The detailed cartography shows roads, piers and slips, ferry docks, shipyards, fields, ponds, streams, salt marshes, forests, and commercial operations such as mills and distilleries. Hills are indicated by shading. Large estates are labeled with the names of their owners. Depth soundings are labeled in the Hudson and East Rivers. A lettered and numbered key within the cartouche identifies numerous churches and a synagogue, City Hall, the Exchange, markets, prisons, “The College,” “The Theatre,” military facilities and “The Jews Burial Ground.” The cartouche is decorated with an elaborate rococo border featuring a naturalistic rendition of the city seal at the top: a colonial sailor on the left and a Native American on the right, flanking an emblem composed of the sails of a windmill, barrels of flour and beavers. Other interesting details include:
• Lower Manhattan showing a “Fresh Water” pond existing at the time.
• Streams and marshes in “Brookland Park” (Brooklyn) surrounded by cultivated fields.
• The R. Murray estate, present-day Murray Hill, and Kips Bay on the East River in Manhattan.
• Bedford in Brooklyn showing roads to Jamaica and Flatbush, with shaded curves to indicate hills.
• Ratzer’s dedication to Sir Henry Moore, Governor of New York.
According to an engraved inscription in the upper left corner, dated May 18, 1853, the Colton version was a faithful copy of the original Ratzer map owned by James Carson Brevoort (1818-1887), a collector of rare books and coins, though it omits a view of the Manhattan shoreline from Governor’s Island across the bottom that was part of Ratzer’s original. The “Ratzer Map,” as it became popularly known, was originally published in 1770, though only four surviving copies from that edition are known, including one that was discovered at the Brooklyn Historical Society and restored to great fanfare in 2011. It was reissued in 1776 by London publishers Faden and Jefferys, an edition that was somewhat more widely distributed, but that nonetheless is rare. The original Ratzer map is considered one of the great city maps of the 18th century. A recording of a scholarly presentation on its significance can be found on the web site of the Brooklyn Historical Society (see References below).
Plan of the City of New York in North America, Surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767 is the best-known map of Bernard Ratzer, a British military engineer who deployed to America during the French and Indian War, serving in the 60th or Royal American Regiment. Beginning in 1756, he produced unpublished manuscript maps of coastal areas, forts and frontier areas for the army. In 1769, Sir Henry Moore, Governor of New York, gave him the important commission of surveying the border between New York and New Jersey, which explains the dedication on this map. Ratzer reached the rank of captain in 1773 and collaborated with Sauthier on a map of New York and New Jersey that was published in 1776.
Between 1831 and 1890, the Colton firm dominated American map publishing and their atlases were the finest produced in the U.S. during the 19th century. The company was founded by Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893), who had no formal training in geography or cartography; he began by purchasing copyrights of maps prepared by other individuals or companies, and his principal role was to manage the production and distribution of the maps. His first maps were drawn by the esteemed cartographer David H. Burr in the 1830s. By the 1850s Colton was also publishing guidebooks, atlases and immigrant and railroad maps. The firm was renamed G.W. & C.B. Colton in the 1860s when Colton was succeeded by his sons — George Woolworth Colton (1827-1901) and Charles B. Colton (c. 1831-1916). It is believed that George Colton compiled the company’s 1855 Atlas of the World and served thereafter as the firm’s principal map compiler, cartographer and engraver.
Joseph H. Colton sold his atlas plates to Alvin Jewett (A.J.) Johnson in 1860. Johnson, the publisher, is best known for his atlases, issued in many editions in the second half of the 19th century, beginning with the publication of Johnson’s New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas. In 1898, the G.W. & C.B. Colton firm became Colton, Ohman & Co. and published under that name until about 1901, when August R. Ohman began publishing under his own name as “successor to the Coltons.”
Dedication, upper right: “To His Excellency Sir Henry Moore, Bar’t, Captain General and Governour in chief, In and Over His Majesty’s Province of New York and the Territories depending thereon in America, Chancellor and Vice Admiral of the Same, This Plan of the City of new York and its Environs, Survey’d and Laid down: Is most Humbly Dedicated by His Excellency’s Most Obed’t Humble Servant, B. Ratzer, Lieut’t in His Majestys 60th or Royal American Reg’t.”
Inscription, upper right: “18 City Hall Place New York 18th May 1853. I hereby certify that I have compared this Map with the Original in the Possession of J. Carson Brevoort, Esq’re and found it uniformly correct. William Perris C.E. and Surveyor.”
Full publication information: “Published by J.H. Colton, No. 86 Cedar St. New York. 1853. Lithographed & Printed by Schedler & Liebler, 129 William St. N.Y.”
Cohen, Paul E. and Augustyn, Robert T. Manhattan in Maps: 1527-1995. New York: Rizzoli, 1997. pp. 73-77.
“Compliments of Utica Daily Press Map of Cuba.” David Rumsey Map Collection. http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~222706~5505842:Compliments-Of-Utica-Daily-Press-Ma (4 June 2013) (re: Colton).
Haskell, Daniel C., ed. Manhattan Maps: A Co-operative List. New York: New York Public Library, 1931.
“J. Carson Brevoort.” Wikipedia. 22 April 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Carson_Brevoort (6 June 2013).
Ristow, Walter W. American Maps & Mapmakers: Commercial Cartography in the 19th century. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1985. pp. 316-318, 325, 327 (re: Colton).
“The Ratzer Map.” Brooklyn Historical Society. http://brooklynhistory.org/blog/2011/01/21/the-ratzer-map-1770/ (6 June 2013).
Wilson, Michael. “Cunning, Care and Sheer Luck Save Rare Map.” New York Times. 16 January 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/nyregion/17map.html?_r=0 (6 June 2013).