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Oliver Phelps (October 21, 1749 – February 21, 1809) was born in Poquonock, Connecticutmarker and moved to Suffield, Connecticutmarker, where he apprenticed to a local merchant. He shortly thereafter became a tavern keeper in Granville, Massachusettsmarker. During the Revolution he was Deputy Commissary of the Continental Army and served until the end of the war. He supplied troops and was commended by General George Washington.

Political office

During the Revolutionary War Phelps was Deputy Commissary of the Continental Army. He was introduced to Robert Morris, the great financier of Revolutionary times. He was a member of the Massachusetts state House of Representatives from 1778–1780 and a member of the Constitutional convention in 1779 and 1780. He served in the Massachusetts state Senate in 1785 and was a member of the Governor’s council in 1786. He was elected as a Republican to the Eighth United States Congress from March 4, 1803–March 3, 1805, and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of New York in 1804.

Purchases interest in western New York

The connections he thus established aided his efforts in forming in 1789 a syndicate with Nathaniel Gorham. They purchased title to most of western New Yorkmarker from the state of Massachusetts.

At first they thought to make (modern day) Genevamarker their headquarters, but discovered by survey, just in time, that their site was just east of their boundary. So they chose Canandaigua, New Yorkmarker, at the head of Canandaigua Lakemarker, as the seat of the new Ontario Countymarker. The name Canandaigua is derived from the Iroquois word "Kanandarque" which means chosen spot. It was the site of the principal village of the Seneca Indians, burned by the whites during the war in the Sullivan Expedition.

Builds home in Suffield

After the purchase, Phelps returned to Suffield, Connecticutmarker, bought the Hatheway House, and opened a land sales office there and another in Canandaigua. He was appointed the first judge of Ontario County (1789 - 1793), even before he moved there. He built the first framed house in Canandaigua in 1792, then built a mill. Phelps retained extensive holdings in the infant Ontario County. He maintained an interest in its affairs—and in further land speculations.

Loses land holdings and home

Despite vast land holdings that were worth a fortune, changing money values on mortgages held on the tracts of land sold and a depressed land market caused Phelps to get into financial difficulty. In about 1800, the reverses forced him to sell his Suffield home and his interest in the Hartford National Bank and Trust Co. Phelps moved to Canandaigua, where he built a grist mill and endowed an academy. He was also appointed the first judge of Ontario County.

After additional entanglements in western real estate ventures which resulted in "personal embarrassment" and, for a time, the prospect of debtor's prison, Phelps settled down in Canandaigua in 1802.

His troubles were not over, however. Purchasers of his land had continued difficulty paying off the mortgages which he held. He was generous in extending terms to them, to his own detriment.

Death and burial

Phelps died in February 21, 1809 in debtors prison in the town he sold and helped develop. He was interred in the Pioneer Cemetery in Canandaigua, New York.

This article is based in part upon material originally written by Brian Phelps and licensed for use in Wikipedia under the GFDL.


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