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Phelps and Gorham Purchase Collection

An inventory collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 15 Sep 2015

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.

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).

Arrangement of the Collection

No particular order.


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.

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.

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.

Table of Contents

Financial and legal material