The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 United States Friday, July 11, 2014


British map dealer Andrew Adamson may have found an unusual hand-drawn map of New York from 1776
The Ratzer Map of the City of New York in North America with a South West view of the city. Photo: Heritage Charts.

By: Pearl Duncan

NEW YORK, NY.- New York once was a city that existed only near and around Wall Street, and the rest of the lands were farmlands owned by British royals and wealthy nobles.

I had just started reading the Scottish author, Andro Linklater’s “Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership,” about the history of landownership through the ages, with specific interest in landownership in colonial New York. The author says unlike other parts of the world, where land was owned communally in traditional societies, or places where land was owed by an authoritarian power, a state or a government or corporation, land, became privately owned on both sides of the Atlantic, and individual private ownership changed the world. He laments the fact that such private ownership dismantled traditional communal cultures, but argues that in its place, private landownership gave rise to democracies, on both sides of the Atlantic, in America and Britain.

So as I was reading this book about how landowning has shaped history, I saw the news that the owner of a British chart company, a businessman who locates documents in the archives, reproduces them, then sells the quality reproductions, said he discovered a map of colonial New York whose details were previously unknown. He said this map is unique, because it not only shows early New York, as other maps do, but it shows markings and notations of leaders of British-occupied New York. There are notations of the troops in the city’s islands and harbors. He is Andrew Adamson and his company is Heritage Charts.

I know the map is unique because unlike modern maps, which are more functional, these older maps were works of art.

Having researched colonial maps, and having found a colonial ancestor who was an architect, land surveyor and map maker, also having researched the 18th-century merchant cargo ship that was found underground in the foundations of the World Trade Center in the summers of 2010 and 2011, identified the ship and her Wall Street owner and completed a manuscript about the people who owned the land and harbor that was New York in the American Revolutionary War era when Founding Fathers were New York residents and British Royal military officers ruled the city, I was curious.

Colonial maps show the divide between one-percenters and ninety-nine-percenters, by identifying the one-percenters who gave their names to the land and the ninety-nine-percenters who clung on, unnamed. Some maps of New York were topographical, showing the sweep of the island, and others were geopolitical, showing the military and power centers of the place.

Adamson, the British map excavator, said he uncovered a "very brown and dusty plan" that showed New York City and British troop positions in the city in pre-Revolutionary years. He also found a paper fragment at the center of the map. The paper fragment, he said, showed the city in detail. Because of the troops’ notations, he guesses that the map is of British-occupied New York during the era of the Battle of Brooklyn and the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776, specifically in the summer of that year.

Now, this is where the discovery becomes interesting. The map hunter says he believes the paper fragment is a drawing of the city, Plan of the City of New York¬, done by the renowned British cartographer, Bernard Ratzer, whose map of New York was printed and published in 1776. But even if the find is authenticated with time-dating, historians will debate whether the map fragment is from a Ratzer map, or was another map.

Yes, Bernard Ratzer was a land surveyor and cartographer in the British army, but he made his initial drawings of the city in 1755, based on a survey of the city by the City’s land surveyor, Francis Maerschalk, in 1754. His map was drawn between 1755 and 1757 but not printed until 1766 to 1767 and not published until 1776. In addition, Ratzer’s printed map drew on details from an earlier map done by Lt. John Montressor, a British Royal military engineer. Montressor printed a map for the British military on the eve of the war in 1775, and the Montressor Map of the city was created between December, 1765 and February 8, 1766 but it was not printed and published until 1775. So even if the map found is authenticated by time-dating, the fragment would have to be examined to determine if it has details unique to the early Montressor or Ratzer drawings or the later printed maps.

The heritage is controversial because these were war maps. There were also valuable, artistic collectors’ items.

The Ratzer Map was significant, not only for what it showed, detailed streets and the city’s wards, but for its showy depictions of the city’s harbor and islands. The map was commissioned by one of King George III’s Royal Governors. Created by a British military officer, it was so valuable, the first print was given to King George III. The King’s copy now sits in the British Library in London. The New York Historical Society owns two originals of the Ratzer map, done in 1766-67, published in 1769-1770, and the Brooklyn Historical Society owns one.

The British noble who commissioned the Ratzer map for the King was the 1st Baronet, Sir Henry Moore, the Royal Governor of New York from 1765 to 1769, and the Royal Governor of Jamaica in 1756 and from 1759 to 1762. The baronet was a military officer who arrived in New York and commissioned military maps of New York’s islands and harbors for the King, as he had commissioned these for King George II, in Jamaica, before arriving in New York. This British baronet who commissioned the Ratzer map was born to a slave plantation-owning family in Jamaica in the British Colony on the Caribbean Island, and that is where the story of these land and harbor owners and cartographers of this era and that of my ancestors overlap.

Some of my ancestors in the Caribbean and New York were enslaved people, others were Maroons, enslaved people who rebelled against their capturers and escaped, and others were wealthy slavers. One abolitionist ancestor, John Smellie, was a British noble, and his descendant, my Scottish ancestor, William Smellie, was a land surveyor, architect, draftsman and cartographer in Jamaica’s Colony in the era of George II and George III, but he was an abolitionist. This surveyor included in his drawings, the designs and architectural styles of the house of free and enslaved African Americans, his relatives and allies, on the drawings and maps he did for plantation owners as a commissioned land surveyor. As a result, the owners did not pay him, and he sued them in court. That is why I researched the records and maps. My colonial ancestors were classic one-percenters and ninety-nine-percenters. The mapmaker left drawings.

If the colonial New York map discovered is authenticated, collectors will be interested, because the military positions add a new dimension to it.

Pearl Duncan
The author, whose New York ancestors were Royal Governor Robert Hunter of New York and New Jersey (ancestor of her paternal Jamaican grandmother, Elizabeth Hunter), and enslaved people who traveled with Thomas Smellie, a Scottish merchant-slaveowner who died in NY, the brother of William Smellie, and abolitionist grandnephew of John Smellie, a Scottish noble and abolitionist (ancestor of her maternal grandmother, Rebecca Smellie) completed a manuscript about the 18th-century merchant cargo World Trade Center ship and colonial New York and New Yorkers. When she located documents in her ancestral research, the Queen and Scotland’s Court of the Lord Lyon granted this author her noble ancestors’ coat of arms.
(2004: http://www.clan-duncan.co.uk/duncan-armorial-arms.html)



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