Lord Percy's Annotated Copy of the "Ratzer Map," the Most Important Colonial Map of New York City, Used by Him in the Course of Capturing the City for the British.
This is the Lord Percy copy of the Ratzer map, a paramount Revolutionary War plan and the most important eighteenth-century printed map of New York City. This copy, which is extensively annotated with American troop positions in red ink, is the map that General Percy used while in command of a British brigade at the Battle of Brooklyn and subsequently during his successful efforts to retake Manhattan for the British. It therefore occupies an especially important place in the history of the United States generally, and New York City in particular. The Percy-Ratzer elevates all other copies of the map; the general's use of the Ratzer plan in the battles for New York conclusively establishes the role the map played in the Revolution. In his hands, it served the purpose for which it was first intended when it was commissioned in 1765.
The present map constitutes the northern half of what was once a two-part map that covered a large part of Brooklyn as well. The southern half of the Lord Percy-Ratzer is now in the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society (jointly owned with the Greenwood Historical Trust), having been acquired by them in 2013. Until very recently, this northern half of the map was considered lost to time.
Bernard Ratzer's map was by far the most accurate published plan of New York City at this critical time in history. The map is based on the surveys undertaken at the direction of Sir Henry Moore, who authorized mapping efforts in response to the Stamp Act Riots of 1765. He and other British leaders feared that the city might soon become a battleground -- a fear they no doubt carried over from the barely-concluded French and Indian War. Needing a more detailed accounting of New York's layout, the British authorities commissioned Ratzer to survey and construct a map the city, which was drawn in 1766.
Ratzer's initial surveying produced his "Ratzen plan" (1769), which focused exclusively on lower Manhattan and gained its monicker from a misspelling in the title. The Ratzen plan was a great improvement on maps that had preceded it. In 1767, Ratzer would expand the scope of his surveying to cover the areas surrounding the city. The result was his remarkable map of New York City and environs, first issued in 1770. This larger map is typically called the "Ratzer map." Cohen & Augustyn state that the Ratzer Map is perhaps the finest for an American city produced in the eighteenth century. The "geographical precision combined with highly artistic engraving was unsurpassed in the urban cartography of its day."
Lieutenant Bernard Ratzer (fl. 1756-1777) was a British cartographer Army officer who spent his time in America working as a surveyor and draftsman. He was, in particular, assigned to survey America's eastern coastline during the French and Indian War and later into the early stages of the American Revolution. He worked alongside his well-known contemporaries Claude J. Sauthier, Samuel Holland, and Thomas Jefferys.
This superb example of his greatest printed work was used by a British division commander at two of the Revolution's most important early battles: the Battle of Brooklyn, on 27 August 1776 and the capture of Fort Washington three months later. The story of Lord Percy's role in those battles elucidates the importance of this map to American history.
The Battle of Brooklyn
After the British defeat at the Siege of Boston, attention quickly shifted southward to New York City and its impressive harbor. General George Washington began deploying troops to the city in anticipation of a British attempt to capture it, and General William Howe confirmed his suspicions when he landed a large British force on Staten Island.
With this pivot in the conflict, the Ratzer plan, which William Faden reissued in January of 1776 (this issue), was quickly shipped across the Atlantic for use in the field. Hugh Percy's copy was updated extensively with manuscript to denote the locations of American troops and batteries throughout the city and surrounding areas.
On the evening of August 26, Generals Howe, Clinton, Cornwallis, and Percy began a daring flanking maneuver to encircle American troops defending Guan Heights, in Brooklyn. Their aim was to destroy Washington's army there and move on to Manhattan. While a Hessian detachment of 4000 troops attacked frontally, distracting the American defenders, Howe attacked from the flank. The stratagem was incredibly successful and those Patriots not killed or captured were quickly forced back to the defenses of Brooklyn Heights. The entire scope of the battle, in which Percy played an important role supporting Howe, could be seen on his Ratzer map.
The engagement was a resounding defeat for Washington, and on top of it he had been unable to accomplish a complete withdrawal from the field; he was backed into Brooklyn Heights and corralled against the East River. The British forces had closed in on all sides and were digging in for a siege. If Washington and his troops were captured, the Revolution would almost surely be finished.
But alas, Washington was not destined for that fate. In one of the major missteps of the war, General Howe failed to press his advantage; as he prepared for a slow and deliberate attack on Brooklyn Heights, Washington and all of the American forces boarded boats and escaped to Manhattan by way of Brooklyn Ferry (here, "Brookland Ferry"), under the cover of night. With this brilliant move, Washington saved his troops and himself, and succeeded in prolonging the war.
The story of Washington's escape from Brooklyn can be seen on this, the northern half of the map; here is shown the the nascent village of Brooklyn, the docks from which the Americans embarked, and the Manhattan wharves where they landed and regrouped. With this map we can understand that event as Generals Percy and Howe understood it, watching victory slip through their fingers and across the East River.
Lord Percy, the General Who Secured Manhattan for the British
General Hugh Percy, Earl Percy, later 2nd Duke of Northumberland (1742-1817), was one of the foremost British generals of the Revolutionary War. His career in America started in 1774, when he arrived in Boston as commander of the 5th Regiment of Foot. Prior to his direct involvement in the Colonies, he was remarkably sympathetic to the American cause; as a Whig member of Parliament he had opposed the Stamp Act, as well as Lord North's other policies regarding the Colonies. But despite his initial concerns, Percy's opinion quickly soured upon arriving in Boston. He wrote home describing the New Englanders he met as "cowards... they are cruel and tyrannical." His antipathy continued to grow before the onset of hostilities: "I cannot but despise them completely," he wrote.
Percy gained another reason to detest the Americans in April 1775. After the first shots of the Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord, Percy led the British forces in relief of Lieutenant Colonel Smith. His actions that day very well might have saved the British from an even greater calamity. He played little role in the hostilities in Boston after that, possibly because of personal disagreements with General Howe.
Lord Percy's greatest accomplishment of the war was his resounding joint victory at the Battle of Fort Washington. Less than three months after he had helped secure the muted decision at the Battle of Brooklyn, Percy successfully finished the job of pushing the Patriots off Manhattan. After the defeat, the Continental Army was chased across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the British gained full control of the area.
As described above, Percy acquitted himself well during the early stages of the conflict. In 1777, shortly after his actions at Fort Washington, he attained the rank of lieutenant general. Despite this advancement, his quarrels with General Howe continued. In May 1777, Percy resigned his command departed Newport for England. He settled at the family seat, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland and acceded to his father's title in 1786. He died suddenly in 1812.
Many of the general's maps were sold by Sotheby's from the family properties on 14-16 May 1997. The sale was held at Lord Percy's suburban London residence, Syon House in Brentford. Some of the family maps not sold by Sotheby's figure prominently in Cohen & Brown's 2015 survey of manuscript maps, Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence.
Sauthier and Lord Percy
While the manuscript additions to the map were very possibly drawn by Lord Percy himself, it seems equally likely that they were added by his secretary at the time, Claude Joseph Sauthier (1736-1802). Sauthier had previously worked as an official surveyor in North Carolina for Governor Tryon, and later, when Tryon assumed the same position in New York, he mapped the Hudson River and its watershed, and the New York-Canada border. He began working for Hugh Percy sometime around the Battle of Brooklyn, and he stayed with the general through his success at Fort Washington, which he depicted beautifully in two manuscript maps by now held by the Library of Congress: A map of part of New-York Island showing a plan of Fort Washington and A tracing relating to Fort Washington or Knyphausen . Sauthier worked for Percy when he was stationed at Newport, Rhode Island, and then again when the general left America in 1777, back to his family seat at Alnwick. Mark Babinski made the Sauthier-Percy relationship the subject of one of his monographs, Notes on C.J. Sauthier and Lord Percy, which was published in an edition of six in 1997.
The Percy-Ratzer is a superlative Revolutionary War map. It is a battlefield artifact used by one of the primary British commanders in the New York theater, containing extensive unique manuscript additions covering American troop positions, and is fundamentally the most important printed map of Manhattan from colonial times. Percy's use of the map in the field illustrates the importance these maps held in the eyes of the British command, and it raises the historical value of the map far beyond that of a standard printed example -- something already extremely great in itself.