In considering the 1797 map “A New & Accurate Plan of the City of New York in the State of New York in North America”–commonly known as the Taylor-Roberts Plan after its creators, Benjamin Taylor and John Roberts–Manhattan was then a little island of many identities. It was a city emerging from the devastating occupation of the British during the American Revolution, including the fire that destroyed approximately a quarter of its buildings. In the decade prior, it was the seat of the country’s infant and often turbulent government. And it was perpetually the growing economic center of the new United States’ merchant class.
Benjamin Taylor and John Roberts, “A New & Accurate Plan of the City of New York in the State of New York in North America,” 1797. New-York Historical Society Library, negative no. 82534d. Taylor was the city surveyor; Roberts, an engraver.
According to Paul E. Cohen and Robert T. Augustyn in their book Manhattan in Maps, 1527-1995, the Taylor-Roberts Plan was one of two large-scale maps of the city published after the American Revolution. (The other, Peter Maverick’s Plan of the City of New York, was published a year or two prior.) Compelling in its presentation of minutiae, the Taylor-Roberts Plan includes architectural elevations of important buildings, identifies the city’s wards, and shows its new and changed streets. It was the last major map to depict Manhattan as it actually was, not what it was slated to become. As dictated by the Common Council in 1804, the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 laid out the city in a grid as we know it today — but the Taylor-Roberts Plan depicted the weaving and crisscrossing streets, buildings, vegetation, and other landmarks by the natural evolution in which they were formed.
One such interesting detail is the estate of Abraham B. De Peyster (1763-1801) located on the “corner Clinton and Cherry,” as described in John Low’s The New York City Directory and Registry for the Year 1796.
Benjamin Taylor and John Roberts, “A New & Accurate Plan of the City of New York in the State of New York in North America,” 1797. New-York Historical Society Library, negative no. 82534d. Detail. Note the orderly DePeyster estate near the center bottom of this image, at the corner of Cherry and Clinton Streets.
Abraham De Peyster (not to be confused with his same-named relative, a somewhat-infamous royal officer) was the son of William De Peyster Jr. and Elizabeth (Brasher) De Peyster. Abraham was a merchant, and a wealthy one judging by the size of his estate. What looks like a small pond or lake in the foreground of his home can be seen on the map detail, lined with majestic trees. Landscape architecture, gardening, and botany were laudable pursuits of any gentleman, particularly after the American Revolution, when many of the Founding Fathers believed in the virtue of a nation built on farming and agriculture.
Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827). Abraham B. De Peyster (1763-1801), ca. 1798. Watercolor on ivory. Gift of Mrs. Edward Rutledge and her daughters. New-York Historical Society, 1954.177. Charles Willson Peale married Elizabeth De Peyster (1765–1804), Abraham’s sister.
Another notable detail on the Taylor-Roberts Plan is the “Negro’s Burying Ground” on First Street (now at 195-197 Chrystie Street) between Rivington and Stanton Streets. While most are familiar with the first African Burial Ground between present-day Foley Square and Chambers Street, this second place of interment for “free People of colour” was appropriated by the African Society after the first cemetery closed in 1794. Isaac Fortune and a group of about thirty free Black Episcopalians appealed to the Common Council on June 22, 1795, expressing that they have “lately associated under the name of the African Society for the laudable Purposes of improving their Morals by promoting a spirit of brotherly Love . . . and with intent to procure a place for the erection of a building for divine worship and the interment of People of Colour.” They intended to use the 50-by-200-foot property to “Bury Black persons of Every denomination and Description whatever in this City whether Bond or Free.”
Benjamin Taylor and John Roberts, “A New & Accurate Plan of the City of New York in the State of New York in North America,” 1797. New-York Historical Society Library, negative no. 82534d. Detail. Note the “Negro’s Burying Ground” at center, in the block bounded by present-day Bowery, and Stanton, Chrystie, and Rivington Streets.
Two lots were purchased with the financial assistance of the city, Trinity Church, and individuals. Samuel Delaplaine (1750-1809) and his wife, Philadelphia Pell (1752-1832), held the deed in trust. Delaplaine was a merchant of New York City, but also a Quaker, a religion that historically held anti-slavery ideals, and might explain his interest in the venture.
The African Society was, unfortunately, unable to secure the funds to construct a church, and so the burial ground became that of Saint Philip’s Church on Centre Street in 1827. Saint Philip’s Church was the first African American Episcopal church in New York City. Later, the cemetery’s interments were removed and relocated to Cypress Hills Cemetery in 1863 after the ban on burials south of 86th Street.
Maps tell stories, each unique and extolling the progresses and changes from the last. The Taylor-Roberts Plan is a snapshot of late 18th century New York City, showing the development of a recovering, growing city. In this and in many other ways, the map is rare and priceless. Its further exploration would only lead to more interesting tales of Manhattan in 1797.
This post is by Crystal Toscano, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.