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Comparing Eighteenth-Century Maps of
New York State Using Digital Imagery

© 2007, David Y. Allen

This article is largely based on two presentations. The first was given at a joint meeting of the California Map Society and the Western Association of Map Librarians (WAML) at the Huntington Library in January, 2007. The second was delivered in New York City at a meeting of the Northeast Map Organization (NEMO) in June, 2007.


The sequence of maps depicting the British Province of New York published between the middle of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the American Revolution is well known. They were produced by famous cartographers, including Lewis Evans, Samuel Holland, John Montresor, and Claude Joseph Sauthier. These maps have been widely reproduced, and they command high prices from map collectors. High resolution images of all of the maps discussed in this article are available from the Library of Congress, and readers who wish to examine them can follow the links given in the footnotes.

In spite of their being so well known, remarkably little effort has been devoted to analyzing these maps. Questions about why they were made, how they were made, how they relate to each other, and how accurate they are in comparison to modern maps have rarely been asked, much less answered.[ 1 ] This article is part of a larger project to seek answers to these queries. Some of these questions can be answered completely, if at all, only by new research in archives in Great Britain and America. Here the focus is on teasing out answers from the maps themselves by manipulating digital images. The programs used to carry out this analysis were Photoshop, MapMaker Pro, and MapAnalyst.[ 2 ]

Lewis Evans

The first map to be considered is Lewis Evans' Map of Pennsylvania, New-Jersey, New-York, and the Three Delaware Counties (1749).[ 3 ] More is known about how this map was constructed than about the making of the other maps to be discussed here. This is partially because Evans was more communicative than his successors about how he went about his work, and partially because a considerable amount of scholarly attention has been devoted to Evans' maps.[ 4 ]

Evans' map was based partially on his own surveys, but he worked mostly in Pennsylvania, and did little surveying in New York. Evans himself stated in a note on his map that most of his information about New York was derived from Cadwallader Colden, who had been New York's Surveyor General since 1720. My own investigations bear Evans out on this point. In addition to several detailed regional surveys, Colden produced a manuscript map of most of New York, which bears many similarities to Evans' map.[ 5 ] Colden's map was based on the collation of his own surveys of limited areas with a variety of other sources. Unlike Evans, Colden strongly emphasized property mapping. He used his knowledge and judgment to evaluate the quality of his sources, but inevitably the accuracy of these sources varied greatly. This procedure of collation and incremental improvement is characteristic of all of the maps that will be discussed here.

Evans supplemented the maps he copied from Colden with information obtained from others, and with observations made on his own journeys in parts of New York. Evans, like other mapmakers in colonial America, was handicapped by the lack of accurate measurements of longitude and latitude for most places on his map. He had reasonably accurate coordinates for Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. For other places, he had to estimate longitudes by measuring distances from these urban centers.

Evans basically had to adopt the same procedure for latitudinal distances. The difficulty of making accurate longitudinal measurements prior to the widespread adoption of the chronometer in the nineteenth century is well known, but often overlooked is the difficulty eighteenth-century surveyors had in measuring latitudes with accuracy. Latitude tables compiled for colonial New York frequently give readings that are fifteen or twenty miles away from the correct latitude. Evans was very much aware of this problem, and later remarked: “Tho' there have been many other Observations made in several Places, in the Settlements, I have always chosen to adjust their Situations by the actual Mensurations; because many of the Instruments yet used, are not sufficiently accurate to determine the Latitude of Places with Nicety.”[ 6 ] Evans stated explicitly that he relied for the measurements of distances on surveys made by chain, distinguishing between “mensurations” and “computations”: “We call nothing Surveys but actual Mensurations with a Chain, and the Course taken with a good Surveying Instrument. Courses with a Pocket Compass and computed Distances we call Computations.”[ 7 ]

With such methods, Evans could not obtain very satisfactory results by modern standards. This is clearly shown by an examination of his 1749 map using the computer program MapAnalyst, which makes it easy to compare old maps with their modern counterparts. Figure 1 is a “screen shot,” which demonstrates how MapAnalyst works. The map on the left is a portion of Evans' 1749 map showing the inhabited parts of colonial New York. The map on the right is derived from the digital chart of the world. It includes boundaries, major populated places, and the hydrological network. For reasons that will be explained shortly, the modern map is based on an equirectangular projection, in which latitudes and longitudes are set to an equal length. The red crosses on both maps show known places as they are located on each map (such as towns, capes, lakes and river confluences).

Figure 1: Evans' 1749 map and modern map on equirectangular projection.

MapAnalyst works by calculating the discrepancies between the two maps using one of several mathematical formulas, which the user can select. (I got the closest fit using an affine transformation with six parameters.) This is essentially the same procedure a GIS program uses in “rubber sheeting” two maps. But instead of distorting the old map to fit on top of the new one, MapAnalyst produces diagrams that enable the user to visualize the differences between the two maps. For my analysis, I chose the option to generate “displacement vectors” and “displacement circles.” The displacement vectors are straight lines showing where the point on the old map would have to be if were to coincide with the same point on the new map. The “displacement circles” show the size of the area in which a place might possibly be located.

Figure 2: Displacement vectors and circles on detail of Evans' 1749 map (equirectangular projection).

Figure 2 shows the results for the Evans map. Given the time and place in which the map was made, these results are not bad, although it will be seen that surveyors later in the colonial area were able to make considerable improvements on them. It is significant that the most accurate results (shown by black vectors and circles) are in the central Hudson Valley. This area was heavily traveled and relatively well mapped by Colden and others. Outlying areas, such as the western Mohawk Valley, are predictably the least accurate.

The Evans map does not include a longitude-latitude grid and gives no indication of what projection (if any) was used. This made me suspect that the map was not based on any projection—a not uncommon circumstance in colonial America. In other words, Evans' uncharacteristic silence suggests that he took his distance measurements and compass readings, and then sat down at a table and drew his map without attempting to adjust them to reflect the spherical shape of the earth. For cartographic purposes, he pretended the world is flat.

Figure 3: Evans' 1749 map and modern map on New York State Plane Projection.

This suspicion was confirmed by MapAnalyst. The Figure 3 screen shot shows the Evans map compared with a modern projection. (I used a New York State Plane Projection with a meridian in central New York.) As Figure 4 shows, there is a considerable difference in the size of discplacements for individual locations, but no improvement overall. If anything, there is a slightly closer match between the equirectangular projection and the Evans map. The differences do not appear to fall into any regular pattern. We can conclude from this that Evans did not use any projection, and that (given the overall inaccuracy of distances and locations on the map), the map would not have been substantially improved if he had.

Figure 4: Displacement vectors and circles on detail of Evans' 1749 map (New York State Plane Projection).

In 1755, Evans produced another map showing New York. This is his well-known General Map of the Middle British Colonies.[ 8 ] Although at a smaller scale than his 1749 map, the depiction of New York on both maps is similar, although there are a few significant differences. To examine these differences, I used Photoshop to create a composite image. One advantage of working with digital images is that it easy to rescale maps by adjusting their size in pixels.

Figure 5: Detail of Evans' 1755 map.

Figure 5 shows an image of the New York portion of Evans' 1755 map, which has been enlarged to the same scale as the image of Evans 1749 map shown in Figures 2 and 4. It should also be noted that I adjusted the contrast and saturation to produce a dark blue on white image.

Evans' 1749 map.

Figure 6: Evans' 1755 map with 1749 map superimposed. Use magnifying-glass icon to toggle 1749 map off/on.

Figure 6 shows the 1755 map with the 1749 map superimposed on it. Here the contrast and color of the 1749 map have been adjusted to produce a dark red shade, which stands out against the dark blue of the 1755 map. The appearance of this composite image is rather confusing, especially when displayed at a low resolution. The most important difference between the two maps concerns the depiction of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. We know from written sources that Evans had made an error in the location of Albany in 1749, which he corrected on the 1755 map.[ 9 ] This change can be discerned on the composite image, but it is also evident that changing the location of Albany caused Evans to move the mouth of the Mohawk River to the south, thereby shifting the course of the eastern section of the Mohawk in a southerly direction, which introduced a new error. He also had to adjust the length and direction of the Hudson River, which he did by altering distances between Kingston and Albany, while keeping his depiction of the Hudson below Kingston virtually unchanged. Actually, to make the map more “correct,” he should have made a variety of changes in other areas, but he lacked the data to do this. The upshot was that many locations in the vicinity of Albany were shown less accurately than on his 1749 map. This illustrates one of the difficulties mapmakers faced in revising compiled maps with new data covering only a small area.

The Jeffreys/Mead Map of New England

The next map to be considered (Figure 7) is Thomas Jeffrey's Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England (1755).[10] Although its primary subject is New England, this famous map also shows almost all of eighteenth-century New York. It is of particular interest here because of its influence on later maps of New York, and because it illustrates what could happen when a London map publisher tried to make a composite regional map from manuscript sources.

Figure 7. Jefferys' 1755 Map of New England. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Although this map is conventionally attributed to Thomas Jefferys, it is now known that its real author is one Braddock Mead (aka John Green).[11] Mead was one of the most intellectually sophisticated cartographers of his time, and the author of a book on map projections. It has long been recognized that a major source of this map is William Douglass' Plan of the British Dominion in New England.[12] Some authors have treated the Jeffrey's map as little more than a plagiarized copy of the Douglass map, but the real story is much more complex and interesting.[13]

Figure 8. William Douglass' map of New England superimposed on Jefferys' map.

Figure 8 shows the Douglass map colored blue in Photoshop and superimposed on the Jefferys map. It is obvious at a glance that the Jefferys map covers a considerably larger area than the Douglass map. In the area where the two maps overlap, Jefferys' dependence on Douglass is evident, but even here there are significant differences. For example, Jefferys depiction of much of the coastline is considerably improved, and evidently derived from a different source (possibly a lost chart by Hazen). Jefferys also added to Douglass' rendition many roads, as well as some (largely imaginary) mountains. It is particularly noteworthy that Jefferys (actually Mead) further modified the work of Douglass by adding a projection. Like Evans' 1749 map, the Douglass map is without a projection (or on an equirectangular projection, which amounts to the same thing). Note that it was necessary to rotate the Douglass map in order to line it up with the Jefferys map. This is a clue that the maps are on different projections, although (as was common in the eighteenth century) there is nothing on the Jefferys map to indicate what projection was used. On examination, the Jefferys map is clearly on a conic projection, as is revealed by its converging meridians and gently arcing parallels.

This is not simply a phony projection made by imposing a grid of latitude and longitude lines over an unprojected map, as was sometimes done in the eighteenth century. The claim in the title of the Jefferys/Mead map that “its situation [was] adjusted by astronomical observations” is literally true. As can be seen from the boundaries between Massachusetts and New York, and by the relative location of the Hudson River on the two maps, Mead modified the Douglass map by compressing it laterally, which is what one would expect from transforming a map from an equirectangular projection to a conic projection. The adjustments were doubtless made by measurements from the coordinates of Boston and New York, which are given on the map.

The Douglass map shows parts of New York east of the Hudson River, but most of Jeffery's depiction of New York comes from other sources. We don't have to look very far to find the source for most of the geography of New York—it is copied from Lewis Evans 1749 map. This can be seen at a glance by comparing the almost identical rendition of the Hudson Highlands and of western Long Island on the two maps. However, most of the eastern half of Long Island is not shown on either the Douglass or the Evans maps, and comes from some unknown source. The depiction of Long Island as a whole on the Jeffreys map reappears on many later British maps of colonial New York.

Figure 9. Displacement vectors and circles on Jefferys' map.

MapAnalyst provides us with some additional information about how the Jefferys map was made. As can be seen in Figure 9, the Jefferys map is somewhat more accurate than Evans' maps, and its locations are particularly good in the Hudson and Connecticut River valleys, and in the region around Narragansett Bay. These heavily trafficked waterways are precisely where one would expect to see relatively good mapping. Jefferys or Mead successfully integrated these regions into a fairly uniform projection. The areas at the northern corners of the map are the least accurate by modern standards. This relative inaccuracy may come from these areas being poorly surveyed, but it is also possible that the cartographer deliberately distorted these peripheral areas to fit them onto the copper plate.

John Montresor's Map of the Province of New York

The French and Indian War (1755-1763) brought important new developments to the mapping of New York. Prior to 1755, the British military was not heavily involved in the surveying and mapping of the province. A turning point came with the appointment in 1756 of John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun as commander of British forces in North America. Lord Loudoun was the successor to General Braddock, who was killed in the disastrous attempt to take Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh) from the French. Loudoun was a cautious and systematic general, who was determined not to repeat Braddock's mistakes, and who stressed such things as logistics and funding. He recognized the value of good maps as guides to military operations, and one of his first acts was to request from Cadwallader Colden a detailed map of New York.[14] When Colden replied that no good map of New York existed, Loudoun decided to remedy the situation by having the army undertake the creation of better maps.[15]

Under Loudoun and his successors, a number of people were involved in mapping New York. They include the well-known John Montresor and Samuel Holland, and such lesser lights as Joshua Loring and Francis Pfister. Unfortunately, little is known about the details of their activities. The published letters and papers of Lord Loudoun and others say almost nothing about how these surveys were organized and conducted, or about who was responsible for mapping particular areas. Unless or until more detailed information turns up in unpublished sources, we have to rely mainly on analyzing the maps to draw inferences about how they were made.

John Montresor is best known for his large-scale (1:320,000) Map of the Province on New York.[16] (Figure 10) This map was first published in 1775, but the manuscript was completed in 1764, and the published version of the map does not appear to contain any information from later than the end of the French and Indian War. We know something about how Montresor went about his work from information that can be gleaned from his Journal, which was published by the New York Historical Society.[17] Montresor's journal is mainly a log of his daily activities, enlivened by peppery comments about horrific “Spawn of Liberty” [Sons of Liberty], incompetent British generals, and rival surveyors. He says very little about how he actually conducted his surveys. Most of his work almost certainly took the form of route surveys performed by measuring with chains or counting paces, and by using a compass. Montresor also did a good deal of detailed surveying in the area around New York City, and some of this work apparently involved the use of a theodolite or plane table, although Montresor never mentioned triangulation from a baseline.[18]

Figure 10. John Montresor, Map of the Province of New York. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

We do know that Montresor compiled his map of New York primarily from surveys done by other army engineers. His journal mentions that he was engaged in surveying in the vicinity of New York City and around the south shore of Lake Erie. During most of the war he was engaged in activities outside of New York, and there is no indication that he did additional surveying within the province. His journal mentions that in 1764 he was engaged in compiling maps based on surveys done by British military engineers, and that in 1766 he took his manuscript map of the Province of New York with him on a trip to London.[19]

We have to guess about the nature and authorship of the sources Montresor used to compile his map. One of the surveyors active in New York at this time was Samuel Holland, whose activities will be discussed below. Montresor and Holland were rivals, and it is uncertain how much material Montresor obtained from Holland. Another map maker who worked in New York during the French and Indian War was Francis Pfister. Pfister did some detailed regional surveying, and he produced several elegant manuscript maps of New York and neighboring states.[20] He noted on these latter maps that they were “based on surveys by Major Christie,” but we know nothing about the surveying activities of this Major Christie.[21]

Montresor's map bears some similarity to Pfister's maps in the overall depiction of New York. Both Pfister's maps and Montresor's map have the same tell-tale outline of Long Island that appears on the Jeffreys map. But Montresor's map is considerably more detailed than any of Pfister's maps, and contains a great deal of additional topographical information. Montresor clearly had access to large-scale manuscript surveys and notes, which have not been identified, although some of them may have been used by Pfister or Holland as well.

A closer look at Montresor's map (Figure 11) tells us something about the nature of his sources. Observe the detailed topography of river valleys, and the flat depiction of uplands and mountainous areas. It almost appears as though the topography of New York had been planed off at an elevation of about 1000 feet. This strongly indicates that the information that went into this map was based on detailed route surveys taken along roads and following the courses of rivers and creeks. The surveyors took careful note of the location of individual structures, and also of the generalized topography that could be seen from roads and the bottoms of river valleys. But they did not penetrate into the forests and mountains beyond these more accessible and inhabited areas.

Figure 11. Detail of Montresor's Map of the Province of New York.

Figure 12 shows the results of an examination of the central portion of Montresor's map with MapAnalyst. Clearly, Montresor's map marks a considerable improvement over its predecessors. It shows the results of careful surveying in the Hudson Highlands and the area around Albany.

Figure 12. Displacement vectors and circles on portion of Montresor's map.

In many of its details Montresor's map differs from the later maps of New York drawn by Samuel Holland and Claude Joseph Sauthier. This is particularly evident when one compares the depiction of smaller creeks and streams in the three maps. This is not too surprising when one considers that Montresor's map was apparently sitting in a map publisher's shop in London between 1766 and 1775, and was only published when the American Revolution created a demand for detailed maps of the rebellious colonies. More than the other maps discussed here, Montresor's masterpiece stands in isolation.

Samuel Holland's Map of New York and New Jersey

The strangest tale to be told here involves Samuel Holland's map of New York and New Jersey.[22] This map (Figure 13) was first published in 1768, and went through several revisions. The history of this map is complex and obscure. Samuel Holland, a Dutch-born military surveyor, came to North America as an assistant to Lord Loudoun in 1756. Loudoun appears to have immediately set him to mapping New York. The New York State Library once had a map of New York by Holland dated 1757, but it was destroyed by a fire in 1911.[23] There are also references to what is apparently a copy of this map in the records of the Board of Trade and Plantations, which was in charge of administering the British colonies.[24] But all copies of this map appear to have vanished, and we cannot be certain what it looked like.

After the conclusion of the French and Indian War, Samuel Holland was transferred from New York and was set to work surveying parts of modern Canada. He was eventually created “Surveyor of the Northern District” for the Board of Trade, and advocated an ambitious systematic survey of the British North American colonies. He returned to New York in 1767, when he was asked to assist in surveying the boundary between New York and New Jersey. At that time, he apparently created a manuscript map of the two states, which was used by the boundary commission and eventually sent back to London. This map, apparently, was the basis of the map that Thomas Jefferys published (probably in 1768).

Figure 13. Samuel Holland, Map of New York and New Jersey (1768). Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Here things get really confusing, for it is not at all clear to what extent Jefferys' 1768 map actually reflects the work of Samuel Holland. As was seen in the discussion of the Jefferys/Mead map of New England, Jefferys could be cavalier in his treatment of sources, and deceptive about the origins of the maps he published. By this time, Mead was dead, but there is no evidence that Jefferys had become more particular about his methods. In fact, a contemporary of Jefferys, Thomas Pownall, launched a devastating attack on this map. He charged:

“A Map of New York and New Jersey, published by T. Jefferys, to which Publication the Name of Capt. Holland is put, without his Knowledge or Consent, is little more than a Copy of those Parts contained in Evans's Map, or, if not a copy, a Compilation from the same Materials on a larger Scale, without any essential Amendment, without scarce a Difference, except in the County of Albany, corrected from a Map of that Country which Capt. Holland copied for me in 1756, from Draughts of Mr. Bleeker, Deputy Surveyor in that County. The only Parts contained in the Map, thus published by Jefferys, which were surveyed by Capt. Holland are, “the Passage of the Hudson's River through the Highlands,” “and the Parts on the Banks from Viskill to Croton's River,” a Distance of about 20 miles; and even in these parts the Compiler has omitted to notice that remarkable Pass Martlaer's Rock [Constitution Island]. The Boundary Lines of the great Patents and Manors; of some of the Counties; and some of the new Townships are drawn over this Map in their Squares: But I am not able to collect any Improvement in it either as to Topography or Geography.”[25]

It is difficult to evaluate these remarks, or even to determine what, exactly, Pownall was claiming. It is very likely that Jefferys published this map without Holland's “knowledge and consent.” As Geographer to the King, Jefferys had access to maps at the Board of Trade and other government offices, and was not legally bound to obtain Holland's permission to publish his map. Whether or not the map that Jefferys published is substantially the same as Holland's manuscript map is unknowable, since the manuscript map does not survive.

Pownall's assertion that this map is essentially a copy of Evans' map of the Middle British Colonies is at best only partially true. Pownall was a friend and booster of Evans, and the paragraph quoted above was included in Pownall's revised and expanded version of Evans' introduction to his 1755 map. Nonetheless the charge is not completely baseless. There are similarities between the two maps, and there is even a note on Holland/Jefferys' map that the Susquehanna River is shown “according to Evans.” It is also interesting that Pownall remarked in the above quotation that the Jefferys map was “if not a copy” of the Evans map, “a compilation from the same materials on a larger scale.” It was previously remarked that much of the Evans map was based on a manuscript map by Cadwallader Colden. Holland also had access to materials from Colden. The copy of Colden's map of manorial grants formerly at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California has been identified as a copy made by Samuel Holland.[26] Another indication of a relationship between Cadwallader Colden and the Holland/Jeffreys map is that the latter map gives the longitude of New York City as determined in 1722 by Governor Burnett—an observation (then more than 40 years old), which was actually made by Colden.[27]

Even by Pownall's own account, the differences between the Evans maps and the Holland/Jefferys map are not trivial. The improvements in the Albany area and the area around the Hudson Highlands that Pownall mentions are substantial. Furthermore, as Pownall acknowledges, the scale of the 1768 map is much larger than that of either of the Evans maps (especially of the 1755 Evans map), which enabled Holland to present considerably more information. (The scale of Holland's map is 1:650,000; Evans' 1749 map is 1:960,000; Evans' 1755 map is 1:2,270,000.) Figures 14-16 show details of the area around Kingston on all three maps. Not only is the density of detail greater on Jeffreys' version of the Holland map, but the engraving is much better, which made the map much more usable. Whatever else may be said about Jefferys as a map publisher, he was an outstanding engraver.

Figure 14. Detail of Evans' 1749 map.

Figure 15. Detail of Evans' 1755 map.

Figure 16. Detail of Holland's 1768 map.

The Holland/Jefferys map was also much more accurate than either of Evans' maps. This is revealed by a comparison of the diagram from MapAnalyst (Figure 17) with the diagrams shown in Figures 2 and 4. A comparison of this map with several projections using MapAnalyst also suggests that some sort of sinusoidal or conic projection was used in the preparation of the Holland/Jefferys map. A closer match is obtained by comparing this map with a modern map on a New York State Plane projection than with an equirectangular projection. This long, narrow map centers on the meridian of 74 degrees west of London, which passes through New York City. Probably longitudinal locations were adjusted by measuring or estimating distances from this meridian. Readings for the settled portions of New York are quite good, although accuracy falls off sharply in the northern and western parts of the map.

The layout of this map centers on the strategic corridor between New York City and Montreal, reflecting its origins as a military map. Military concerns can also be seen in the extensive treatment of fortifications in the area between Albany and Lake George. However, it also shows a fair amount of cadastral and boundary information, such as New York land grants in Vermont, and proposed boundary lines between New York and New Jersey. Such information was of interest to colonial administrators, and reminds us that Holland was employed by the Board of Trade in the years after 1763.

There is a sequel to this story. Several later editions of this map appeared around the time of the American Revolution, some of which included massive revisions and updates. The first of these bears the title The Provinces of New York and New Jersey; with Part of Pennsylvania, and the Province of Quebec. Drawn by Capt. Holland. Engraved by Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to His Majesty. And Improved from the Modern Surveys of Those Colonies down to 1775. (Robert Sayer and John Bennett, 1775).[28] By this time, Jefferys had died, and the firm of Sayer and Bennett had acquired the plates of the map. The 1775 edition was made from the same plates as the 1768 edition, but included numerous revisions. These include such things as changes in the location of place names to improve readability, and alterations in the courses of minor streams. The most striking revision is the addition of symbols for houses and mills throughout the map. These were based on surveys made after 1768 (which will be touched on below), and added by striking the plate with dies containing symbols shaped like circles (houses) or asterisks (mills).

Figure 17. Vectors and circles on detail of Holland (1768) compared to modern map on New York State Plane projection.

The extent of these revisions is revealed in Figure 18, which also shows the area around Kingston. To produce this image, copies of the 1768 and 1775 states of this map were superimposed. Even though both of these maps were made from the same plate, the two images do not register perfectly because of such causes as differential paper shrinkage or different camera lenses. But in small areas of the map the registration is very close, and by using the transparency slider below the figure, the differences between the two states can be made to almost literally jump out. Note the circles indicating houses added to the 1775 edition, the addition of a branch to Plattkill Creek, and the change in placement of the name “Kingston.”



Figure 18. Detail of Holland maps of 1768 and 1775.

A 1776 edition, also published by Sayer and Bennett, includes additional changes to the same plate, but the biggest surprise is in the new title: The Provinces of New York and New Jersey; with Part of Pennsilvania, and the Province of Quebec. Drawn by Major Holland, Surveyor General of the Northern District in America. Corrected and Improved from the Original Materials by Govern. Pownall, Member of Parliament, 1776. [29] It appears that Thomas Pownall had some second thoughts about his negative characterization of the Holland/Jefferys map.

Claude Joseph Sauthier's Maps of the Province of New York

The last major effort to map the Province of New York under British rule was made by Claude Joseph Sauthier (1736-1802).[30] Sauthier was an assistant to the last royal governor of New York, William Tryon. Sauthier was born in Alsace, and trained in the French tradition as a landscape architect and cartographer. He served Governor Tryon in both capacities. After Tryon become governor of New York in 1771, Sauthier made numerous regional and local maps of New York through the early years of the American Revolution.

Since we are concerned with the mapping of the province as a whole, only two of Sauthier's maps will be discussed here. The first is a large-scale (ca. 1:322,000) cadastral map, A Chorographical Map of the Province of New-York, which was published in 1779.[31] The second is A Map of the Province of New York, which was first published in 1776, but which is actually a reduced-scale (ca. 1:1,050,000) edition of the manuscript version of the Chorographical Map.[32] The extended title of the 1776 edition includes the statement that it is “reduc'd from” a large-scale map by Sauthier. By rescaling and superimposing the two maps in Photoshop, we can see that there is nearly an exact match between them—except that the smaller-scale 1776 version covers a slightly larger area.

Sauthier's maps, like all of those discussed in this article, are essentially works of compilation. They were built on the framework of earlier maps, and corrected or supplemented with new materials, including Sauthier's own surveys and other maps that came to his attention. There are enough similarities between Samuel Holland's map of New York and New Jersey, and Sauthier's maps for us to establish a close relationship between them. This is especially evident if one compares the depiction of minor rivers and streams on the maps of Holland and Sauthier.

In spite of these similarities, Sauthier approached the mapping of New York from a different angle than his immediate predecessors. Montresor and Holland were primarily military cartographers, although (as has been seen) some civilian concerns are reflected in Holland's 1768 map. The chief purpose of their maps was to facilitate the movement of troops and supplies. Although Sauthier was to produce maps for the British Army during the early years of the Revolution, his work prior to 1776 was done for the British civil authorities. This civilian bias is revealed by a phrase in the subtitle of his Chorographical Map: “compiled from actual surveys deposited in the Patent Office at New York.” In other words, Sauthier's Chorographical Map was above all a cadastral map. This preoccupation with property boundaries is shown very clearly in Figure 19.

Figure 19. Detail of Sauthier's Chorographical Map.

There is nothing new about this emphasis on property mapping, although little has so far been said about it in this article. Alongside military mapping, cadastral mapping was the second major theme in the cartography of New York during the colonial era. Colonial administrators needed to know who owned what in order to plan settlements and collect property taxes. Governors and other royal officials could profit handsomely from the sale and surveying of land. Property taxes known as “quit rents” could produce revenue for the crown, and potentially make colonial administrators financially independent of the annoying provincial Assembly.

For these reasons, cadastral mapping was prominent in much of the British mapping of the colonial era. It was something of an obsession with Cadwallader Colden, and featured on his manuscript map of New York, which was used by Lewis Evans and probably by Samuel Holland.

During the decade following 1765, property mapping became much more elaborate, detailed, and accurate. Colden and other colonial administrators had long been pushing for better property mapping to facilitate the collection of quit rents and land subdivision, and at the very end of the colonial era their efforts started to bear fruit. This was part of a more general trend to tighten up colonial administration and make the colonies pay for themselves, which was one of the underlying causes of the American Revolution. Sauthier's Chorographical Map is only the tip of an iceberg. It was preceded by a large number of regional and even province-wide property maps in manuscript form. The New York Historical Society has a particularly good collection of them.

Sauthier collated these property maps with his own surveys, Holland's map, and other materials. Because of its size and general appearance, Sauthier's map resembles Montresor's map, but this resemblance is misleading. In addition to Sauthier's emphasis on property boundaries, the two maps differ greatly in their treatment of topography (compare the depiction of hills and streams on the two maps).

MapAnalyst also reveals that Sauthier's two maps of New York are more accurate than their predecessors (see Figure 20). The place locations in the portions of New York inhabited by Europeans are almost always close to where they would be on a modern map. Only in the far north and west does the map become notably less accurate, although even here the locations are considerably better than on Holland's 1768 map. The notably close reading for Association Island at the mouth of Henderson's Bay on Lake Ontario is surprisingly good, and it may reflect an otherwise undocumented observation of its longitude and latitude. Many other positions recorded on this map are also so accurate as to make one suspect that their latitudes and longitudes were measured astronomically by a skilled surveyor. On the other hand, the displacement vectors along New York's border with Quebec tell a different story. Sauthier was involved in surveying this border, and, as one would expect, the latitude readings are close to what they should be. However, the longitudes of these two locations are displaced considerably to the east on Sauthier's map, which shows that good longitude readings were still unusual, even at the end of the British period.

Figure 20. Vectors and circles on Sauthier's Map of the Province of New York (1776).


The mapping of New York during the middle of the eighteenth century followed a fairly consistent pattern. No comprehensive surveys of the entire province were made during this period, and successive mapmakers built on the work of their predecessors, which they tried to improve with new information. Although such concepts as “progressive development” and “accuracy” have been called into question by historians of cartography influenced by postmodernism, the mapping of New York during this period can be seen as a progressive development, at least within the context of post-Renaissance Western cartography. From Evans to Sauthier, one can trace an incremental improvement in the amount of topographic and cultural detail conveyed by the maps; in the depiction of the outlines of major features, such as rivers and lakes; and in the accuracy of the location of places in terms of longitude and latitude.

Practical motives were the driving force behind most of this improvement. Better maps facilitated such things as the movement of armies, the development of commerce, and the collection of taxes. To a lesser extent, these maps also constituted assertions of regional or national pride, and served as symbols of imperial control.

The purposes for which these maps were made came to an end with the American Revolution, but the maps continued to have some influence. They were used by the armies of both sides during the Revolution. Sauthier's Chorographical Map was generally regarded as the best detailed map of New York until 1802, when it was superseded by Simeon De Witt's map of New York State. Even then, one can trace in the work of De Witt and other early American map makers the influence of their colonial predecessors.


  1. Only Brian Harley has taken an extended analytic look at the cartography of this period, and his work does not delve into specifics about the particular maps discussed here. See Harley's three essays in J.B. Harley et. al., Mapping the American Revolutionary War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 1-110
  2. Adobe Photoshop is a well-known image editing program. The work done here could just as well have been performed using many similar programs, including Photoshop Elements. Map Maker Ltd's MapMaker Pro is a relatively inexpensive GIS program. Bernhard Jenny and Adrian Weber's MapAnalyst is a recently-developed free program for the analysis of historical maps. For more information:
  3. Lewis Evans, A map of Pensilvania, New-Jersey, New-York, and the three Delaware counties ([Philadelphia: n.p., 1749]). Available online from the Library of Congress at: Evans also republished this map in 1752. This edition, which (at least in so far as New York is concerned) seems identical with the first, is also available from the American Memory site at the Library of Congress.
  4. Evans wrote numerous explanatory notes on his 1749 map. His 1755 map (see below) was accompanied by a written commentary. The most important works on Lewis Evans are: Walter Klinefelter, Lewis Evans and His Maps (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society new series, vol. 61, part 7, 1971); Lawrence Henry Gipson, Lewis Evans (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1939); Henry N. Stevens, Lewis Evans: His Map of the Middle British Colonies in America (1905; revised ed. London: H. Stevens, son, and Styles, 1920).
  5. Unfortunately, there appears to be no extant manuscript copy of Colden's untitled map of New York, which was probably drawn in 1726. One copy of the map was destroyed in a fire at the New York State Library in 1911. Another copy was until recently located at the Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), but it can no longer be located. A photocopy of the Huntington Library copy can be found at the Library of Congress. Portions of the New York State Library copy are reproduced in Justin Winsor, ed., Narrative and Critical History of America (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1884-89), V, 236-37.
  6. Lewis Evans, Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical Essays. The First, Containing an Analysis of a General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America; and of the Country of the Confederate Indians: A Description of the Face of the Country; the Boundaries of the Confederates; and the Maritime and Inland Navigations of the Several Rivers and Lakes Contained Therein (Philadelphia: B. Franklin, 1755). Reprinted in Gipson, Lewis Evans, 147.
  7. Evans, Analysis, in Gipson, Lewis Evans, 147 (note).
  8. A general map of the middle British colonies, in America; viz. Virginia, Mariland, Delaware, Pensilvania, New-Jersey, New-York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island: Of Aquanishuonîgy, the country of the Confederate Indians; comprehending Aquanishuonîgy proper, their place of residence, Ohio and Tïiuxsoxrúntie, their deer-hunting countries, Couxsaxráge and Skaniadarâde, their beaver-hunting countries; of the Lakes Erie, Ontário, and Champlain, and part of New-France: Wherein is also shewn the antient and present seats of the Indian nations [Philadelphia: no publisher, 1755]. Available online from the Library of Congress at:
  9. Klinefelter, Lewis Evans, 42.
  10. Thomas Jefferys, A map of the most inhabited part of New England; containing the provinces of Massachusets Bay and New Hampshire, with the colonies of Konektikut and Rhode Island, divided into counties and townships: The whole composed from actual surveys and its situation adjusted by astronomical observations (London: Thos. Jefferys, 1755). Available online from the Library of Congress at:
  11. For Braddock Mead, see two articles by G.R. Crone: “John Green, Notes on a Neglected Eighteenth Century Geographer and Cartographer,” Imago Mundi 6 (1949): 85-91, and “Further Notes on Bradock Mead, alias John Green, an Eighteenth Century Cartographer,” Imago Mundi 8 (1951): 69-70. For this and other aspects of Jefferys' career, see J.B. Harley, “The Bankruptcy of Thomas Jefferys: An Episode in the Economic History of Eighteenth-Century Map-Making,” Imago Mundi 20 (1966): 27-48.
  12. This plan of the British dominions of New England in North America. By William Douglas, M.D. [London: 1753?]. Available online from the Library of Congress at:
  13. For the Douglass map of New England see David Bosse, “The Boston Map Trade of the Eighteenth Century,” Alex Krieger & David Cobb, eds., Mapping Boston, (Cambridge, MA. MIT Press, 2001), 39-41. A much more detailed source of information on both the Douglass map and Jeffreys' map of New England is available online from the Osher Map Library in Matthew Edney's The “Percy Map”: The Cartographic Image of New England and Strategic Planning during the American Revolution at
  14. Colden to Cuningham, Dec. 6, 1756, The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden (9 vols.; New-York Historical Society Collections, vols. 50-56, 67-68), V, 101. This letter may be misdated, since it is apparently referred to in a letter dated November 14, 1756 (see following note).
  15. Alexander Colden to Cadwallader Colden (Nov. 14, 1756), Colden Letters and Papers, IX, 162-64.
  16. A map of the Province of New York, with part of Pensilvania, and New England, from an actual survey by Captain Montrésor, engineer, 1775 (London: A Drury, 1777). Available from the Library of Congress at This is the second state of the map, which Drury originally published in 1775. It is on a scale of five miles to an inch or 1:320,000.
  17. G. D. Scull, ed., The Montresor Journals, Collections of the New-York Historical Society, XIV (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1881).
  18. For Montresor's activities around New York City, see William P. Cumming, “The Montresor-Ratzer-Sautier Sequence of Maps of New York City, 1766-76,” Imago Mundi 31 (1979): 55-65. Montresor's use of optical sightings is evident in his manuscript map of New York Harbor, Plan of Governor's, Kennedy's, and Brown's Islands, with Paulus and Red Hook together with part of the bay and soundings shewing the position they bear to each ether [sic] and to New York (1766?), which is available online from the Library of Congress at:
  19. Montresor, Journals, 392.
  20. Because they were never published, most of Pfister's maps are little known. The originals of most of his maps are at the British Library or at the Public Record Office. A few of his manuscript maps can be found in libraries in the United States. Photostats of some of the British maps are in Hulbert's Crown Collection, which can be searched using the Newberry Library Cartographic Catalog at: One of Pfister's maps bears the title A Map of the Province of New York, part of New England, with a part of New France, the whole composed from actual surveys by Major Christie in 1759. Copies of this manuscript map can be found at the Public Record Office, the British Library, and the New York State Library.
  21. Captain (later Major) Christie is mentioned almost in passing in the journals of James Montresor, as is Francis Pfister. Both belonged to the Royal American Regiment, along with the two Montresors. See G.D. Scull, ed., The Montresor Journals, Collections of the New-York Historical Society, XIV (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1881), 53, 89, 90, 94. Nothing is said in Montresor's journals about Christie's activities as a surveyor, and there is even some uncertainty about his identity. Tooley's Dictionary of Mapmakers identifies him as “Charles Christie,” but gives no references (rev. ed.; Tring, Herts, England : Map Collector Publications in association with Richard Arkway, Inc., 1999- ). Most probably, he is Gabriel Christie, who later became a major general and an important estate owner in Canada. Information about Gabriel Christie's life can be found in The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and at But these sources say nothing directly about his activities (if any) as military surveyor.
  22. Samuel Holland, The provinces of New York, and New Jersey; with part of Pensilvania, and the governments of Trois Rivières, and Montreal: Drawn by Capt. Holland. Engraved by Thomas Jefferys, geographer to His Majesty ([London] Printed for Robt. Sayer ... and T. Jefferys [1768?]) . Available on the World Wide Web from the Library of Congress at:
  23. Map of part of the province of New York on Hudson's River, the West End of Nassau Island, and Part of New Jersey. Compiled Pursuant to the Order of the Earl of Loudoun, Septbr. 17, 1757. Drawn by Captain Holland (manuscript map, destroyed). Described: Winsor, Narrative and Critical History, V, 238.
  24. This is probably the map “by Captain Holland and others” called by the Lords of Trade in 1766 “a very accurate and useful survey, … in which the most material patents are marked and their boundaries described,” Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, VII, 845.
  25. This quotation was originally published in the 1776 edition of Pownall's Topographical Description of Such Parts of North America as are Contained in the (Annexed) Map of the Middle British Colonies, etc. in North America. Quotation is taken from Lois Mulkearn's edition of Thomas Pownall, A Topographical Description of the Dominions of the United States of America. <Being a rev. and enl. ed. of> A Topographical Description of Such Parts of North America as Are Contained in the (Annexed) Map of the Middle British Colonies, &c., in North America (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1949), 8.
  26. Note on catalog card at Huntington Library: “This is a rough copy by Samuel Holland, probably made in 1757.”
  27. Cadwallader Colden, “Observations on the Situation, Soil, Climate, Water Communications, Boundaries &c. of the Province of New York,” in E.B. O'Callaghan, The Documentary History of the State of New York (4 vols.; Albany: Weed, Parsons, and Company), IV, 177.
  28. Available on the World Wide Web from the Library of Congress at:
  29. Available on the World Wide Web from the Library of Congress at: The Library of Congress has also digitized a German edition of Pownall's version of this map, which was published in Frankfurt by Harry Lodowick Broenner in 1777. The German edition is made from a different plate than the three states discussed here, and it is interesting to study the differences in engraving.
  30. For information of Sauthier, see Mark Babinski, Notes on C. J. Sauthier and Lord Percy, with a Listing of Maps of the State of New York Drawn by Simeon de Witt and David H. Burr (Expanded edition; Garwood, NJ: Krinder Peak Publishing, 1997).
  31. Claude Joseph Sauthier, A Chorographical Map of the Province of New-York in North America, Divided into Counties, Manors, Patents and Townships; Exhibiting Likewise All the Private Grants of Land Made and Located in That Province; Compiled from Actual Surveys Deposited in the Patent Office at New York, by Order of His Excellency Major General William Tryon (London: Faden, 1779). Three copies are available online from the Library of Congress, one of which can be found at
  32. A Map of the Province of New-York, Reduc'd from the Large Drawing of That Province, Compiled from Actual Surveys by Order of His Excellency William Tryon, Esqr., Captain General & Governor of the Same, by Claude Joseph Sauthier; to Which is Added New-Jersey, from the Topographical Observations of C. J. Sauthier & B. Ratzer (London: Faden, 1776) Two copies of this map are available online from the Library of Congress, one of which can be found at