Phelps and Gorham

The Phelps-Gorham Purchase

Shown here are two similar maps: a manuscript map made by Samuel Preston and an engraved map based on a survey by Augustus Porter.

This manuscript map shows the eastern portion of “Genesee Country,” extending from Lake Ontario in the north down to the border with Pennsylvania, and from Seneca Lake to the Genesseo [sic] River. The north-south lines delineate ranges; the east-west lines mark out townships. Each marked-out section, was 36 miles square.

Few towns are named, but the rivers and lakes are familiar to us: the Randaguet (Irondequoit) River and the site of present-day Rochester, Carnessas (Conesus) Lake, Crooked Lake.
A note on the verso states this map shows “The first purchase of the Indian by Gorham, Phelps & Co of about 2 millions of acres, the last part of the Genesee Country free of quit-rent forever, & of taxes for 15 years from 1788 – bounded on the South for 42 miles by the n. line of Penns.a about 3 or 3 1/2 millions lie west of this, unpurchased yet – The Township marked sold are actually sold – all the Lakes that are on the E. side join in the Seneca River.”

The map was drafted by Samuel Preston, a prominent Quaker, conveyancer, and surveyor who undertook many expeditions throughout Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania as a business agent for several Philadelphia merchants, including Henry Drinker. As a land agent, Preston arrived in Stockport, New York, in 1787 to survey the lands, and he eventually settled there. It is highly likely that this map was drawn by Preston at the instigation of Drinker and his associates, while they considered a speculative purchase.

Genesee Country is a small portion of a much larger tract of land in Western New York which was bitterly fought over by several interested parties, including Native Americans, colonists, and land companies. The area was first surveyed by Thomas Davies in 1766 (engravings based on Davies’ landscape watercolors are on display in the department of Rare Books and Special Collections).

Augustus Porter surveyed the area for the Phelps and Gorham Purchase in 1788, and then again in 1791-1792. Porter’s engraved map was published in 1794.

The lack of detail in Preston’s manuscript map may be evidence that Preston based it on Porter’s initial survey. Porter assessed land for tract owners of both the Phelps & Gorham Purchase and the Holland Purchase. In 1808, Porter would settle in and become the first judge of the newly formed Niagara County.

Phelps and Gorham