He came to the colonies in 1761 via Scotland. He was a teacher of mathematics at Columbia University (known then as Kings College). One of his prized pupils was Alexander Hamilton while he studied there in 1774. Harpur served in various capacities in the New York government during the American Revolution. He was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1777 to 1784. He was Deputy Secretary of State under John Morin Scott and Lewis Allaire Scott from 1778 to 1795. In the spring of 1795 Robert Harpur with his 2nd wife Myra and family moved west along the Susquehanna River settling near Belden Brook on his Warren Patent which is near present-day Harpursville, NY.
Harpursville, New York in Eastern Broome County, New York was named after him. Additionally, Harpur College, the arts and sciences component of present-day Binghamton University, was also named for him.
Classical names used in New York
While Harpur worked as a Clerk in the office of the New York State Surveyor General, he has been credited with assigning the numerous classical names to locations in the Central New York Military Tract, now in Cayuga County, Cortland County, Onondaga County, and Seneca County. In some cases, it is not entirely clear to which classical person, the name was referring.
The Surveyor General Simeon DeWitt has also been credited with the assignment of these classical names.
- Robert Harpur's New York, Anne T. Herbert pg. 33
- Robert Harpur's New York, Anne T. Herbert pg.97
- Herbert, Anne T., 2003, Robert Harpur's New York, Broome County Historical Society.pg.33
- Herbert, Anne T., 2003, Robert Harpur's New York, Broome County Historical Society.pg.97