A PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST FOLIO PLAN OF NEW YORK published after the American Revolution. It was presented by William Thornton, architect of the Capitol and Commissioner for the development of the city of Washington, to the Comte de Volney, author of the first book on the climate of the United States.
New York post war
The City was occupied by the British throughout the American Revolution and was only officially handed over on 25 November 1783. The first US Congress met in 1785 in New York City at Federal Hall on Wall Street, number 1 in the legend of the map. In 1789, the City became the first capital of the United States under the new United States Constitution. The United States of America’s Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified there. George Washington was inaugurated at Federal Hall on 30 April 1789. New York City remained the capital but was found to be inadequate and was transferred to Philadelphia between 1790 and 1800 whilst the new capital of Washington was being constructed. New York continued to position itself for the remarkable growth of the nineteenth century.
Only two post war plans were issued earlier than this one. A quarto sized plan of the city was published in ‘The New-York Directory’ for 1789. A later reproduction of similar size was issued by William Duncan in his ‘New-York Directory’ in 1791. This considerably larger one was published by David Longworth (d.1821). In 1796 he began publishing ‘Longworth’s American Almanack, New-York Register, and City Directory’. It would continue publishing under the auspices of his son Thomas through to the 1840s.
The map is drawn by ‘J.A. Del'[ineated]. This is identified as John Anderson (d.1798), whose diaries survive in the New York Historical Society. He was an artist, lawyer and brother to Alexander Anderson the engraver. He was also a friend of Washington Irving’s. The diary states in an entry on 21 April 1796 that he ‘began to draw a plan of the city for Mr. Longworth.’ Quite why he turned to Anderson is not clear, no other cartographic work is known by him. On the 3 May he delivered the plan and charged him eight dollars.
Longworth turned to the engraver Peter Rushton Maverick (1755-1811) to produce the map. Tooley’s Dictionary describes him as a silversmith and portrait engraver and one of a family of engravers. The ‘New York Daily Advertiser’ for 9 May 1796 announced ‘A large plan of the city of New York, is now engraving for Longworth’s American Almanac and NEW-YORK DIRECTORY. Subscriptions for a few copies of said Plan separate from the Directory, price only four shillings, will be received by the Editor No. 66, Nassau Street’. This slightly contradicts the title page of the Directory which states ’embellished with an accurate Map of the City’. Certainly, no known example of any of the early editions includes an example of the map. Anderson died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1798.
This plan records the city at the beginning of this important period. A table of references on the left identifies 45 places. There are two additions here to the earliest known state. Number 44 is the ‘Flag Staff’ at the old Battery constructed in 1790. The historic Battery itself was dismantled and is here replaced by Government House; a building intended as an executive house for President George Washington. Number 45 is Bunker Hill on Grand Street which has here been extended westwards. The Hill has been re-engraved and marks the sight of the popular but cruel sport of bull baiting. It was also a popular duelling ground. The area is now known as Little Italy.
The area at the top of the map north of Grand Street is present day Soho. By the East River, Dover Street marks the present-day site of the Brooklyn Bridge. Further east the shoreline centred on Montgomery St. identifies the site of present-day Pier 36. ‘Willet’s Wf.’ is named for the popular American Revolutionary figure and mayor of New York, Marinus Willett (1740-1830). North Street marks the beginning of the current numeration of streets to the north.
The Buttonwood Agreement took place purportedly under a Buttonwood Tree on 17 May 1792. It was an attempt to organize the trading of securities in New York. It was signed by 24 stockbrokers outside of 68 Wall Street. There were two main provisions to the agreement. Firstly, they the signatories, would only buy and sell from each other. Secondly that the commission was set at 0.25%. The following year they began conducting their business as in London, at a coffee house called Tontine’s. This is marked on the map as no. 38. It developed into what we now know of as the New York Stock Exchange.
Wheat & Brun identifies only works up to 1800 and lists two entries for this plan. Even then they could not identify any examples or even its dimensions. We now know of 5 different states of the map. Of all the issues only about a dozen examples are known in institutions. Of the first state only the New York Public Library and one recently sold by Boston Rare Maps are known. This is likely to be a proof state as it does not bear any imprint below. This therefore may well be the first published state known. An example of this issue is also found in the New York Public Library. Three later dated editions of 1803, 1804 and 1808 are known also.
Comte de Volney
This example comes from Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney (1757-1820), who was a French philosopher and historian whose ‘Ruins of Empires’ was mostly translated secretly by Thomas Jefferson. It was Jefferson who inducted him into the American Philosophical Society. On arrival in America in 1795 he was warmly received by President Washington who, like Thomas Jefferson, was an admirer of France. Their political rival John Adams however distrusted them. ‘The French were becoming even more ruthless towards Americans at sea than had been the British – no other country totally accepted the United States as a viable entity, and both Britain and France still believed they were entitled to most of North America. Many in both countries considered the American experiment would fail’ (Graye). Upon becoming President, John Adams’ suspicions about Volney increased although there is no evidence to support this. There are ten surviving letters between Thornton and Volney which relate their close friendship. Thornton aware of his position in Washington had to tread a careful line. They both ‘shared similar enlightened ideals about universal education’ (Graye).
Provenance: presented as part of a portfolio of maps by William Thornton to Comte Volney acquired 15 May 1984; Burden Collection. Boston Rare Maps; Graye, Michelle (2014) ‘Thomas Jefferson’s Washington Architect: William B. Thornton’, Monticello West pp. 196-7; Haskell ‘Manhattan Maps 631; Stokes (1915-28) vol. V April 1803; Tooley’s Dictionary; Wheat & Brun 391 & 395.