Map of New York City, 1850, Mitchell and Cowperthwait
1850s America was at a crossroads. The antebellum period was coming to a close, and the Gilded Age was on the horizon. The Compromise of 1850 reinvigorated talks of secession. Cornelius Vanderbilt was one of the most powerful men in the nation, and P.T. Barnum was one of the most popular. It was a time of crippling poverty and astonishing wealth for self-made men; a time of social reform and an era of great oppression.
In New York City, the African-American population was the largest in the nation at the time, and Irish immigrants flooded into the city after the Great Famine in Ireland. As these ethnic groups were willing to take the lowest-paying jobs in the city, they were forced to crowd into the wretched slums of New York. The most infamous of these slums was the Five Points, an interracial neighborhood known for being one of the most dangerous in the world. The Old Brewery was one of the most notorious buildings in the area, renowned for its overcrowding, disease, debauchery, and murder.
Efforts by social reformers to transform slum life began in the 1830s, however it wasn't until the 1850s that they had any success. The Home Mission charity purchased the Old Brewery and replaced it with the New Mission House in 1852. Even so, increasing racism in New York City drove African-Americans to flee to the countryside as they lost jobs to the growing Irish population. In turn, the Irish - who also faced discrimination - remained locked into poverty, and had to climb their way up through local business and politics in New York, leading to corruption and gang violence through the 1890s.
Samuel Augustus Mitchell (1792-1868) turned his attention to mapmaking in the 1830s, due to his dissatisfaction with available school maps. He developed a map publishing business that would make him and later his son the most prominent American map publishers of the nineteenth century. By collaborating with prominent mapmakers and engravers of the day, such as James H. Young and Henry S. Tanner, Mitchell ensured that the maps he published were of the highest quality. During the 1850s, he partnered with Thomas, Cowperthwait, & Company to publish his A New Universal Atlas and his General Atlas. In 1860, his son Samuel Augustus, Jr, joined the company and he ensured that the Mitchell name remained an important one well into the 1880s.
Thomas, Cowperthwait, and Company was founded sometime in the early 1800s by Joseph Thomas and Hulings Cowperthwait. It operated under this name until 1853. The following year the company name changed to Cowperthwait, Desilver, and Butler. However, this configuration only lasted for about a year, before it became H. Cowperthwait & Company in 1856. After 1860, it appears the company experienced several more alterations, before ceasing publication at the end of the century.
- Onastasia Youssef
Plate size: 12.5" x 15.5"
Condition: Some foxing, but otherwise in excellent condition