This website is part of The New York Public Library's Online Exhibition Archive. For current classes, programs, and exhibitions, please visit

Part I: Founding Cities
Manhattan Island

Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to record his visit, in 1524, to the New York Harbor, where he reported an enthusiastic greeting by feather-clad Lenapes. It was only after Henry Hudson passed through in the Dutch East India Company ship The Half Moon in 1609, however, that European settlers came to stay. New Netherland colony was settled in 1624, and New Amsterdam was founded at the tip of Manhattan Island in 1626. In March 1664, the English King put the Duke of York in charge of New Netherland, which had been surrounded from the start by competitive English colonies, and the Dutch surrendered the colony in September. The future New York City came to benefit from its strategic position in the life of the colonies. British forces occupied it during the Revolution (the Montresor plan was prepared for the British General Gage). After a brief interlude as the Republic’s first capital from 1785-1790, the city's population nearly quadrupled in population between 1790 and 1820, and New York established itself as an important commercial link between the outside world and the rest of America with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825.

Stokes compiled his peerless Iconography of Manhattan Island over twenty years, with a small cadre of assistants on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a stunningly detailed physical account of the city in period maps, views, and documents. During years of self-described feverish activity, he managed to track down and buy impressions of many of the prints illustrated in the book. These images form the core of his American historical print collection. The New York prints on exhibition here are a tiny sampling of those used by Stokes to write his history of the island, but they represent a cross section of the whole, from early Dutch printed and drawn views to a Revolutionary city plan, to a late 19th-century bird’s-eye view; and from the completely “fictitious” French Nowel Amsterdam to the aquatint views from The Atlantic Neptune, one of the most accurate marine atlases of its time.

Novum Amsterodamum
Pen-and-ink and wash drawing, ca. 1642–43
Deák 33

Many early American views are anonymous and undated, like this watercolor of New Amsterdam. The inclusion of certain architectural features can provide a key to the dating of such works, which is often hotly contested. In this view, both the local church and its belfry, completed in 1643, are visible, but the tavern, thought to have begun construction in 1642, is absent. Although a permit for it was issued in 1642, the construction of the tavern perhaps did not begin until 1643, which might explain why the church is complete but the tavern absent in this drawing.

Nowel Amsterdam en l’Amerique
François Jollain (French, ca. 1641–1704)
Etching and engraving, possibly from Vues à vol d’oiseau de différents villes de France et de pays étrangers, ca. 1672
Deák 52

Pictures of the New World were eagerly sought by a curious European audience. Print publishers quickly capitalized on this demand by recycling existing European views and presenting them as portrayals of the overseas colonies. This engraving of New York City is one such fictitious view; it is actually a view of Lisbon, Portugal, based on a print from a century earlier. François Jollain, one of a family of French engravers, made little effort to transform the setting into an authentic rendering, perhaps relying on his audience’s unfamiliarity with American geography. The numbering in the lower right corner suggests that this view was part of a series, perhaps Jollain’s Vues à vol d’oiseau de différents villes de France et de pays étrangers.

Nieu Amsterdam
Etching, ca. 1700
Deák 32

Based on an early view of New Amsterdam, this etching shows the city as a backdrop for mercantile activity. Although many of the prominent architectural features on the southern tip of the island have been condensed, they remain identifiable and were used by Stokes to date the view depicted in this late 17th-century print to around 1642–43.

The setting, however, is overshadowed by two large figures – the same that are identified as “English Quakers” in a view of Barbados for the series Orbis habitabilis published by Carel Allard (see other views from this series, of New York, below, and Panama and Havana, in the second half of the exhibition). The gentleman grasps a handful of tobacco leaves – a valuable New World commodity – and processed tobacco on spindles appears at his feet. African slaves, like the ones in the middle ground behind the tobacco merchant, were presumably present in New Netherland at an early date, although the West India Company did not get involved in large-scale slave trade until 1640, when Portugal lost its license to supply slaves to the Spanish colonies.

Nieu Amsterdam at[que] New York
Aldert Meyer (Dutch, b. 1663 or 1664)
Colored etching and engraving, from Orbis habitabilis oppida et vestitus [Cities and Costumes of the Inhabited World], published by Carel Allard, ca. 1700
Deák 56

This scene portrays New Amsterdam in 1673, when the Dutch briefly recaptured the city from the Duke of York, who had taken possession of the colony nine years earlier in the name of the King of England. The view was included in Amsterdam publisher Carel Allard’s Orbis habitabilis oppida et vestitus, which features one hundred views of cities around the world. The volume’s foreword notes that since not everyone is able to learn about the world at firsthand, the plates provide an “artful, accurate, and faithful” image of cities all over the world, and with these images, anyone can “walk, ride, and sail through them, even while sitting in the solitude of one’s own room.”

Each city is represented in the series by one topographical view, along with another featuring a pair of large figures in local costume: the Native American couple shown here provide tantalizing details of native dress and weaponry. The furs at their side were coveted by the European market, and serve as a reminder that New Netherland was established first and foremost as an outpost for trade.

View of the City of New York Taken from Long Island
Charles-Balthazar-Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (French, 1770–1852), after his own design
Etching, 1796
Deák 215

Charles-Balthazar-Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin was born in Dijon, France, and fled his homeland as an aristocratic refugee during the French Revolution. He arrived in the United States in 1793 and became a hugely successful portrait artist. With the help of two devices, the physionotrace, which enabled the human profile to be precisely traced, and the pantograph, which reduced images, he created miniature portraits of major figures, including the last lifetime portrait of George Washington. Saint-Mémin used the same minute, precise draughtsmanship for this rendering of the East River waterfront. Although diminutive, the individual buildings are readily identifiable under magnification.

A View of New York from the North West
Etching and aquatint, from The Atlantic Neptune, published by Joseph F. W. Des Barres, ca. 1777
Deák 130

In 1763, the British Admiralty commissioned Joseph F. W. Des Barres to survey and prepare a marine atlas of the coast of Nova Scotia. Over a period of nearly twenty years, this project evolved into The Atlantic Neptune, a compendium of charts, plans, and views of the entire East Coast of the North American continent, all prepared under Des Barres’s supervision. Des Barres, a French Huguenot who became an officer in the British Royal American Regiment in 1755, developed strong ties in Canada. He spent eleven years surveying the coasts of Nova Scotia, along with parts of New Brunswick and New England, most of which had never been mapped in any detail. His attention to precision ensured that his work would remain valid into the 19th century. In his introductory text to the atlas, he remarked on the accuracy of his instruments, which he was able to use only during the warmest six months of the year:

“The dangers to which the author has been exposed in the execution of this important and arduous undertaking, as well as for the sake of greater accuracy, perspicuity, and dispatch, put him to the necessity of furnishing himself with repeated Sets of expensive Instruments, Astronomical and Geometrical; constructed to his purpose, and rendered more perfect from the many Improvements and Additions the long course of his Experience suggested….”

A Plan of the City of New-York & Its Environs to Greenwich on the North or Hudsons River
Peter Andrews (active 1765–82), surveyed by John Montresor (American, b. England, 1736–1799)
Engraving and etching, 1767
Deák 118

For seven weeks during the height of the Stamp Act riots, in which the pre-Revolutionary colonies organized to reject direct taxation from England, Lieutenant John Montresor drafted a large map of Manhattan at the request of the commander-in-chief of the British forces in the United States, General Thomas Gage. It was a secret, and potentially dangerous, mission, as noted by Montresor in his journal: “Continued on my Survey sub rosa as observation might endanger ones house and effects if not ones life.” Owing to these mitigating circumstances, including the speed with which it needed to be prepared, there are several errors and omissions on the plan. This impression is an unfinished trial proof; the published edition featured additional buildings, descriptions, and references, as well as a title and cartouche. The map was reissued in 1775.

New-York. Taken from the Bay near Bedlows Island
William James Bennett (American, b. England, 1787–1844), after John Gadsby Chapman (American, 1808–1889)
Color aquatint with hand-coloring, published by Henry Megarey, 1836
Deák 437

British-born William James Bennett, one of the most accomplished masters of aquatint active in the United States in the early decades of the 19th century, made this seascape as part of his series of nineteen views of American cities. Some of the views were executed after his own drawings, but several of them were done by contemporary painters, such as this one by his colleague John Gadsby Chapman. Dominated by rough water, the view is taken from Bedloe’s (now Liberty) Island and ranges from Paulus Hook (now Jersey City), to Ellis Island, across Lower Manhattan (with Trinity Church steeple centered between the boats), to Ellis Island, Governors Island, and east to Brooklyn Heights.

Chapman, like Bennett a member of the National Academy of Design, had a diverse and distinguished artistic career. After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and traveling to Italy to study the Old Masters, he returned to the United States in 1831. He painted portraits and historical subjects, and between 1837 and 1840 created his most famous painting, the Baptism of Pocahontas, in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. He was a prolific illustrator, contributing over 1,400 illustrations to Harper’s Illuminated Bible and publishing a successful artist’s manual, The American Drawing-Book.

Panorama of New York and Vicinity
Julius Bien (New York lithographic firm, 1850–68), after John Bachmann (American, b. Germany?, active 1849–77)
Chromolithograph, published by John Bachmann, 1866
Deák 807

Julius Bien is among the first generation of European-trained lithographers who helped establish the American printmaking industry almost from scratch. Born and trained in Germany, Bien settled in New York by 1849, where he opened a lithographic firm that eventually employed over 200 people, and operated fifteen lithographic steam presses. He is perhaps best known for his ambitious undertaking to lithographically reproduce Robert Havell’s aquatints after John James Audubon’s Birds of America. A cartographer as well as a printer, Bien produced and printed thousands of maps of the growing country for use by state and federal governments.

This view of New York was produced using the technique of chromolithography, or multicolor lithography. Bien had very likely been exposed to early German experiments in color printing while he was an art student, and was one of the pioneers in the use of the technique in America. The equally prodigious and talented John Bachmann, also probably a German native, was among the first generation of artists to create bird’s-eye views of American cities, which soared in popularity after the Civil War. Stokes declared that the interest in such views was “a universal hobby – almost a mania.” A game of baseball is shown in the left foreground of this view, at the Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the first recorded baseball game was played in 1846.

Note to the checklist. “Deák” refers to the catalogue of American historical prints in the New York Public Library’s collections: Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America 1497-1899. Prints, Maps, and Drawings bearing on the New World Discoveries and on the Development of the Territory that is now the United States. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.


Privacy Policy | Rules and Regulations | Using the Internet | Website Terms and Conditions | © The New York Public Library