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When Manhattan was covered in farmland, rolling hills and trees: Map used by the invading British 250 years ago to navigate New York during the American War of Independence sells for $150,000

May 1, 2018 1:59 PM
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A 250-year-old map that shows New York mostly as rolling farmland and that was used by the British in the American War of Independence has sold for $150,000.

The map was drawn up by the British cartographer Bernard Ratzer between 1766 and 1767.

It shows the unmistakable outline of Manhattan island with only the southern tip of it built up.

The rest of the peninsula is an undeveloped rural mass of green fields and trees.

Only one thoroughfare runs vertical across the land and that is Bowry Lane which today is Park Avenue. Wall Street is marked and the origins of Broadway also appear.

The map also charts the rural estate of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam before it was renamed New York by the British.

Barely any of the first set of copies of the map exist today as they weren't very popular when first released in 1770.

But it was reissued in 1776 by London mapmakers Faden and Jefferies to help British military chiefs plan their series of battles with George Washington's troops in the American Revolutionary War.

Now a copy of Ratzer's 1776 map has been sold in New York for $150,000.

Edward Ripley-Duggan, of Doyle auctioneers which sold it, said: 'It is easily the most compelling map from the Revolutionary War era.

'In the highly charged political atmosphere of the day, Bernard Ratzer's map provides a very accurate view of the streets of lower Manhattan.

'The toe of Manhattan is built up and to this day that district still looks quite higgledy-piggledy and not like the neat block-by-block system the rest of Manhattan.

'It may not look it it because most of the land is rolling farmland but New York was still a thriving metropolis at the time, like Boston.

'Wen you look at this map you realise what constituted as a metropolis in the 1770s wasn't very big at all.

'Not a commercial success, the 1770 issue of Ratzer's map is known in only about three copies but was re-issued in 1776 as war became imminent.


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