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DeWitt Family Papers

An inventory of its papers at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: DeWitt Family
Title: DeWitt Family Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1786-1850
Quantity: 4.75 linear ft.
Abstract: Spanning 1786-1850, the DeWitt Family Papers includes correspondence, financial and legal records, memorabilia, surveying records, and writings of the New York State family whose involvement in political, military, and geographical affairs helped shape the development and growth of the state.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Genealogical diagrams: DeWitt family tree and Clinton family tree.

In 1729 Charles Clinton and his family landed in America after a hazardous Atlantic crossing from Ireland. They settled in the Ulster region of New York State (now Orange County), where Charles worked in the occupations he had followed in Ireland, farming and surveying. He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the local militia, and later, was appointed Justice of the Peace. Charles' family grew with his prosperity,and he was thus able to provide his sons with a good education.

Charles Clinton's two older sons, Alexander and Charles, became physicians. The youngest, George Clinton, began a career in government with an appointment to a clerkship from a relative, Admiral George Clinton, Royal Governor of New York. During the Revolution and after, Charles' son George became Governor of New York. Later he was elected to two successive terms as Vice President of the United States, serving first with President Thomas Jefferson and then with President James Madison. As a public official he was a strong advocate of states' rights and actively opposed the adoption of the United States Constitution. He died in 1812.

In 1785 the federal government appointed James Clinton to a commission to settle the boundary between Pennsylvania and New York. One of the surveyors assigned to this job was Simeon DeWitt, who hired his younger cousin Moses DeWitt to assist in this survey. Moses, like Simeon, was trained as a surveyor by his uncle James Clinton. A few years later Simeon became Surveyor General of New York and thus guided the surveying of the military bounty lands which were given, in various sized tracts, to Revolutionary War veterans. Again he chose his cousin Moses DeWitt to assist him, this time as surveyor in charge of the entire operation in the field. There were unique advantages to Moses' position. He was first to know where the best lands were and was not averse to claiming them for himself. Often veterans never appeared to claim their lands, and Moses, as surveyor of the area, was rightfully able to claim these lands.

After the survey was completed, Moses built a home in present-day Onondaga County and became more active in civic affairs. In 1791 he was appointed Surrogate Judge of Herkimer County, and two years later was commissioned as a major in the militia. Shortly before his death in 1794, he was appointed Judge of the Courts and Supervisor of the town of Pompey. Moses died a bachelor and his great land holdings were divided among his sisters and brothers, who had married into such influential families as Cuddeback, DePuy, Hardenburgh, and Burnet. The town of DeWitt, New York, was incorporated in his name in 1835.

The fourth son of Charles Clinton was James. Following a thoroughly classical education, James chose a military career. He participated in the French and Indian Wars (he accompanied Bradstreet on his attack on Fort Frontenac) and was commissioned a brigadier general in the Continental Army in October, 1775. James served throughout the Revolution and received the British colors at Yorktown. Before embarking on a military career, James had married Mary DeWitt, who was a member of another prominent Ulster County family. This marriage intertwined the histories of two of the most influential families in the development of New York. Their first child was DeWitt Clinton.

In 1786 DeWitt Clinton graduated at the head of his class from Columbia. A few years later he began a political career as private secretary to his uncle George Clinton. DeWitt's career progressed through a short term in the State Assembly, a state senatorship, and eventually to the mayoralty of New York City. He was mayor on and off for twelve years, while also serving as state senator and lieutenant governor, at times concurrently. While temporarily out of office, he began his campaign for the construction of the Erie Canal.

During James Clinton's Revolutionary War services he was asked by George Washington to recommend a geographer for the Continental Army. James recommended Simeon DeWitt, a nephew whom he had trained himself. In 1778 Simeon, the son of Clinton's brother-in-law Andries DeWitt, was appointed assistant to Colonel Robert Erskine; and by 1780 was Geographer in Chief assigned to Washington's headquarters.

Simeon's influence in the state continued up to his death in 1834. He was one of the most influential citizens of Albany: a respected educator, Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents, and a prominent member of the American Philosophical Society. He is also credited with founding the settlment of Ithaca, New York, where he died. Simeon was also one of the hardiest supporters of his cousin DeWitt Clinton's Erie Canal project, and often gave advice for improvements in construction and on its route.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The DeWitt Family Papers consists of correspondence and private records of the DeWitt family and related branches of the Clinton, Cuddeback, Hardenbergh, Rossa (Rose), Burnet, and DePuy families. These materials are organized into five major groups: Correspondence, Financial and Legal Records, Memorabilia, Surveying Records, and Writings. Bulk dates for the collection are 1768 to 1850 with a concentration between 1785 and 1794, which was the period of greatest activity for Moses DeWitt, the main contributor to the collection.

Correspondence (Boxes 1-4), 1770-1850, is arranged chronologically by year, and when quantity requires, by the month. In addition to regular correspondence, this group contains rough drafts and contemporary file copies of letters written by Moses DeWitt. Though the majority of letters are in English, some are written in Dutch. A large part of these materials is intra-family correspondence and includes exchanges between such well-known family members as Moses DeWitt, George Clinton, James Clinton, and DeWitt Clinton. Represented among the non-family members prominent in central New York history are Peter Schuyler, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Joseph Annin, Comfort Tyler, Asa Danforth, Samuel Kirkland, John Linklaen, and Peter Smith. Most of the correspondence deals with routine family affairs, financial matters, surveying expeditions, and local gossip. Many letters, however, relate to subjects of more general interest, including various tribes of the Iroquois League, the strained relations between Great Britain and the United States in 1794, state and national politics, the building of the Erie Canal, and the American Revolution. Entire letters are not usually devoted to any one of these subjects; rather, they contain terse, often colorful, comments, which give the reader a good picture of life during this period. Letters from DeWitt Clinton to several individuals on a variety of topics form one of the most interesting bodies of material within this group.

Though not a figure of great historical importance, Thomas White wrote a large number of letters to Moses DeWitt, his former pupil and very close friend. These letters provide a glimpse of life in late eighteenth century America from the perspective of an English schoolmaster. They contain fatherly advice, speculation about events of personal interest, details of business matters, philosophical and religious precepts, and references to the activities of mutual acquaintances.

In addition to the index of important correspondents located at the end of this inventory, partial transcriptions and synopses of many of the letters are available in box IA.

Financial and Legal Records (Boxes 4-6) date from 1768 to 1825. This group is divided into two main sections, financial and legal, and is sub-divided by type of document. The majority of the materials is associated with the commercial activities of Moses DeWitt and, after 1794, with his namesake, Moses DeWitt Burnet.

Financial Records includes documents relating to Moses DeWitt's business ventures as proprietor of a store with John Dumont, as a land owner, and as surveyor for the state of New York. A variety of materials, including account books, bills, purchase lists, records of employee earnings, receipts, and expense statements pertain to these businesses. Among the items of particular interest are those connected with the settlement of Moses DeWitt's estate and especially an inventory of his possessions compiled by Comfort Tyler.

Legal records consist of affidavits, commissions, deputations, indentures, powers of attorney, land patents, and agreements between the party named and various individuals. A number of these items are government documents and as such bear the seal of New York and the appropriate official's signature. Perhaps the most interesting piece in the legal records section is a rough draft of a petition submitted by Moses DeWitt to the New York legislature in which he offers to buy a large portion of the Onondaga Indian Reservation.

Memorabilia (Box 6), 1784-1820, contains a variety of materials associated with the lives of Moses DeWitt, Moses DeWitt Burnet, DeWitt Clinton, and George Clinton. Among the items present are several campaign posters, a chart of election returns in Orange County, and a series of original drawings by Moses DeWitt.

Surveying Records (Boxes 6-8), 1786-1794, consist of materials related specifically to the work done by various surveying expeditions with which Moses DeWitt was associated. These materials are arranged alphabetically by the name of the location surveyed and then by type of document. Wherever possible, the name of the surveyor who created a particular document or portion of material is listed. The areas surveyed by DeWitt and his associates include parts of Chemung, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oswego counties, twenty-five townships in the Military Tract, and the New York-Pennsylvania boundary. Journals and field books are the two main types of material present. Field books provide information about the more technical aspects of surveying such as location of landmarks, boundaries, measurements, lot locations, and geographical features. The journals usually contain dated entries which record the progress and daily activities of the surveying party, observations about the countryside, and the quality of the weather. These entries, concise as they are, furnish information on the early settlement of central New York.

Writings (Box 8) date from 1785 to 1815. This section consists of unpublished writings in the form of private journals, essays, verse, and a commonplace book. The journals record the experiences of Moses DeWitt on several short trips and the activities of Moses DeWitt Burnet during part of 1815. These journals are of a small size and contain mostly brief entries.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Burnet, Moses Dewitt, 1792-1876.
Clinton, DeWitt, 1769-1828.
Clinton, George, 1739-1812.
DeWitt family.
DeWitt, Jacob Rutsen.
DeWitt, Moses, 1766-1794.


Erie Canal (N.Y.) -- History.
Surveyors -- New York (State)


Herkimer County (N.Y.) -- History.
New York State -- Boundaries
New York State -- History.
New York State -- Politics and Government, 1775-1860.
Onondaga County (N.Y.) -- History.
Ulster County (N.Y.) -- History.

Genres and Forms

Field notes.
Financial records.
Legal documents.
Writings (documents)


Armed forces officers.
Public officers.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

DeWitt Family Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information


Finding Aid Information

Created by: -
Date: -
Revision history: 24 Mar 2016 - inventory corrected and expanded (MRC)

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Box 1 [General] 1770-1779
Box 1 [General] 1780-1782
Box 1 [General] 1783 Apr-Dec
Box 1 [General] 1784 Feb-Dec
Box 1 [General] 1785 (2 folders)
Box 1 [General] 1786 Jan-Nov (6 folders)
Box 1 [General] 1787 (4 folders)
Box 1 [General] 1788 (5 folders)
Box 1 [General] 1789 (5 folders)
Box 2 [General] 1790 (9 folders)
Box 2 [General] 1791 (12 folders)
Box 2 [General] 1792, Jan-Jul (6 folders)
Box 3 [General] 1792, Aug-Dec (5 folders)
Box 3 [General] 1793 (12 folders)
Box 3 [General] 1794 (7 folders)
Box 3 [General] 1797, 1799
Box 3 [General] 1800-1801 (2 folders)
Box 4 [General] 1802-1825 (8 folders)
Box 4 [General] 1826-1828, 1830-1831, 1836, 1850
Box 4 [General] undated - undated letters and letter fragments
Box 4 White, Thomas 1782-1799 (2 folders)
Financial and legal records
Box 4 Account books 1787, 1789, 1790, 1791 (4 volumes)
Box 5 Account books 1794
Box 5 Accounts, DeWitt and Dumont store 1785-1786
Box 5 Accounts, surveying 1789-1792
Box 5 Bills 1787-1792 (2 folders)
Box 5 Checks, cancelled 1805-1814 - includes one printed sheet of blank checks (2 folders)
Box 5 Clinton, James 1812-1822
Box 5 DeWitt, Moses 1794
Box 5 Miscellaneous 1787-1807
Box 5 Expense statements 1789-1790
Box 5 Land transactions and holdings 1788-1791
Box 5 Notes, cancelled 1787-1792
Box 5 Payment and purchase authorizations 1786-1790
Box 5 Purchase lists of supplies 1789-1794
Box 5 Receipts 1785-1811 (3 folders)
Box 5 Wages paid to employees for surveying 1788-1790
Box 5 Miscellaneous 1788-1820
Box 5 General 1789-1792
Box 5 Military service 1789
Box 6 DeWitt, Jacob Rutsen 1783-1804
Box 6 DeWitt, Moses 1789-1794 (3 folders)
Box 6 Miscellaneous 1786-1819
Box 6 County clerk, others 1791-1794
Box 6 Burnett, Moses DeWitt and others 1817-1825
Box 6 DeWitt, Moses 1787-1792
Box 6 Bonds of obligation 1791-1819 - Moses DeWitt Burnett and others
Box 6 Certifications of lot locations 1782-1789
Box 6 Commission to take affidavits, Herkimer County circa 1794
Box 6 Deputations 1790
Box 6 Forms
Box 6 Indentures 1789-1803 - Moses DeWitt and others (2 folders)
Box 6 Land grants 1790-1794
Oversize 1 Land patents 1790
Box 6 To the New York State Assembly, to purchase the Onondaga Indian Reservation 1794
Box 6 Miscellaneous 1794-1819
Box 6 Powers of attorney 1793-1794
Box 6 Proclamations 1780
Box 6 Subpoenas 1785
Box 6 Warrants 1768-1789
Box 6 Miscellaneous 1790 (2 folders)
Burnett, Moses DeWitt
Box 6 Election returns for state officials in Orange County 1810
Box 6 Election for Sheriff of Orange County 1820
Box 6 64th New York Infantry Regiment 1825 - regimental orders, printed
Clinton, DeWitt
Box 6 Address on the Character and Services of DeWitt Clinton, by William Gibbs Hunt 1828
Box 6 Portraits circa 1813 - two engravings; one is "to commemorate the opening of the Erie Canal" and appears to be signed by Clinton
Clinton, George
Box 6 Printed material 1792 - mostly political
DeWitt, Moses
See also Writings : DeWitt, Moses : Journals.
Box 6 Commonplace book 1786-1787
Box 6 Cartoon, "The Lottery Adventurers" 1784 - pen-and-ink political cartoon
Box 6 French fort on Onondaga Lake - unidentified but probably Sainte Marie among the Iroquois (Sainte Marie de Ganentaa), established 1656
Box 6 Miscellaneous - pen-and-ink, one colored
Box 6 Notes on geometry and surveying undated
Box 6 Printed material 1785 - mostly geography and history; includes map of world "according to the best authorities"
Box 6 Society for Mental Improvement 1788 - preamble, speech, notes
Box 6 Tax rolls, Precinct of Mamacotting 1786
Surveying records
Surveying records are alphabetical by location.
Box 7 Cayuga and Onondaga Counties 1789 - journals
Box 7 Cayuga Reservation undated - field notes
Box 7 Cayuga Reservation 1789 - journal
Box 7 Chemung 1788 - field book
Box 7 Chemung 1789 - field book, Peter Cuddeback
Box 7 Chemung 1788 - field book, Thomas Nicholson
Box 7 Chemung and Little Britain 1788 - journal
Box 7 "John Cantine's Locations South of the Military Tract," Peter Cuddeback 1790 - field book
Box 7 Little Britain, Albany, and the Mohawk River 1786 - journal
Box 7 Mexico, Herkimer County 1793 - journal
Military Tract
Box 7 Boundaries and locations of lots in the perimeter of Military Tract 1782-1791
Box 7 Description of Gov. Clinton's lots in the Military County Lands of the State of New York
Field books
Box 7 Bounds of township no. 8 and no. 9
Box 7 Cincinnatus, Benjamin Dey (?) undated
Box 7 Dryden, John Konkle 1790-1791
Box 7 "First and second townships on the east side of Lake Cayuga," Benjamin Dey 1789
Box 7 Hector, Township 21 1791
Box 7 Homer, Township 19 undated
Box 7 Junius 1790-1791
Box 7 Seneca Lake "square" lots, Jacob Rutsen DeWitt 1794
Box 7 Townships 1-25, Moses DeWitt 1789-1790
Box 8 Ulysses, Township 22, Nathan Parshall 1790 - field book, journal
Box 8 Journals, Moses DeWitt 1789-1790 (2 volumes)
Box 8 Lists of all lots less than 600 acres granted before 1792
Box 8 Maps of lots circa 1790
Box 8 Names of Military Townships - one page list
Box 8 Miscellaneous undated
Box 8 Mohawk River and Dewittsburgh Journal 1792-1794
Box 8 New York State and Pennsylvania boundary survey, Armstrong 1786 - field notes
Box 8 New York State and Pennsylvania boundary survey, DeWitt 1786 - journal
Box 8 New York State and Pennsylvania boundary survey, DeWitt 1787 - field notes
Box 8 New York State and Pennsylvania boundary survey, Ellicott 1786 - journal
Box 8 Owego, Amaziah Hutchison 1792 - field notes
Box 8 Seneca River and part of Lake Ontario, John Dey 1789 - field notes
Box 8 Tioga River forks, Moses DeWitt 1786 - journal
Box 8 Tioga and Owego Rivers, Thomas Clinton, Thomas King, and Thomas Nicholson 1788 - field book
Box 8 Wisner Tract, Benjamin Dey 1791 - field notes
Box 8 Unidentified circa 1786-1790
Burnett, Moses DeWitt
Box 8 Journal, "Dark gloomy morning. Set out from Little Britain..." 1815
DeWitt, Moses
Box 8 Essay on deceitfulness and vice 1787
Box 8 Essay on hypocrisy and dissimulation 1787
Box 8 "About nine o'clock this morning set out in Company with General Clinton & his son Charles..." Jun 1786 - typed transcript only; original does not appear to be in the collection
Box 8 "Left home in company with my sister Hannah..." Nov 1786 - trip from Peenpack to New York via the Hudson
Box 8 "Journal of a tour from New York to Philadelphia" Apr 1791
Box 8 "On the 14th April 1792, Thursday, a day Cloudy, and Cold..." Apr 1792 - half-page only; notes on the "drownding" of Moses B. DePuy
Box 8 "Memorandum Journal for the Year 1792" Apr-Jun 1792
Box 8 "Left Bloomingvale for Albany New York Peenpack etc..." Nov 1792-Apr 1793
Box 8 Notes on sermon preached by William Coe 1792
Box 8 Story, "Pity the Sorrows of a Poor Old Man" circa 1787
Box 8 Verses 1785-1789

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