symbolic representations of their power and wealth. Like estate maps, many of these town plans carry the message: “this belongs to me.” Typical of such productions are two maps of Cooperstown drawn for William Cooper in 1788 and 1804.[87] A more unusual example of this type of map is Joseph Ellicott’s Map of the Village of New Amsterdam (later Buffalo), which was prepared for the Holland Land Company in 1804, and shows the original street layout of Buffalo, which followed a radial plan similar to that drawn by Joseph’s brother, Andrew Ellicott, for the city of Washington. Joseph Ellicott’s plan of “New Amsterdam,” as he called the later city of Buffalo, was evidently intended to impress and garner support from investors in the Holland Land Company. The name New Amsterdam never caught on with local settlers, and the map was not published in Ellicott’s lifetime. It finally appeared in O’Callaghan’s Documentary History of New York (1851), and it is now widely available.[88]

Toward the end of this period, a few scattered maps of cities other than Albany and New York were published. The only printed maps of such cities that I have been able to identify are a map of Troy published by John Klein in 1818,[89] a map of Utica by John Fish, published in 1828,[90] and a map of Ogdensburg published in 1830.[91] There may be a few other such maps, but their number is very small in comparison to the flood of municipal maps that appeared after 1830.


Only New York City, and to a much lesser extent, Albany, had sufficient population to stimulate the production of substantial numbers of printed maps during this period. Albany’s population lagged far behind that of the metropolis to the south. In 1800, Albany had only 5,289 inhabitants; in 1820 it was still an overgrown village with a population of 12,000.[92] Despite its small size, Albany has been fairly well mapped throughout its history. As we have seen, even in the colonial era Albany’s strategic location gave it great economic and military importance. Because of its strategic significance, several maps of the city were made by military cartographers prior to the Revolution. After the conclusion of peace, Albany’s importance as a commercial hub increased with the settlement of western New York and the construction of the Erie Canal, and its prominence was further boosted by becoming the state’s capitol in 1797. During this period, several maps were produced of the city, reflecting both civic pride, and the usefulness of maps for city planning and real estate promotion. None of the maps of Albany produced prior to 1830 seem to have been made primarily to help visitors find their way around the small city.

The first post-Revolutionary maps of Albany were produced by Simeon De Witt. The earliest was drawn in 1790, but it was not published until 1884.[93] The town revealed on this map still looks very much like the old Dutch city huddled along the Hudson River, which is seen on earlier maps, such as the 1770 plan by Robert Yates. In 1794, De Witt published an expanded version of his map under the title A Plan of the City of Albany Surveyed at the Request of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonality ( 9.6).[94] The title of the map reveals its official character. It was published at a time when Albany was looking forward to becoming the state capitol, and its municipal leaders were envisaging a more grandiose future. It shows an extensive grid of streets, which had not yet been built, reaching back from the river. Albany eventually developed along these general lines, and thus De Witt’s map served as a blueprint for the future. In this respect, it anticipates the much later “Commissioner’s Map” of New York City, for which De Witt also bears some responsibility, and which is likewise based on a gridiron pattern. This pattern echoes on a small scale the rectangular grid that De Witt imposed on the New Military Tract, and anticipates the widespread use of grids for allocating both urban and rural lands throughout the United States.

9.6. Simeon De Witt, Map of the City of Albany (1794). New York State Museum.

The next map of Albany to be published appeared in 1818 and bears, significantly, almost exactly the same title as its predecessor: Map of the City of Albany, Surveyed at the Request of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonality.[95] It was surveyed by one Evert Van Alen, and illustrates Albany’s growth—and its growing ambitions—since the appearance of De Witt’s map of 1794. Much of De Witt’s grid is now filled in with occupied houses, which are shown with numbers. In addition, the grid has been greatly extended, with ward numbers being added, along with many new streets and unoccupied blocks. An updated version of this map was issued in 1832. At about the same time, similar maps were published by George W. Merchant (1828) and Oliver Steele (1833).[96] All of these maps appear to have been prepared primarily for civic planners and real estate boosters, rather than for use by travelers.

New York City

New York City was already a giant in comparison with other urban centers in the state. In 1800, the population of Manhattan was 60,489. By 1820, it had increased to over 123,000.[97] New York was the only city in the state during the fifty years after the Revolution of sufficient size and stature to generate a market for street maps intended for the use of both residents and visitors.

As was the case for the colonial period, the cartographic history of New York City during the Federal era has been extensively documented by I.N. Stokes and others.[98] Here only the highlights will be summarized.

The earliest map of New York City published after the Revolution appears to be John McComb’s Plan of the City of New York (1789).[99] This map already illustrates the relative prominence of the metropolis, for it appeared in a city directory, which reveals that visitors and residents already felt the need for a cartographic guide to the emerging metropolis. Although not a particularly outstanding map, it served its purpose well. It gives street names, and identifies such features as wharfs and public buildings. It marks the beginning of a parade of maps with a similar purpose, which has continued down to the present. In 1792, the engraver of this map (Cornelius Tiebout) issued an updated edition for William Duncan’s The New-York Directory, and Register.[100] In 1799, Benjamin Tanner published a similar Plan of the City of New York.[101] In 1804 another map with the same title was drawn by one “J.A.” and engraved by Peter Maverick.[102] Starting in 1817, William Hooker, an associate of nautical chart producer Edmund Blunt, began publishing guide maps of New York City. Hooker published a number of similar maps, such as Hooker’s New Pocket Plan of the City of New York.[103] Hooker had several competitors, including Thomas H. Poppleton, Philadelphia publisher Henry Schenk Tanner, and William Chapin, author of a Plan of the City of New York: for the Use of Strangers (1831).[104] By 1830, commercial guide maps to New York were being published so frequently that a complete listing would be tedious. A good selection of these maps is available for viewing on the Web site of the New York Public Library.

More specialized and elaborate maps of the city also started to appear. An early example is a detailed and carefully crafted map of lower Manhattan published in 1797 by Benjamin Taylor as A New and Accurate Plan of the City of New York.[105] Only a few copies of this handsome map survive, and it would have adorned the offices of merchants and politicians, rather than been used by the general public. A growing self consciousness of the city’s history is revealed in a map published by David Longworth in 1817 with the title This Actual Map and Comparative Plans Showing 88 years of Growth of the City of New York is Inscribed to the Citizens.[106] This elaborate map includes as in inset a copy of the James Lyne plan of 1729. Another sign of the increasing complexity and maturity of New York City is revealed by the title of a map that appeared slightly after the end of our period, in 1834: The Firemen’s Guide: a Map of the City of New-York, Showing the Fire Districts, Fire Limits, Hydrants, Public Cisterns, Stations of Engines, Hooks & Ladders, Hose Carts, &c.[107]

A particularly important group of New York City maps were concerned with urban planning. By 1800, the Common Council of New York City came to realize that they needed to plan for the future expansion of the rapidly growing city. Unable to manage the task on their own, they turned to the State Legislature, which appointed a special commission to produce a plan for the growth of the city. This three-person commission consisted of Gouverneur Morris, John Rutherford, and Simeon De Witt. The surveyor general appears to have dominated this commission, which appointed a protégé of his, John Randel, Jr., to conduct a detailed survey of Manhattan Island. The commissioners superimposed upon Randel’s maps a gridiron pattern of streets, which largely determined the appearance of present-day New York. Here, too, the influence of De Witt may have been decisive, since he had previously adopted grids, both for his surveys of the New Military Tract and for his plan of Albany. De Witt by no means invented the gridiron plan for cities any more than he invented the rectangular survey, but there can be no doubt that its selection for New York City did much to further its adoption throughout the country. The gridiron plan has been much criticized for its sterility and lack of imagination, but it greatly facilitated the subdivision and sale of lots, which was doubtless the commissioners’ main concern. New York City’s much celebrated and reviled grid has received continuing attention from historians and urban planners. Two recent books have done much to expand our knowledge of the history of the grid, and of the techniques used by its chief implementor, John Randel.[108]

The commissioners’ plan went through several renditions as a map. The first version is a manuscript map produced by Randel in 1811, which has been described as “the single most important document in New York City’s development.”[109] A published version, which has been widely reproduced, was drawn by William Bridges and engraved by Peter Maverick ( 9.7).[110] An updated version of the commissioners’ plan was published by Randel in 1821. This is a particularly colorful map, which includes illustrations of Randel’s surveying instruments, some of which he invented himself.[111]

9.7. William Bridges, This Plan of the City of New York (1811). Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Also associated with the Manhattan grid is the remarkable series of detailed topographical maps that Randel drafted as part of his efforts to implement the grid on the surface of the island. These maps, which were drawn between 1818 and 1820 at a scale of 100 feet to an inch, show the surface topography of Manhattan with great accuracy and in extraordinary detail. Along with the British Headquarters Map (briefly described in Chapter 7), the “Randel Farm Maps,” as they are called, are the prime source for those who endeavor to understand what Manhattan looked like prior to being smothered with asphalt and buildings. The ninety-two manuscript sheets reside in the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, and have never been published in their entirety in paper. Recently the New York City Historical Society has made them available to the public online as a single high-resolution image produced by stitching together the individual sheets.[112]

This large and varied output of maps of New York City in the first decades of the nineteenth century is quite remarkable. It is a testimony both to the rapid growth of the metropolis, and to the importance of maps in shaping its development. Nothing even remotely comparable appeared for other cities in New York until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.

Maps of New York State, 1805-1830

The trickle of maps of New York State published between 1784 -1804 developed into a steady stream in the following decades, although it did not become a torrent until after 1830. The De Witt map was not revised after 1804, but commercial map publishers moved in to fill the demand for updated maps of the state. The quality of these maps varied widely, but several of them notably improved on De Witt in the amount of detailed information they provided. In many cases, little is known about how these maps were produced or marketed, or even about the biographies of their makers.

It is possible to distinguish between small-scale reference maps, which were inexpensive and widely available, and large-scale maps, which aimed to present the most up-to-date and detailed geographic information.

The general reference maps followed a pattern set by the map of New York State by Samuel Lewis, which was first published by Matthew Carey in 1795. Lewis himself continued to revise this map for the next twenty years, and several editions were published in atlases issued by Matthew Carey, Henry Schenk Tanner, Aron Arrowsmith, and Fielding Lucas.[113] Some of the later editions of this map show substantial revisions, including corrections in the depictions of lakes and rivers, as well as new roads and towns.

Even in the years prior to 1820, Lewis had considerable competition. For example, Carey and Tanner issued similar maps under their own names or those of others. In 1808, William McAlpine published his map of New York, which was previously mentioned because of its careful depiction of roads. In 1813, Horatio Gates Spafford published a map of New York to accompany his Gazetteer of the State of New York.[114] A number of similar maps can be found at various libraries and online, but none of them broke new ground and require specific mention.

It is remarkable that a high percentage of these maps were originally published in books, such as atlases, textbooks, and gazetteers. It should be kept in mind that the same maps were often also available as individual sheets. It is striking how many of them were published outside of New York, particularly in Philadelphia, which dominated the publication of cartographic materials in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

In the 1820s, maps for the general public started to appear in larger quantities, and in greater variety. They typically show towns and county boundaries, along with roads and canals. The more elaborate were brightly colored, and sometimes included insets showing New York City or other details, such as a profile of the Erie Canal. John Ogden Dey’s highly embellished Map of the Western Part of the State of New York (1825), which was noted above under canal mapping, exemplifies these trends. They are also illustrated by Fielding Lucas’ Geographical, Statistical, and Historical Map of New York, which first appeared in an atlas published by Carey and Lea in 1822.[115] This moderately detailed map includes a profile of the Erie Canal, along with a fair amount of descriptive information, such as might be found in an encyclopedia or detailed gazetteer. This map was successful enough to be reprinted several times, and it was even copied in a French version of Carey and Lea’s atlas.[116]

A number of somewhat similar, but less elaborate, maps were published in this decade. Thus, Edmund Blunt’s associate, William Hooker, whose maps of New York City were mentioned above, also published a Map of the State of New York: with the Latest Improvements (probably in 1827).[117] J.H. Young produced a Map of the State of New York in 1824.[118] And William Williams published The Tourist’s Map of the State of New York (1828), which is notable for its early and very explicit appeal to the tourist trade.[119] Other maps closely resembling these can be found on the Web site of the New York Public Library and elsewhere. Very similar maps continued to appear through the following decades.

Most of these maps are not especially interesting or innovative, and they often show a monotonous resemblance to each other. They are significant primarily as an indication that a sizable market was developing for inexpensive maps—whose purchasers included students, tourists, and business travelers. And they show that the American map publishing industry was becoming sufficiently robust to meet that demand.

The reader has probably noticed that names like Lucas, Hooker, Maverick, Tanner, and Carey reappear in a various combinations on early nineteenth-century maps— thus revealing the many links between the major s producing maps of New York, including publishers in Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. This is an indication of under-capitalization and limited resources, and it resembles the ties between such seventeenth-century English map publishers as Seller, Morden, and Daniels, which were described in chapter four of this book.

Turning to more ambitious large-scale maps, we can begin with the remarkable series of maps of New York State produced between 1801 and 1826 by Amos Lay (1765 -1851). Lay was apparently born in Connecticut and spent some time in Vermont, but for most of his life he lived and worked in Albany and New York City.[120]

Lay started his career as a surveyor and land agent. In 1796, he placed advertisements in several Vermont and New Hampshire newspapers as an agent for sale of land in Lower Canada (now Ontario). A few years later, he was involved in surveying land along the St. Lawrence River in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties. In 1821 he wrote that he “had been employed for upwards of twenty-six years in exploring and surveying various parts of the United States, Upper and Lower Canada, and also in compiling and publishing maps,…” [121]

Lays first cartographic work appeared in 1801, when he co-authored a map of northern New York.[122] A note on the map describes it as “compiled from the latest survey by A. Lay; and drawn by Arthur J. Stansbury.” Lay’s exact role in the production of this map is unclear. Judging from a description of the map published by his collaborator, Lay did a limited amount of surveying, and relied primarily on compiling information from other surveys.

Drawn at a scale of slightly more than seven miles to an inch, this map covers New York north of the Mohawk and Oswego Rivers. The details on this map are rather sparse and uneven. It shows fairly detailed hydrography for most areas, and major towns, but no topography. Its most notable feature is its delineation of the boundaries of recent land grants and purchases. Oddly, it is oriented toward magnetic north “as it was in 1760.”

At this point, Amos Lay almost disappeared from view for ten years. He seems to have made his living as a surveyor and land agent, and very likely engaged in some land speculation, which was a common pastime for people with his background.

He remerged in 1812, with the publication of a revised version of his Map of the Northern Part of the State of New York.[123] This map marks a considerable improvement over the previous edition. Although it is on a slightly smaller scale, its coverage is expanded to all of New York north of the 42nd parallel (the boundary line with Pennsylvania). It is remarkably detailed, and appears to be carefully drawn and reasonably accurate. Like its predecessor, it focuses on land divisions, but it also shows county boundaries, and includes detailed coverage of roads and hydrography.

Lay showed a good sense of timing in publishing his map, for Simeon De Witt’s masterpiece was by now ten years out of date, and it had no real successor. Interest in Lay’s map was also boosted by the outbreak of the War of 1812. Lay had apparently learned something about the value of advertising, for he placed many newspaper advertisements for this and his subsequent maps. In January, 1813, Lay (who gave his address as “City Hotel, New York”) placed the following advertisement in the New York Evening Post:


The Subscriber now offers to the Public his New Map of the State of New-York, which is rendered more desirable than any heretofore published by reason of the improvements and additions made thereto, particularly as regards the Western and Northern parts of this Statethe bounds of particular Tracts, Towns and Counties, are designated with accuracy from the best information, with the view to accommodate those non-residents who are the proprietors of Lands in the Western Districtand for the convenience of the Traveller, the principle Roads and Villages are delineated with accuracy. To those desirous of tracing the active operations of our troops on the Western and Northern frontiers of this State the last season, this Map is to be preferred to any other yet published, because it exhibits with accuracy that part of Upper Canada, situate west of the Niagara River, and North of Lake Ontario and the river St. Lawrence.[124]

Lay reinforced his ad with testimonials from Gouverneur Morris, Robert Troup (agent for the Pulteney Land Company), and David Ogden (head of the Ogden Land Company). This suggests that he had developed or maintained ties with New York’s political and economic elite, and particularly with land developers. It is also revealing that his advertisement specifically targeted non-resident land owners, which would have included many who had bought land from the Pulteney and Ogden land companies. He concluded this advertisement with an interesting postscript, which tells us much about the pricing and marketing of maps at this time:

Subscriptions received at the Book-store of Messrs. Whiting & Watson, Broadway, New-York, where subscribers will be pleased to call for their Maps.

Those Subscribers resident in the country will have their Maps delivered, or sent to some place in their vicinity.

Printers in the adjoining states are respectfully solicited to give this advertisement a place in their papers, and to procure subscriptions. For their services in obtaining subscriptions and collecting the amount they will be entitled to a commission of 20 per cent. and the Maps will be forwarded on applications to Messrs. Whiting & Watson, Broadway.[125]

Lay priced this map at $5.00 “in sheets,” $8.50 “mounted and varnished,” and $7.00 “portable in books.” This pricing structure, which is typical of most of his maps, shows that he was not aiming at a mass market. In 1812, $5.00 would have been about a week’s wages for an unskilled laborer. The choice between purchasing the map in folded form for travel or mounted as a wall map was not unusual for large maps at this time.

Lay must have met with some success in his efforts to lure subscribers with information about the War of 1812, for his next production bears the title A New Correct Map of the Seat of War in Lower Canada: Protracted from Holland’s Large Map Compiled from Actual Survey Made by Order of the Provincial Government.[126] This map was “laid down with many late additions and improvements by Amos Lay,” and published in Philadelphia by Lay with J. Webster. Typically detailed and carefully done, it reflects Lay’s interest in and knowledge of Canada, and reminds us that Samuel Holland (who played such an important role in mapping colonial New York), pursued his career in Canada after the Revolution. Lay’s map was successful enough to be republished by Lay and Webster in 1837.

A few years later, Lay returned to his map of New York, and extended it to include all of the state, and parts of neighboring states ( 9.8). Published in 1817, this is another excellent and large map (127 x 127 cm. at a scale of seven miles per inch).[127] As is usually the case with Lay’s maps, it includes no information about who engraved or printed it. Although its design and engraving are not especially attractive, it is stuffed with information. By this time, De Witt’s map was fifteen years out of date, and Lay’s work thus had no rival in terms of timeliness or detail. To boost his sales, Lay obtained an impressive list of endorsements from New York’s elite. Among the luminaries endorsing his map were De Witt Clinton, Martin Van Buren, Daniel D. Tompkins (former governor and Vice President), Stephan Van Rensselaer, Joseph Ellicott (agent of the Holland Land Company) and Horatio Gates Spafford (author of a gazetteer of New York). Conspicuously missing from the list was the sphinx-like Simeon De Witt, who studiously refrained from expressing an opinion on almost everything. It would be interesting to know what he thought of Lay’s map.

9.8. Amos Lay, Map of the State of New York (1817). Courtesy David Rumsey Collection.

Lay’s 1817 map of the entire state was his greatest success to date. New editions or reprintings were published in 1819, 1820, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826, and 1828. At least some of them involved considerable revision. In soliciting subscriptions for the 1822 edition, he permitted himself to boast that his maps “have met with very liberal patronage and encouragement,” adding that he was “flattered in the belief, that a perseverance in his present undertaking to promote and extend the general knowledge and improvement of his own country [i.e. New York], and the adjoining provinces, will entitle him to the confidence of the public, and such share of their patronage, as the merit of his labours may deserve.” He also hastened to assure potential purchasers “that in a late tour of this state, he has collected and is delineating, from all principal Land Offices and other correct sources, all the improvements and corrections that will render this Map still more desirable, and that no pains will be spared to make it the most useful and perfect Map of the State of New-York and the country it comprises.”[128]

Lay’s large map of New York was his final contribution to the cartography of this state. Some time after 1822, he moved both his map shop and residence to New York City. He was involved with several small projects during the 1820s, including the republication of Osgood Carleton’s map of Massachusetts and an abortive plan to produce a map of Rhode Island. His final major project was the publication of a large map of the United States.[129]

The detail of Lay’s maps makes them of considerable interest to students of local history, since they sometimes contain information that cannot easily be found elsewhere. In addition, his career illustrates the difficulties of being an independent mapmaker in a period when markets and systems of distributing maps were still rudimentary.

The counterpart for southern New York of Lay’s early maps of northern New York is a somewhat similar production by another little-known independent mapmaker William Damerum’s Map of the Southern Part of the State of New York (1815).[130] This map also updates De Witt’s map, and provides us with a good overview of the cultural features of southern New York in 1815.

John Hartshorne Eddy (1783-1817) is another of early nineteenth-century New York’s little-known Cartographers.[131] J.H. Eddy was the son of the wealthy merchant and prison reformer Thomas Eddy. In contrast with Amos Lay, he was a child of fortune, but his life was not an easy one, since at the age of twelve he lost his hearing as the result of scarlet fever. Still, his family background assured that he had both the means and the social connections to pursue his intellectual interests. Among other things, his father was a friend and political ally of De Witt Clinton, and Thomas Eddy was an early promoter of the Erie Canal. Given this background, J.H. Eddy, unlike Amos Lay, did not need to engage in extensive advertising and self-promotion to make a living. What he shared with Lay was an intense interest in creating maps. Eddy attended Columbia College, and had wide-ranging intellectual interests, including botany and geology, but he called himself a “geographer” and specialized in the compilation and drawing of maps.

Although there is evidence that Eddy was a capable surveyor, his published maps, like those of Lay and Damerum, were essentially works of compilation. They were engraved and published by others, including the well-known New York firm of Peter and Samuel Maverick, and by H.S. Tanner’s firm in Philadelphia. Almost all of his published maps depicted all or part of New York State. Two of them were popular enough to be revised and republished after his death.

Eddy’s early maps were regional in focus. His first cartographic project appears to be a map of western New York, which was made at the request of New York State’s Canal Commissioners. At that time, the commissioners were William North, De Witt Clinton, Stephan Van Rensselaer, Simeon De Witt, Peter Porter, and Thomas Eddy. In 1810, J.H. Eddy accompanied his father, the other canal commissioners, and several others (including the surveyor James Geddes) on an expedition, which was mentioned briefly above, to explore the route of the proposed canal. Eddy himself recorded some of the events of this expedition in a little known diary, which has never been published.[132]

This expedition led to the publication in 1811 of the previously mentioned Map of the Western Part of the State of New York: Shewing [sic] the Route of a Proposed Canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson River.[133] Carefully drawn and detailed, it includes a profile of the proposed canal. Published fourteen years before the canal was completed, it is the first of series of maps depicting the route of the Erie Canal. It is remarkable how closely Eddy’s map follows the route finally chosen, although of course there are some differences from the route selected in the end, especially west of the Genesee River. This map was followed by two related maps. The first is a detailed Map of the straights of Niagara from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, which would have been useful for planning the western end of the canal.[134] The second, which also seems to have been published for the Canal Commissioners, shows the proposed canal in a broader regional context.[135]

During these years, Eddy was also working on other projects. In 1811, he published an unusual circular map of the area thirty miles around New York.[136] This map was also drawn with great care and attention to detail. It was dedicated to “DeWitt Clinton, Esqr. Mayor of the City of New York … by his respectful friend The Author.” Drawn at a scale of three miles to an inch, it differentiates between turnpikes and common roads, and makes a point of showing the locations of taverns, and of the “country seats” of local gentry. It carefully depicts hills and swamps, and includes information about historical sites, including the location of the Battle of Long Island and the recently constructed monument for Alexander Hamilton. Some of the information on it is slightly quirky: it asserts that the ridge of hills running through Brooklyn and Queens is properly “called the Green Mountains.” It gives the longitude of New York (based on the meridians of Washington, Greenwich, and Paris) “as determined by the solar eclipse of 1806.”[137]

One can only guess at the uses to which this map was put. Its scale is too small to make it of much use to ordinary tourists visiting New York City, and it does not display New York’s street grid. It was doubtless also too expensive for the ordinary traveler. But it was a folding map, designed to fit into a cloth case, and probably intended at least in part to be used by travelers. It was most likely used by more wealthy tourists who planned to spend some time visiting the vicinity of New York, and by merchants and other prosperous middle class residents, who had occasion to visit the taverns and “country seats” of notables, as well as to travel for more practical reasons. The New York Public Library has a copy of this map mounted on wooden rollers, which suggests that some of its owners displayed it as a wall map.

Eddy’s circular map achieved lasting success. It was reissued several times after his death— in 1826, 1836, 1839 and 1842.[138] Subsequently, it was re-engraved by Colton in 1846.[139] It also inspired several imitations, one of which was published by David H. Burr in 1835.[140] A comparison of Eddy’s version with those engraved for Colton and Burr reveals Eddy’s superiority as a designer and draftsman over his imitators. In the early twentieth century, Eddy’s circular map was praised by I.N. Stokes as “one of the most complete, accurate, and beautiful early engraved maps showing New York and its environs.”[141] It continues to be admired for its graphic elegance, remains popular with map collectors, and is still displayed on many walls.

Eddy’s most general map was The State of New York, with Part of Adjacent States. Completed in 1817, it was published posthumously by James Eastburn and Company in 1818, and reprinted in 1821 ( 9.9).[142] It was heavily revised and re-engraved in 1823.[143] In its general outlines, it is resembles many maps of New York that appeared during the nineteenth century. It is distinguished, as one would expect from Eddy, by its design and execution. Carefully drawn and attractive, it sports an image of the seal of New York. It focuses on county boundaries, roads, and towns—omitting much of the cadastral information that is so prominent on the maps of De Witt and Lay. Designed to fit in a case, it appears to have been intended to do double duty as a wall map and a guide map for tourists. Although somewhat less detailed than Lay’s map, it is more attractive and readable. It seems to have been the most highly regarded map of the state published between 1802 and 1830. It was widely advertised and often referred to during the 1820s, and it was not replaced in public regard until the publication of David Burr’s map and atlas of New York State in 1830.

9.9. J.H. Eddy, The State of New York (1818). Courtesy David Rumsey Collection.

New York’s First State Atlas

The period covered by this chapter closes with the publication of David H. Burr’s map and atlas of New York State (dated 1829, but not actually published until 1830).[144] This work can be viewed, to some extent, as the capstone of many of the developments described in this and the previous chapter. In many respects, the mapping of New York during the period between 1784 and 1830 was dominated by Simeon De Witt, and Burr’s landmark work is the last major cartographic project associated with De Witt. The atlas also embodies several themes that have reoccurred in these chapters, and takes some of these developments forward an additional step.

David H. Burr (1803-1875) began his long career as a cartographer as a protégé of De Witt Clinton. Most of what is known about Burr’s life has been described by W.W. Ristow, who appears to be the only person who has written extensively about him.[145] Burr was trained as a lawyer, and joined the New York State Militia in 1824. A year latter he was appointed Governor Clinton’s aide-de-camp. Shortly thereafter, he was placed in charge of surveying a portion of a state road through southern New York, and by 1827 he had conceived the idea of creating an atlas of the state.

The Burr atlas seems to have been sparked by a by a brief remark made by De Witt Clinton in his annual address to the legislature in 1827: “An authentic and official map of the state, is a desideratum which ought to be supplied, and this is suggested without any disparagement of the laudable attempts which have been made by individuals for that purpose.”[146] In October of that year, seemingly in response to the Governor’s request, the State Legislature passed “An Act Providing for the Publication of a Map and Atlas of This State.”[147]

This project, which was advocated by Simeon De Witt, did not sail through the legislature without opposition, and there was a good deal of debate about it, although it is difficult to discern through the cryptic notices in the legislative journals exactly what the issues were. Probably the expense of the project was the major concern. It is noteworthy that Amos Lay filed a remonstrance against the project, although we know nothing about the substance of it. It seems a safe guess that Lay either felt that he should be in charge of the project, or that he did not like the idea of a competitor being subsidized with state funds.[148]

By July, 1828, Burr felt confident enough to publish a broadside announcing a “new and elegant map and large atlas of the state of New York.”[149]. But it was not until early 1829 that Simeon De Witt made a specific proposal to the legislature spelling out what the map and atlas should look like, and how much it would cost.[150]

The original act authorizing this project specified that the Surveyor General was to revise and correct the work prior to publication, and that Burr was to have access to all state, county, and town offices to gather information for the atlas free of charge.[151] The title page of Burr’s atlas states that it was “projected and drawn under the superintendence and direction of Simeon De Witt.”

Although county atlases had been published in England since the Renaissance, Burr’s atlas was only the second state atlas published in the United States (the first was of South Carolina). That a need was felt for such a publication is itself an indication of the increasing population and economic development of the state. The atlas consists of a summary map of the state, along with individual maps of each county.

The summary map, which was also published separately, was not outstandingly innovative ( 9.10). Its overall design resembles that of J.H. Eddy’s map of New York State. This is no coincidence, since in a communication to the State Senate, De Witt had noted that Burr’s state map was to show, in addition to New York, “the district of the country comprehended by Eddy’s map of the state of New-York, and the adjacent parts….”[152]. Burr also appears to have copied many details from the Eddy map, although Burr’s version is not as carefully drawn and engraved. In spite of being somewhat derivative, it is a respectable performance. It uses a heavy but legible typographic style, which is characteristic of Burr’s maps, and updates Eddy’s map with new villages, roads and town boundaries. In place of Eddy’s depiction of much of Pennsylvania, it substitutes profiles of the Erie and Champlain canals.

9.10. David Burr, Map of the State of New York (1832). Courtesy David Rumsey Collection.

Burr’s map of New York was frequently updated and reprinted through the early 1840s It appears to be the most widely used map of the state in period between about 1830 and 1845. It had a complicated publication history, with editions being produced by Burr himself and by Colton, as well as by other publishers. It is not clear to what extent Burr was actually involved in creating many of these editions, but the appearance of this map in a variety of versions and at various scales illustrates the broadening of the commercial market for maps in the 1830s (a topic which will be taken up in another chapter). Burr himself scaled down and drastically revised this map for publication in two atlases that appeared under his name: the New Universal Atlas (1835) and the American Atlas (1839).[153] During the 1830s, Burr expanded his activities to the national stage, and became (successively) Topographer to the Post Office and Geographer to the House of Representatives. He ended his public career as the first surveyor general of Utah Territory.[154]

The county sheets are the most important part of the Burr atlas. A close examination of them shows the continuing influence of De Witt’s 1802 map of New York. The major topographic features appear to be derived directly from De Witt, but the Burr atlas includes a great deal of new information, reflecting the rapid development of the state in the intervening quarter century. Canals are shown, and Burr also distinguished carefully between “stage roads” (mostly turnpikes) and “county roads.” In addition, he used special symbols to designate “flouring mills,” “manufactories,” saw mills, forges, and churches. The boundaries of towns are drawn in on each of the county maps. Many of these maps show how the large land purchases in the state were initially divided up into smaller tracts—information that is not readily available elsewhere. In many counties, the Burr atlas shows these initial subdivisions at a stage prior to the allocation of lots to individual settlers ( 9.11).[155]

9.11. Detail of Burr’s Map of the County of Delaware (1829). Courtesy David Rumsey Collection.

Burr sent out copies of his county maps to town clerks and supervisors, asking them to correct errors and add new information. A similar procedure had been followed by Simeon De Witt in creating his 1802 map of the state, and it is significant that the surveyor general (not Burr) was authorized by a close vote to carry out this procedure for the new project.[156] Copies of these corrected maps along with comments by the town supervisors and clerks can still be found in the New York State Archives.[157]

The Burr atlas also had an interesting post-publication history, although it was not as convoluted as that of his map of New York State. There was a little-known 1832 edition or reprinting, which appears to be nearly identical with the 1829 edition, except for two maps.[158] A very unusual edition was published (possibly by Colton) in 1838. This was a mass-market version in a small format with greatly downscaled county maps, and several maps of cities that do not appear in the original edition. All of the maps in this atlas, except for one, were printed using an unidentified process, which produced white-on-black maps that look remarkably like negative photostats.[159] The most important of the revised editions was prepared in 1839 “for the use of engineers,” and published by Stone and Clark in Ithaca. Evidently it had very limited distribution—probably mostly to state officials. This was an extensively revised and updated version of the original 1829 atlas. It is useful for tracing the growth of railroads and other cultural changes in New York in the preceding decade.[160] Stone and Clark issued another edition “with corrections and improvements” in 1841.[161] This is the last edition of the Burr atlas, although an unsuccessful proposal was presented to the state legislature for a new edition in 1855.[162]

The later editions of the Burr map and atlas take us into the 1830s and beyond, anticipating developments described in later chapters—particularly the appearance of multiple editions of maps for different needs and markets.

In most respects, though, the Burr atlases do not mark a dramatic departure from the past in technique or approach. They can be seen as the culmination of efforts reaching back well into the eighteenth century. Burr used essentially the same method in compiling his atlas that De Witt had used to make his 1802 map of New York, or that Sauthier had used to prepare his pre-revolutionary map of the province. All of these works were created by collating earlier maps, occasionally supplementing them with limited surveys and information gathered from non-cartographic sources. Because such maps were put together from a variety of materials of varying scales, of different dates, and of varying standards of accuracy, it was easy for errors to creep in. Given these circumstances, it is remarkable how good the maps of Sauthier, De Witt, and Burr were. But throughout this period there was an increasing call for more accurate maps based on uniform surveys.

After 1830 mapping by collation was gradually replaced by a new version of “scientific mapping” based on the systematic triangulation of large areas. This technique was seen as a way to remedy the doubtful and uneven quality of earlier maps, and its development will be explored in the following chapters.

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