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Phelps and Gorham Purchase Collection

An inventory collection at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Phelps, Oliver, 1749-1809.
Title: Phelps and Gorham Purchase Collection
Inclusive Dates: 1789-1807
Quantity: 0.25 linear ft. (1 oversize flat box)
Abstract: Account books and papers relating to the Phelps and Gorham Purchase in the Genesee Valley area of New York and Pennsylvania.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Oliver Phelps (1749-1809) was Deputy Commissary of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Following the war he was appointed a judge, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and became a land speculator in western New York state.

Nathaniel Gorham (1738-1796) was a politician and merchant from Massachusetts. He served as delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress and was one of the signers of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787.

In 1788, a syndicate formed by Phelps and Gorham bought preemptive rights to six million acres of land in what is now western New York State from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the pre-emptive right to the title on the land from the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The transaction is known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. Unable to make subsequent payments on the land, they were eventually forced to sell much of it to Senator Robert Morris of Philadelphia.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Phelps and Gorham Purchase Collection consists of correspondence, deeds, and account books.

The six account books, five with covers and one without, are apparently early manuscript copies dating from approximately 1830, of accounts dating from between 1789 and 1807. Several of the volumes contain two sets of information, reversed from one another (that is, one must flip the volume over so that the back cover becomes the front).

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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


Gorham, Nathaniel, 1738-1796.
Phelps, Oliver, 1749-1809.


Indians of North America -- Land tenure.
Land tenure -- New York (State)
Land titles -- New York (State)
Phelps and Gorham purchase.


Genesee River Region (Pa. and N.Y.) -- History.
Genesee River Valley (Pa. and N.Y.) -- History.

Genres and Forms

Account books.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Phelps and Gorham Purchase Account Books,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 2015.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: MRC
Date: 15 Sep 2015
Revision history:

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Financial and legal material
Oversize 1 Account books, Phelps and Gorham Purchase 1789-1807 (6 volumes)
Oversize 1 Correspondence undated - 2 items on one sheet, pertaining to Bloomfield in the county of Ontario
Oversize 1 Deed 17 January 1789 - land deed dated signed by Nathaniel Gorham and Oliver Phelps for a parcel of land in township thirteen on the Genesee River

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