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A Superb Revolutionary War Plan of Northern Manhattan
New York City/ American Revolution.
FADEN, W. [London, March 1, 1777]
A Topographical Map of the Northn. part of New York Island, Exhibiting the Plan of Fort Washington… .
18 ½ x 10 ¼ inches
Fine original wash color; fine condition.
A precisely and delicately engraved plan of the climactic battle in the British conquest of Manhattan: the capture in mid November of 1776 of Fort Washington in northern Manhattan, the last American stronghold on the island. The plan was published in London a mere two and a half months after the events depicted on it, a remarkably short period of time considering that it averaged at least four weeks to cross the Atlantic at the time.
The fort was located not far from the eastern tower of the George Washington Bridge. The highly detailed battle plan depicts the combined British and Hessian assault on the fort in a well-coordinated land and sea attack, which resulted in a relatively easy victory. The decision to defend Fort Washington, really an isolated outpost at the time, was arguably Washington’s worst decision of the entire war, especially since so many of the fort’s defenders would die miserably in captivity. At the time of the attack, the American force was nearly 3000, a sizable percentage of the American fighting force. The aftermath of the capture of the fort became the source of much indignation on the American side. The American garrison of the fort taken prisoner suffered an extremely harsh fate. Many were held on prison ships in New York Harbor in the most deplorable conditions, resulting in the death of many. This was part of a pattern of abuse of American prisoners of war, which helped to sway neutrals to the American cause and further inflame those already in the American camp.
The plan also indicates the site of an earlier engagement at McGowan’s Pass, which can be seen in the southernmost part of the map—roughly at today’s 96th Street. Thus, the location of this skirmish would have been in what is now the northern section of Central Park, where cultivated fields can also be seen. This engagement occurred in September of 1776, prior to the main business of this map, and happened during the British pursuit of the retreating American Army.
In addition to being valuable as a battle plan, this is also the "most accurate delineation of Upper Manhattan to have been published up to this date." (Nebenzahl, Atlas) The superb rendering of the topography of northern Manhattan resulted from the new surveys of the area that were performed directly after the battle by Claude Joseph Sauthier, a very talented English engineer. Thus all the waterways, wetlands, rocky escarpments, and farmlands that characterized the pre-development topography of the area can be clearly seen here. Also shown are roads, defensive emplacements, batteries, and a plan of the fort itself.
Nebenzahl, Atlas, 14; Nebenzahl, Bibliography 119; Stokes, Iconography of Manhattan, pp. 355-356.
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