Phelps and Gorham Purchase
The Phelps and Gorham Purchase was the purchase in 1788 of 6,000,000 acres (24,000 km2) of land in what is now western New York State from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for $1,000,000 (£300,000) to be paid in three annual installments, and the pre-emptive right to the title on the land from the Native Americans for $5000 (£12,500). A syndicate formed by Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham bought preemptive rights to 6,000,000-acre (24,000 km2) in New York, west of Seneca Lake between Lake Ontario and the Pennsylvania border, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Phelps and Gorham then negotiated with Indians to obtain clear title from the Indians for the entire parcel, but were only able to get the title to the lands east of the Genesee River. Within a year, monetary values rose and in combination with poor sales, the syndicate was unable to make the second of three payments for the land west of the Genesse River, forcing them to default on exercising the remainder of the purchase agreement. They were also forced to sell at a discount much of the land they had already bought title to but had not yet re-sold to U.S. Senator and financier Robert Morris. In some references to the purchase, the Phelps and Gorham Purchase refers only to the 2,250,000 acres (9,110 km2) on which Phelps and Gorham were able to extinguish the Indian's aboriginal title.
- 1 Origins and background
- 2 Treaty of Hartford
- 3 Council at Buffalo Creek
- 4 Financial difficulties
- 5 County origins
- 6 Legacy
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Added reading
- 10 External links
Origins and background
The land south of Lake Ontario had been historically occupied by the original Native American people including the Onondaga and Oneida tribes who lived near the eastern edge of the region, closer to their namesake lakes, Lake Oneida and Onondaga Lake. The Cayuga and Seneca nations lived towards the center of the region, and the Mohawk were the easternmost Iroquois tribe. Archaeological evidence suggests that Iroquois ancestors lived in the Finger Lakes region from at least 1000[clarification needed].
During colonial times, many other tribes moved to the Finger Lakes region, seeking the protection of the Iroquois. In about 1720, the Tuscarora tribe arrived in the Finger Lakes region. In 1753 remnants of several Virginia Siouan tribes, collectively called the Tutelo-Saponi, moved to the town of Coreorgonel at the south end of Cayuga Lake near present-day Ithaca, until 1779 when their village was destroyed. Major Iroquois towns in the Finger Lakes region included the Seneca town of Gen-nis-he-yo (present-day Geneseo), Kanadaseaga (Seneca Castle, near present-day Geneva), Goiogouen (Cayuga Castle, east of Cayuga Lake), Chonodote (Cayuga town, present-day Aurora), and Catherine's Town (near present-day Watkins Glen).
In response to European colonization, the Iroquois formed a decentralized political and diplomatic Iroquois Confederacy. As one of the most powerful Indian nations during colonial times, the Iroquois were able to prevent European colonization of the Finger Lakes region for nearly two centuries after first contact.
The French colonized the region beginning in 1608 with the founding of Quebec. When Samuel de Champlain explored the St. Lawrence River, he claimed the region included Western New York, which formed a portion of French Canada and remained so until 1759.
During the American Revolutionary War, colonists sympathetic to the rebels suffered tremendously under the attacks of Indians loyal to the Tory cause. Many of the Iroguois tribes in western New York, including the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora, disliked the colonists encroaching into their territory, which roughly comprised the Allegheny, Genesee, Upper Susquehanna and Chemung River basins. The Iroquois nations allied themselves with the British and repeatedly raided American settlements and villages in Western New York and along the Susquehanna.
The colonists were angry and hungry for retaliation. In response, on July 31, 1779, Gen. George Washington ordered Gen. James Clinton and Gen. John Sullivan to march from Wyoming, near present-day Wilkes-Barre, to the Finger Lakes area of New York. The campaign mobilized 6200 Colonial troops, about 25% of the entire rebel army. Their orders were to "destroy all Indian villages and crops belonging to the six nations, to engage the Indian and Tory marauders under Brandt and Butler whenever possible, and to drive them so far west that future raids would be impossible." Sullivan led his army on an expedition with the goal of subduing the Indians in the region. Although they did not kill many Native Americans, they devastated the Cayuga and Iroquois homelands, destroying 40 villages, including major Cayuga villages such as Cayuga Castle and Chonodote (Peachtown), including their surrounding fields; destroying at least 160,000 bushels of corn along “with a vast quantity of vegetables of every kind" in the area from Albany to Niagara. They denied both the Indians and the British food needed to sustain their war effort and forced the formerly self-sufficient Indians to gather at and rely upon the British at Fort Niagara for sustenance. They were soon decimated by famine and disease, which took thousands of their lives, and they were never again a factor in the war. The expedition did wonders for the Continental Army’s previously low morale.
Sullivan's army took a southerly route to western New York through northeast Pennsylvania which required them to cut a new road through lightly inhabited areas of the Pocono Mountains (known today as "Sullivan's Trail"). When the troops returned, they told very favorable stories of the land.
Treaty of Hartford
Following the American Revolution, there remained a confusing collection of contradictory royal charters from James I, Charles I, and Charles II, mixed with a succession of treaties with the Dutch and with the Indians, which made the legal situation intractable. Western New York was eligible for settlement as soon as New York and Massachusetts reached a compromise settling their competing claims for the region. This occurred in December 1786 with the signing of the Treaty of Hartford. With the treaty, Massachusetts ceded its claim to the government, sovereignty, and jurisdiction of the region to New York, but retained the pre-emptive right to obtain aboriginal title from the native Americans. Any purchaser of those rights from the Indians would have to obtain Massachusetts' approval.
After the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1787, the federal government ratified their compact. In April 1788, Phelps and Gorham bought the preemptive rights from Massachusetts, but this didn't get them the right to develop or re-sell the land. They only obtained exclusive right to negotiate with the Native Americans and obtain clear title to the land. For this preemptive right, they paid Massachusetts $1,000,000 (£300,000) (equivalent to about $26,000,000,000 today) or 16 and 2/3 cents an acre ($41.18/km²). This was to be paid in three annual installments.
By an act of the Massachusetts Legislature approved April 1, 1788, it was provided that "this Commonwealth doth hereby agree, to grant, sell & convey to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, for a purchase price of $1,000,000, payable in three equal annual installments all the Right, Title & Demand, which the said Commonwealth has in & to the said 'Western Territory' ceded to it by the Treaty of Hartford." But first Phelps and Gorham had to go up against competing companies and persuade the Native Americans to give up their title to the land.
Council at Buffalo Creek
One of the competitors for the obtaining title to the land was the New York Genesee Land Company led by John Livingston. He gathered several of the chiefs together at Geneva and had negotiated a 999 year lease to all the Indian lands of Western New York. He agreed to a down payment of $20,000 and an annual payment of $200 for their heirs for 999 years. But his agreement had no standing in either Massachusetts or New York courts. Colonel John Butler, Samuel Street, and other Tory friends of the Indians formed the Niagara Genesee Land Company and attempted to persuade the Indians to grant them a lease. Some proposed an independent state be created. Phelps forged a syndicate by involving many of his competitors. Phelps and Gorham retained 82 shares for themselves, and sold 15 shares to the Niagara Genesee Land Company and another 23 shares were divided among 21 persons.
On July 8, 1788, Phelps met with the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations, at Buffalo Creek. His goal was to execute a deed or treaty and obtain title to a portion of their land. The Oneida were split by internal divisions over whether they should give up their title.
Phelps was aided by Samuel Kirkland, a Presbyterian minister and missionary among the Oneida. Kirkland had been appointed by the state of Massachusetts to oversee the transaction. Kirkland had previously taken part in six prior illegal land treaties conducted by individual states with the Indians, in violation of federal authority over Indian affairs. Kirkland encouraged the Indians to sell their land to the whites in part because he was convinced that they "would never become farmers unless forced to by the loss of land for hunting." Kirkland took part in the land sales, receiving 6,000-acre (24 km2) around present day Utica from New York State and from the Oneida people. Kirkland was also determined to build the Hamilton-Oneida Academy and needed financial support from the wealthy land speculators. In November 1790, Iroquois Indians, including Cornplanter, accused Phelps, Kirkland, and the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant of altering deeds to favor Phelps.
The Indians considered themselves to be the owners of the land, but Phelps persuaded the Chiefs that since they had been allies to the defeated British during the Revolutionary War, and since the British had given up the lands in the 1783 peace treaty, the tribes could only expect to retain whatever lands the United States would allow them to keep. Phelps and Gorham wanted to buy 2,600,000-acre (11,000 km2), but the Indians refused to sell the rights to 185,000 acre (749 km²) west of the Genesee River.
Mill Yard Tract
Phelps suggested that the Indians could take advantage of a grist mill to grind their maize which would relieve the women of the grinding work. The Indians asked how much land was needed for a grist mill, and Phelps suggested a section of land west of the Genesee River extending west from the river 12 miles (19 km), running south from Lake Ontario approximately 24 miles (39 km), and totaling about 288 square miles (750 km2). The land today stretches from near the present day town of Avon north to the community of Charlotte at Lake Ontario and encompasses Rochester.
Within this area on the west bank, Phelps and Gorham gave 100 acres (0.40 km2; 0.16 sq mi) at the high falls of the Genesee River to Ebenezer "Indian" Allen on the condition that he build the grist mill and sawmill. The grist mill was distant from potential customers—only about 25 families lived on the west bank at the time—and there were no available system of roads to reach its location from the few nearby farms on the west bank of the river, and it never prospered. Allen's tract became the nucleus of modern Rochester, New York. The section of land on the west bank of the Genesee River became known as the Mill Yard Tract.
Phelps and his company paid the Indians $5,000 cash and promised an annual annuity of $500 to their heirs forever. The agreement gave them title to 2,250,000 acres (9,110 km2), included approximately the eastern third of the territory ceded to Massachusetts by the Treaty of Hartford, from the Genesee River in the west to the Preemption Line in the east, which was the boundary that had been set between the lands awarded to Massachusetts and those awarded to New York State by the Treaty of Hartford. Boundaries established by Phelps' agreement were reaffirmed between the United States and the Six Nations by Article 3 of the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794. The scrip's low value substantially reduced Massachusetts' proceeds from the sale.
After the Revolutionary War ended, the Iroquois chiefs had been assured in the 1784 Fort Stanwix treaty that their lands would remain theirs unless the Indians made new cessions in regular councils duly convened and conducted according to tribal custom. The eastern boundary was defined by the existing Preemption Line, on the north by Lake Ontario and on the south by the Pennsylvania border. The Fort Stanwix Treaty and earlier treaties established the approximate western boundary, but a survey was required to establish the legal boundary.
The boundary of New York was anchored on the Pennsylvania border at the 82nd milestone and ran due north on a meridian to Lake Ontario. This north-south line was known as the eastern preemption line. Phelps believed that the line ran through Seneca Lake and included the former Indian settlement of the Indian village of Kandesaga, present-day Geneva, New York. He planned to make Geneva the headquarters and location of the land sales office. He hired Col. Hugh Maxwell, a man with an impeccable reputation, to perform the survey. During his original survey for Phelps and Gorham, Maxwell was assisted by Augustus Porter and other surveyors. Maxwell and his assistants started a preliminary survey on June 13, 1788 from the 82-mile stone on the Pennsylvania Line. The trial survey reached Seneca Lake and then the actual survey was started on July 25, 1788, and when the surveyors reached the area of Kandesaga, the line was fixed west of Seneca Lake and the former Indian village, which remained a key town in the region. Oliver Phelps was extremely upset when he learned that the survey did not include Seneca Lake or the Indian village. He wrote a letter to Col. William Walker, the local agent responsible for the survey and requested that they survey be redone in that area, but for unknown reasons it was not completed.
On the west, the survey ran north from the Pennsylvania border to the confluence of Canaseraga Creek and the Genesee River. The survey line followed the river to a point 2 miles (3.2 km) miles north of Canawagus Village, and then due west 12 miles (19 km) distant from the westernmost bend, and then due north to the shore of Lake Ontario. Maxwell divided the land into ranges 6 miles (9.7 km) wide from north to south. Maxwell's work became known as "The First Survey."
Phelps opened one of the first land sales offices in the U.S. in Suffield and another in Canandaigua. During the next two years they sold 500,000-acre (2,000 km2) at a higher price to a number of buyers. People arrived from New England, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and from across the Atlantic in England and Scotland. Settlers also included soldiers who had fought under General Sullivan.
Land purchased from the Indians was often bought for speculation rather than immediate settlement and was usually quickly resold. For example, Oliver Phelps sold township 3, range 2, to Prince Bryant of Pennsylvania on September 5, 1789. Prince Bryant sold the land a month later to Elijah Babcock, who in turn sold various parcels to Roger Clark, Samuel Tooker, David Holmes, and William Babcock. The syndicate was able to sell about half of its holdings.
However, within the year, Alexander Hamilton's policy of assuming the debts of the newly formed nation raised the value of the consolidated securities used to buy the land, effectively quadrupling the syndicate's debt and substantially inflating the their cost to purchase title from the Indians for the remaining 1,000,000-acre (4,000 km2). The syndicate sold about 50 townships but the purchasers were mainly stockholders who had accepted land in exchange for interest on the loan principal. Fewer emigrants bought land than expected, reducing the income expected by the syndicate. Two of the three bonds financing the purchase were canceled, but even when the debt was reduced to $109,333 (£31,000), the syndicate was unable to make the next payment. In August 1790, the reverses forced Phelps to sell his Suffield home and his interest in the Hartford National Bank and Trust Co.
In early 1791, the syndicate was unable to make the second payment on the preemptive right to the lands west of the Genesee River, comprising some 3,750,000 acres (15,200 km2), and the land reverted to Massachusetts on March 10, 1791. On March 12, Massachusetts agreed to sell these rights to Robert Morris for $333,333.33. Morris was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and a financier of the American Revolution, and at the time was the richest man in America. Robert Morris paid about 11 or 12 cents an acre for it, or about $9,878 (£24,695). The land was conveyed to Morris in five deeds on May 11, 1791. On August 10, 1790, the syndicate sold the remaining lands of the Genessee tract to Morris excepting about 47,000 acres retained by Phelps and Gorham, The deed was conveyed on November 18, 1790, and specified that the tract should contain 1 million acres, and any amount over that would require further payment. On September 21, 1791, Geneva was described as a small, unhealthy village with about 15 houses, all of log construction except three. There are about 20 families."
When Morris bought the property, issues with the first survey were well known. The purchase deed stated, "A manifest error has been committed in the laying out and dividing the same, so that a new survey must be laid in order to correct the said error." Some accounts from early in the 20th century attribute errors discovered during the second survey to the primitive instruments used by the surveyors, but allegations of fraud were also made. A description of the survey in 1892 cast suspicion on an assistant surveyor named Jenkins who was supposed to have altered the survey line to favor his employer, Peter Ryckman, who desired the location of present-day Geneva. Ryckman had unsuccessfully attempted to buy the land from the Indians but had been thwarted when his purchase was not recognized by New York state. When a new survey was commissioned, Maxwell's survey became known as "The First Survey."
Adam Hoops was hired to lead a team of new surveyors. They discovered that Maxwell erred on both the eastern preemption line and the western boundary. Maxwell had located the westernmost boundary of the Millyard Tract believing that the Genesee River ran due north. Hoops' team found that Maxwell had made a serious error when he ignored the variance between magnetic north and true north. Hoops found that the preemption line ran through Seneca Lake and north along a line to Lake Ontario near the center of Sodus Bay, about four miles west of the line surveyed by Maxwell. He re-drew the preemption line in a northeasternly direction from the west end of the southern boundary, which included the town of Geneva.
Hoops found that the Genesee River actually flows to the northeast, and in his new survey established that the western boundary of the Mill Yard tract included a gore-shaped tract of land, about 85,896 acres (347.61 km2; 134.212 sq mi) west of the Genesee River, that should have been retained by the Indians. An equivalent amount of land on the west, a 87,000 acres (350 km2; 136 sq mi) parcel known as the Triangle Tract, was instead returned to the Indians. The rights to the Triangle Tract was then purchased by Morris from the Indians and became part of the Morris Reserve. The actual area of land purchased by Morris was fixed at 1,267,569 acres (5,129.67 km2; 1,980.577 sq mi). Hoop's corrected survey became known as the "Second Survey" and was accepted by Simeon DeWitt, New York's surveyor-general, in a resolution passed by the state on March 24, 1795.
London investors purchase land
After buying the land from the state of Massachusetts in early 1790, Morris almost immediately resold 12,000,000 acres (49,000 km2; 19,000 sq mi) through his London agent William Temple Franklin to the Pulteney Associates, led by Sir William Pulteney at more than double the price he had paid. Sir William Pulteney bought 9/12ths interest, William Hornby 2/12ths, and Patrick Colquhoun 1/12th interest. At the time non-citizens could not legally hold title to land, so the buyers sent Charles Williamson from Scotland, and he was naturalized on January 9, 1792 to permit him hold the land in trust for the owners. He relocated to the United States in February, 1792 and settled on the tract. Morris conveyed the deed to Williamson on April 11, 1792 and was paid $333,333 (£75,000). The U.S. Congress had passed The Coinage Act which established the U.S. Mint and the dollar as its official currency only a week before. Morris made a profit of over $160,000 on the transaction.
The Pulteney Purchase, or the Genesee Tract, as it was also known, comprised all of the present counties of Ontario, Steuben and Yates, as well as portions of Allegany, Livingston, Monroe, Schuyler and Wayne counties. After Sir William Pulteney's death in 1805, it was known as the Pulteney Estate.
Holland Land Purchase
Morris sold additional land in December 1792 and in February and July 1793 to the Holland Land Company, an unincorporated syndicate formed by Wilheim Willink and thirteen other Dutch bankers. The bankers hired trustees in the United States to take title to the land because U.S. law made it illegal for them to directly own the property. Robert Morris, however, prevailed upon the New York Legislature to repeal that ordinance, which it did shortly thereafter.
Before the investors of the Holland Land Company could resell their property, they had to obtain clear title from the Native Americans. They organized a council at Big Tree in the summer of 1797. It was attended by the Iroquois sachems, Robert Morris, James Wadsworth (who represented the Federal Government), and Joseph Ellicott, who represented the Holland Land Company. Red Jacket, chief of the Seneca nation, was very difficult to negotiate with. The Dutch gave presents to the influential women of the tribes, and offered generous payments to several other chiefs to influence their cooperation. They offered the Indians about 200,000 acres in return as reservations for the tribes.
In 1802, the Holland Land Company opened a sales office in Batavia managed by surveyor and agent Joseph Ellicott. The office remained open until 1846 when the company was dissolved. Some plots of land were given to persons with the condition that they establish improvements, like inns and taverns, to encourage growth. The building still exists and is a museum dedicated to the Holland Purchase and designated a National Historic Landmark.
In 1802, the entire Holland Purchase, as well as the 500,000 acre (2,000 km²) Morris Reserve immediately to the east, was split off from Ontario County and reconstituted as Genesee County. In the ensuing 40 years after it was formed, Genesee County was repeatedly split to form all or parts of the counties of Allegany (1806), Niagara (1808), Cattaraugus (1808), Chautauqua (1808), Erie (1821), Monroe (1821), Livingston (1821), Orleans (1824), and Wyoming (1841).
Morris kept 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) in a 12-mile (19 km)-wide strip along the east side of the lands acquired from Massachusetts, from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario. This later became known as The Morris Reserve. At the north end of the Morris Reserve, a 87,000-acre (350 km2) triangular-shaped tract was sold by Morris to Herman Leroy, William Bayard, and John McEvers. This was nicknamed the Triangle Tract. A 100,000-acre (400 km2) tract due west of the Triangle Tract was sold to the State of Connecticut.
In September 1797 Morris extinguished the remaining title to all the lands west of the Genesee held by the Iroquois Nation at the Treaty of Big Tree held at Geneseo, New York. Morris paid $100,000 along with perpetual annuities, among other concessions, and created ten reservations for the Native Americans within the purchase totalling 200,000 acres (800 km²).
The Town and Village of Mt. Morris, in Livingston County, New York, is named after Robert Morris' son, Thomas. Phelps, New York is named for Oliver Phelps. Williamson, New York is named for Charles Williamson. Both the Town and Village of Ellicottville and the Town of Ellicott are named for Joseph Ellicott. Franklinville is named after William Temple Franklin, a Holland Land Company agent (and the grandson of Benjamin Franklin). Holland, New York is named after the Holland Purchase.
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- Turner, Orsamus (1852). History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps & Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve. Rochester, New York: William Alling. (PDF format)
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- The Field Notes of Col. Hugh Maxwell's Pre-emption Line Survey in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase transcribed by John M. Robortella
- For Animations of these Land Acquisitions click Map Scene 5 Map animation by Dr. Robert Spiegelman
- Robortella, John M. (Spring 2004). "Steps West: The Field Notes of Col. Hugh Maxwell's Pre-emption Line Survey in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase". The Crooked Lake Review. Retrieved 2008-01-16".
- Turner, Orsamus (1852). History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps & Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve. William Alling. Retrieved 2008-01-16.