By Nathan Braccio
In many senses, New York (and New Amsterdam/New Netherlands) should be considered the center of cartography in Colonial North America. Starting with the skilled Dutch cartographers, the mapping of New York was more regular and detailed then that of other colonies, including its neighbors in New England. As Patricia Seed has argued, the Dutch believed detailed records legitimized their claim to the region. English colonists in New England did not treat maps the same way. They came from more parochial backgrounds in which maps were novelties and curiosities, not useful tools. However, when New York fell into English hands, a different kind of Englishman arrived there. Its new administrators, such as Governor Edmund Andros, were not parochial English townsmen like their New England neighbors. Like the Dutch, they saw the power of maps and wielded them as powerful weapons. The New York City-based administration of Andros would eventually come to export mapping as a tool and force the colonists of the region to acknowledge their import. Under Andros and other governors sent from England, both New York and New England became visualized through countless property maps and detailed maps of the boundaries between colonies.
The Dutch mapping of the region deserves some examination. Seed has argued that Dutch believed that “navigation,” defined as exploration and textually description, of a region gave them the right of occupation. They understood knowledge of land and water to be powerful and proprietary, not to be shared with any rivals. While Dutch explorers frequently wrote out their descriptions, they also regularly employed maps. Seed further argues that these Dutch maps became symbols for display of possession of the land. Many of the printed and colored maps that Dutch mapmakers produced in Amsterdam also presented massive Dutch claims that extended deep into territory claimed by English colonists. Dutch publishers sold these maps in atlases and as individual prints. English rebuttals were verbal or violent, but never left the same powerful visual record. The map above by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, shows a claim that covered almost all of the English territory in Connecticut. Most of these maps, including the map above relied on the cartographic discoveries of Adrien Block. Block, for whom Block Island is named, explored the coast of New York, Long Island, and New England around 1614.
In the 1680s, New York officials began to adopt new, less militaristic tactics. Both Andros and his successor, Governor Thomas Dongan, began to employ maps and surveyors to resolve the issue. Within New York, the pair had relied on a group of professional surveyors to make hundreds of surveys of land grants in the late 1670s and 1680s, many of which included maps. It was these surveyors, unmatched by anyone in Connecticut, who would occupy a central role in the disputes of the 1680s. New York council minutes mention the dispute over the location of the border several times in the 1670s and 1680s. They recorded Andros sending representatives to discuss the boundaries during King Philip’s War and Dongan sending representatives in the 1680s. In 1684 Dongan sent commissioners, including a surveyor that Andros has brought to the colony, Philip Welles, to meet with representatives from Connecticut to try to determine the bounds. Together the commissioners ran the bounds north “From Lyons point on Byram river.” While New York also had surveyors run its bounds with New Jersey in 1686, this Connecticut one set the precedence of New York officials using maps as tools against New Englanders.
Despite Connecticut’s letters to him on arrival professing friendship, Dongan took a hardline concerning the border. He viewed Connecticuters settling within twenty miles of the Hudson as interlopers and wanted them out of the province. Whereas Connecticut claimed that the River “Mamaranet” started twenty miles away from the Hudson and served as the boundary, Dongan argued that it was not always twenty miles from the Hudson, so instead the boundary was an intangible line. It is in this context that the two agreed to a survey of the border. While Connecticut had also sent a surveyor, John Harriman, the New Yorkers took the lead. The two groups met in Stanford and then proceeded to the mouth of the Byram River (the starting point of the border between Connecticut and New York today). From there they measured in miles and rods as they traveled. The survey used distance and directions from a meridian compass, not latitude and longitude. In incredible detail on the surveying record, the New York surveyors relayed their path, measurements, and conclusions about the border.Attached to the survey was a map (see below) that was unlike anything a Connecticut surveyor could produce. It showed extremely detailed coastlines for the Connecticut shore, the Hudson River, and the other rivers mentioned in the survey. The box included is the territory in discussion, and the dotted line to the far side is “the 20 mile line.” With a map so carefully crafted, Dongan had visual evidence to present to Connecticut, but also visual evidence to show to any Crown commissioners sent to resolve the dispute in the future. While a textual description of what was twenty miles away could be argued with, the clean and accurate-looking lines of the map left little room for debate. This survey ended with Dongan getting much of what he wanted.
For the governance of New York, the stability of this border was essential. The control of several towns was in doubt. Furthermore and more subtly, certain local land surveys used the division line as a point of reference. In 1685, the land records of the colony of New York referred to a plot “bounded on the east side by ye division line last run between ye colony of Connecticut and this province.” Each adjustment of this line had likely reverberated into dozens of smaller and more localized land disputes between individuals and towns over the extent of their claim. For example, the New York government viewed settlers from Connecticut who found themselves on New York land after a boundary settlement as “encroaching,” and the legality of their ownership became doubtful.
The importance of New York and Andros to the adoption of mapping in the region continued past these colonial boundary maps. As Andros ascended to leadership of the Dominion of New England in 1686, he continued to use mapping as a powerful tool in ways that New Englanders could understand. The Dominion unified control of the Northeastern colonies, formerly ruled independently of the crown, under a single royal authority. With his new power, Andros used the maps (cadastral maps) to confirm land grants to New Englanders, which his detractors viewed as a way of doling out favors to his supporters. Indeed, some of these land grants did go to powerful members of the Dominion. However, these grants also had a more subtle power. As in New York, by having government surveyors map and document land grants, Andros centralized and expanded the role of the government.
The English surveyors made extremely detailed maps. The New York City based surveyor, Philip Welles, made dozens of maps during his career that included much greater detail than any produced by a New England based surveyor. The map below is a good example of Welles’s style. Showing the farm of an important colonial officer, the map delineated borders, at times using natural features but generally using a coordinate system. This grid system was one of many things that set Welles apart from many of his counterparts. Instead, they relied on landmarks such as large trees and stone piles to spatially anchor there surveys. Welles also included boundaries between meadowland and farmland. By including these details, these maps included information superfluous to their purpose. They existed to establish boundaries, but Welles’s maps told the reader more. When other surveyors did bother to include natural features, like a pond or reader, they drew them free hand, paying little attention to accuracy. Welles’ natural features clearly show tremendous care. This skill, wielded for powerful men, became force to be reckoned with that forced those who had to grapple with it to acknowledge the power of mapping.
While the English administrators obviously represented a rupture from the Dutch approach to the colony and mapping, a certain continuity is worth stressing. Under both groups, New York/New Amsterdam was the center of mapping for the Northeast. Both the Dutch and skilled English imperial officials treated mapping as a tool in a way that their parochial neighbors did not. From the perspective of their New England neighbors, both the Dutch and English in New York were rivals for land and potential military threats. Through its antagonism and innovation, the colony of New York changed the entire Northeast forever. Mapping had arrived.
Nathan Braccio is a PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut and holds an MA in history from American University. His dissertation examines the linked development of Algonquian and English spatial cultures in 17th-century New England.
 Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 149-178.
 Seed, 149-154, 162-163.
 For more on the Block map and its role in the creation of other Dutch maps, see David Y. Allen, “Dutch and English Mapping of Seventeenth-Century Long Island,” in The Long Island Historical Journal 4, No. 1 (Fall 1991), 46-48.
 Richard Nicolls, George Cartwright, and Samuel Mavericke, “A copy of the Determination of his Majesties Commissioners Concerning the bounds of his Royal Highness the Duke of Yorke's Patent & the Colony of Connecticut's Patent,” 30 November 1664, CT State Archive, Colonial Boundaries, 1st Series, Volume 2, #22, Hartford, CT.
 Gerchsam, Bulhely, Joshua Haynes, Thomas Bull, and Robert Chapman, “Letter to the General Court,” July 12, 1675, Colonial Boundaries, Series 1, Vol. 2, CT State Archive.
 Connecticut Colonial Declaration Regarding the Arrival of Edmund Andros in Saybrook, July 1675, CT State Archive, Colonial Boundaries, 1st Series, Volume 2, #32.
 Calendar of Council Minutes, 1668-1783 (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1903), 11, 22, 34, 49, 61.
 Connecticut General Council to Thomas Dongan, 5 October 1683, CT State Archive, Colonial Boundaries, 1st Series, Volume 2, #42; Thomas Dongan to the Governor and Council of Connecticut, 9 October 1683, CT State Archive, Colonial Boundaries, 1st Series, Volume 2, #43; Thomas Dongan to Robert Treat, 5 November 1683, CT State Archive, Colonial Boundaries, 1st Series, Volume 2, #45.
 Report of the Commissioners from New York, 26 September 1684, CT State Archive, Colonial Boundaries, 1st Series, Volume 2, #46;
 Calendar of N.Y. Colonial Manuscripts: Indorsed Land Papers; In the Office of the secretary of State of New York, 1643-1803 (Albany: Weed, Paterson & Co., 1864), 30, 48, 71, 120, 129 140, 141, 170.
 One such supporter was the powerful colonist and one-time governor of the Dominion, Joseph Dudley. Edmund Andros, “Warrant to survey and lay out Manchaog farme for Joseph Dudley and William Stoughton Esqrs,” 2 January, 1687 in “Land Warrants Issued Under Andros, 1687-1688,” edited by Julius Tuttle, in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Vol. 21 (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1920), 314
Gotham is a blog for independent and professional scholars of
New York City history
We invite submissions
Click below to follow us on social media
using any feed reader
View the material as a broadsheet
See our list of
Visitors looking for
"The Gotham Blotter"
will find it here,
revised as blog posts