Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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PHELPS, Oliver, merchant, born in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1749 ; died in Canandaigua, New York, 21 February, 1809. He was educated to become a merchant, spent his early years in Suffield, Connecticut, and subsequently accumulated a fortune in Granville, Massachusetts During the Revolution he served in the commissary department. In 1787, with Nathaniel Gorham, he purchased from the state of Massachusetts a tract of 2,200,000 acres in New York state, which is now comprised in the counties of Ontario and Steuben. This was part of a region of about 6,000,000 acres that New York ceded to Massachusetts at the Hartford convention of 1786. The purchasers were to pay for the land in " consolidated securities " of that time, but a rise in their price prevented a complete fulfillment of the agreement, and Mr. Phelps gave up a part of the land. He opened a land office in Canandaigua, New York, the next year, which is said to have been the first in this country, and invented a system of townships and ranges that, with modifications, has since been generally adopted in surveying United States government lands. In 1795, with William Hart and several others, he bought of Connecticut the tract of land in Ohio that was known as the " Western reserve," which comprised 3,300,000 acres. He afterward returned to Canandaigua, was a member of congress in 1803--'5, and was a judge of the circuit court. He was active in the projection of the Erie canal and the Welland canal, and built steamboats on Cayuga lake.
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