top of page

The Surveyor General

The Castello Plan

The Cortelyou family arrived in the New World in the person of young Jacques Cortelyou. He did not come because of religious persecution, but because of a job. It was an opportunity for adventure; to experience something new in a faraway land.

Jacques Cortelyou was born on 9 November 1625 in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands. There were in Utrecht, as in other Dutch cities, a number of French Protestant refugees who had fled from persecution in the Catholic provinces now comprised of Belgium and France. These Walloons, as they were called, had their own church.

It is believed that Jacques' father was a Walloon who had arrived in Utrecht soon after the year 1600.

In 1643, Jacques Cortelyou was a student at the University of Utrecht, where he studied mathematics and land-surveying.

Also that year, Anthony Janszoon van Salle, a half-Dutch, half Moroccan son of a pirate, and a resident of New Amsterdam, obtained a patent on a tract of land of more than 200 acres on western Long Island from the Director General of New Netherland. The property ran along the shore of the Bay opposite Staten Island. Most of the land was undeveloped until 1652, when Cornelis van Werckhoven took it over.

Cornelis van Werckhoven, was born in Utrecht in the Netherlands. He was a magistrate of Utrecht and one of the members of the Dutch government. On 7 November 1651, he joined the West India Company with the intention of establishing a colony in New Netherland. His decision to join must have been made much earlier, because on 6 December 6, 1651, Augustine Herman made his first purchase for van Werckhoven, consisting of large tracts of land in present-day New Jersey in the vicinity of the Raritan River.

On 26 April 1652, van Werckhoven participated in a meeting of the City Council of Utrecht, where he informed the participants of his intention to leave the country.

Sometime after that date, van Werckhoven, who was a widower, took his two sons and sailed to New Netherland. He had hired Jacques as a tutor for his sons and travelled with them to America. Jacques eventually rose to become his boss' assistant.

In 1654 was appointed to the position of "schout" (sheriff) by Peter Stuyvesant but he refused the post. The consideration of Jacques for the position of Schout was made at the request of van Werckhoven. Jacques had developed a good business reputation and was considered "a man of scholarly attainments, a linguist, a mathematician, a philosopher, and a surveyor."

Cornelis van Werckhoven never actually founded any colonies, returning home to Holland two years after his arrival where he died in 1655. Before his departure, van Werckhoven appointed Jacques as his agent in New Netherland because Augustine Herman was on a diplomatic mission on behalf of Governor Stuyvesant. Jacques, who had also become the guardian for Werckhoven's children, took over the settlement and received permission to sell lots of land to create a town. Jacques named the settlement Nieuw Utrecht after Werckhoven's hometown. Twenty lots were laid out and for his home, Jacques chose to build his house on a bluff with a sweeping view across the Narrows to Staten Island.

Jacques soon was busy working as a surveyor. Realizing the demand for his skills, he petitioned the Council at New Amsterdam for an official position. On 23 January 1657, he was appointed Surveyor General of the province of New Netherlands. As the Surveyor General of the city, he worked under Governor Peter Stuyvesant. Jacques was also instrumental in helping to erect the wall, originally fortified against attacks by Native Americans, from which Wall Street derives its name.

In 1660 he designed the Bergen Square site of the first town within the present borders of the state of New Jersey to receive a municipal charter. The town of Bergen was located on the bluff "on the west side of the North River in Pavonia," the present location of Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken.

Cortelyou and his associates had a financial interest in the outcome of the new settlement. They had purchased some "12,000 morgens at Aquackanonk on the Passaic, purchased by himself and associates of the Indians." There is some debate about the origin of the Bergen name, which happens to be the name of one of the earliest settlers of New Amsterdam. However, since the Bergen and Cortelyou families subsequently intermarried several times, it would indicate some degree of familiarity with the name. In any case, the year 1660 was the first time the word "Bergen" was used to describe the new settlement. The original map of the Bergen settlement by Jacques, as well as the list of patentees, have been lost to history.

Jacque's most well-known accomplishment was the so-called "Cortelyou Survey", the first map of lower Manhattan, created in 1660 and commonly called the "Castello Plan." It represented New Amsterdam around the peak of its settlement under the Dutch, with a population of several thousand and provided a detailed view of the layout and land use in New Amsterdam, including Fort Amsterdam, streets, homes and businesses, the canal, and the wall along the northern edge of the city that was built to keep the British out.

Around 1667, cartographer Joan Blaeu bound the existing plan to an atlas, together with other hand-crafted New Amsterdam depictions. He sold the atlas to Cosimo III de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. This transaction most likely happened in Amsterdam since it has never been proven that Blaeu ever set foot in New Netherland. The plan remained in Italy, where, centuries later, in was rediscovered in 1900 at the Tuscan palace, Villa di Castello, near Florence. It was printed in 1916 and received the name "Castello Plan" at that time.

La Villa di Castello

Jacques married Neeltje Van Duyn in New Netherlands around 1655. She presumably came to New Amsterdam with her brother, Garrit Cornelise Van Duyn, in about 1649. They had seven children, all born in New Utrecht.

In 1679, Jasper Danckaerts, a Labadist missionary (The Labadists were a 17th-century Protestant religious community movement founded by Jean de Labadie, a French pietist) recorded a visit to Jacques' Long Island home in his journal:

"Jacques had first bought the whole of Najack from these Indians, who were the lords thereof, and lived upon the land, which is a large place....He was unwilling to drive the Indians from the land, and has therefore left them a corner of it....We arrived then upon the land of this Jacques, which is all good, and yields large crops of wheat and other grain....

Jacques is a man advanced in years. He was born in Utrecht, but of French parents, as we could readily discover from all his actions, looks and language. He had studied philosophy in his youth, and spoke Latin and good French. He was a mathematician and sworn land-surveyor. He has also formerly learned several sciences and had some knowledge of medicine. The worst of it was, he was a good Cartesian (a follower of René Descartes) and not a good Christian, regulating himself, and all externals, by reason and justice only; nevertheless, he regulated all things better by these principles than most people in these parts do, who bear the name of Christians or pious persons. . . . Jacques impressed us very much with his sincerity and cordiality in everything we had to do with him. . . . We left with him the little book which we had lent to him, and which he said he had found much pleasure in reading, Les Pensées de M. Pascal."

Jacques died on 27 June 1693 at the age of 67. His wife Neeltje died prior to December 1695.

Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn is named for him and seems as a reminder of his legacy.


bottom of page