New York began life in the 1620s as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam before being captured by the English in August 1664.
This map, popularly known as the Duke’s Plan, was probably presented to the colony’s new proprietor, James Duke of York (brother to Charles II and himself later James II), shortly afterwards in the expectation that he would agree that the town be renamed New York in his honour. The map could, therefore, be regarded as the birth certificate of New York.
It is copied from an earlier map by Jacques Cortelyou of 1661, with British flags and ships added. The town wall that was to give its name to Wall Street - the fort which was the predecessor of Battery Park and Broadway - can all be seen.
The canal running down the middle of what is now Broad Street, lends the town a distinctively Dutch feel.
The map was probably drawn in a chart-making workshop in the docklands area of London east of the Tower, from a much less spendid-looking preparatory map in ink on paper that had been sent across the Atlantic. Such workshops seem mainly to have produced sea charts on vellum, for display but also for use at sea (and also copied, like this map, from Dutch originals).
The map forms part of the so-called King's Topographical Collection. This had been assembled by George lll partly from the collection of maps that his predecessors had accumulated for purposes of government since the restoration of the monarch in 1660. The donors of this map probably expected that, after it had served its purpose, James would display it, possibly set into the paneling of one of the rooms where he welcomed visitors. In such a context, it would certainly have caught the eye of the Duke's visitors and impressed them with the extent and wealth of England's expanding empire.
Judging from its splendid state of preservation, however, the map was either not displayed for long or it was protected from damage from daylight by a curtain.
The map was presented to the British Museum, with the rest of the King's Topographical Collection, in the course of the 1820s.
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