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Manuscript Map of the Phelps Gorham Purchase

With Ownership Names on 120 Separate Lots

In 1788 New York ceded to Massachusetts some six million acres west of Seneca Lake due to a dispute over conflicting colonial charters. Although New York maintained its sovereignty over the region, Massachusetts retained the rights to negotiate with the region's Native American tribes, or to sell their claim to a third party.  With the booming land speculation in the United States in the immediate post-Revolutionary period, Massachusetts opted to sell their claim to two investors: Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham. These two businessmen negotiated with the Iroquois and began selling shares of their land purchase for new agricultural settlements east of the Genesee River. 

According to R. W. G. Vail, no promotional pamphlet literature was issued by Phelps and Gorham, but they did commission a printed map of their purchase in 1794: Augustus Porter's A Map of Messrs. Gorham & Phelps's Purchase; now the County of Ontario, in the State of New York.  As the terms of the deal with Massachusetts fluctuated based on the value of Massachusetts specie, Phelps and Gorham ended up forfeiting a large portion of the eastern part of their purchase back to the state, who in turn sold it to Robert Morris.

The present manuscript map plan illustrates lands that were part of the original Phelps and Gorham purchase. The 36-square-miles township, located just northwest of Geneva, New York, is divided into 120 plots, each measuring 192 acres, with the names of the owners in each respective grid square: Oliver Phelps, Joshua Warner, Jonathan Whitney,  Robert Hamilton, Elias Dickerson, Moses Hayden, Israel Chapin, John Waite, David Billings, Jonathan Hastings, Consider Armes, etc. Oriented with South at the top of the map, Flint Creek runs down the right side of the sheet, a county road crosses horizontally at the top and a saw mill is located on the border between plats 88 and 89. There is also an interesting annotation on the verso which records the price of at least one of the lots: 5 dollars.

The bulk of the papers of Oliver Phelps dealing with the purchase are in the New York State Library. The Israel Chapin papers at the New York Historical Society also includes material relating to the Phelps Gorham purchase.

A rare 18th-century record of American frontier settlement.  With the grid pattern of land division that would characterize western expansion for much of the 19th century.

Condition Description
Manuscript on laid paper. Old fold creases, with a few neatly repaired separations along folds. Early numerical figures and notations on verso. Docketed on verso: "Draught / No. 10. 1st Range." An early manuscript note also on verso: "John Newell will swap No. 15 for Phelps and Lot no. 116 one for one & what Newell's lot measures more than Phelpses he will have ? dollars ? prompt pay. Or Newell will sell his lot No. 15 for 5 Dollars ? payable 1/2 in on year from the giving the Deed, 1/4 in one year after & the other 1/4 part in one year after that all on interest.
Phelps & Gorham Biography

In 1788 Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham acquired a large tract of then frontier land located in western New York State. Known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, the land was promoted by these two investors through newspaper advertising and resident agents. In 1794 they they had a fine map made to help promote their purchase: Augustus Porter's A Map of Messrs. Gorham & Phelps's Purchase; now the County of Ontario, in the State of New York.