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Collection Overview

Gelston, David
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
David Gelston Family Correspondence
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
4 boxes and 2.0 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Boxes B-000887; P-000077; B-000888; B-000889


Primarily includes correspondence kept by New York merchant and politician, David Gelston, during his time as Collector of Customs for the Port of New York along with some correspondence of Floyd and Delafield family members.

Collection Description & Creator Information


This collection primarily includes correspondence kept by David Gelston during his tenure as Collector of Customs for the Port of New York, which coincided with the passing of several embargo acts along with other trade and tariff legislation passed by the Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe administrations. A good deal of correspondence relates to these embargoes and other customs violations. Correspondents include Treasury Secretaries and Comptrollers, including a significant number of letters from Albert Gallatin, Richard Rush, and Joseph Anderson. Also included are outgoing drafts from Gelston to various Secretaries of State, primarily James Monroe, James Madison, and John Quincy Adams; a letter from Vice President Aaron Burr; and a few receipts, shipping orders, and legal documentation.

Some correspondence of related Floyd and Delafield family members is also included. Those represented include William Floyd (1734-1821), Mary Floyd, likely the sister of William Floyd, and Augustus Floyd (1795-1878) and U.S. Representative John Gelston Floyd (1806-1881), sons of Nicoll Floyd (1762-1851) and Phoebe M. Gelston (1770-1836). Richard Delafield (1798-1873), who is also represented, was the brother of Edward Delafield (1794-1875) who married Julia Floyd (1808-1879), the daughter of Nicoll Floyd and Phoebe M. Gelston.

Collection Creator Biography:

A merchant, who was born in Suffolk County, Long Island, David Gelston (1744-1828) served as Collector for the Port of New York from his appointment by President Thomas Jefferson in July 1801 through 1820. Previous to this position, Gelston served in the New York provincial congress from 1775 to 1777; was a member of the New York state constitutional convention in 1777; and held other positions in state government, including speaker of the assembly in 1784 and 1785. Three years after moving to New York City in 1786, he became a member of the last Confederation Congress; and represented the Southern District in the state senate for several terms between 1791 and 1802. An Anti-Federalist who became an ardent Republican, Gelston succeeded James Nicholson as president of New York City's Democratic Society in 1794; and was among the political associates whom Burr recommended for office in 1801.

Upon his retirement until his death eight years later, Gelston battled with the Treasury Department over claims that he owed the U.S. government tens of thousands in unsettled accounts. His estate continued to confront the situation more than a decade after his death.

Gelston married Phoebe Mitchell (1753-1836). Their daughter, Phoebe Gelston (1771–1836), married Nicoll Floyd (1762-1851), the son of William Floyd (1734-1821) and Hannah Jones.

Collection History


Purchase, 2016 (AM 2017-84).

Archival Appraisal Information:

Published materials, including books, pamphlets, newspapers, and disparate New York legislative imprints and New York Assembly journals, were transferred to Rare Books during 2017 processing.

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Faith Charlton in February 2017, with assistance from Sophia Alvarez '18, Fiona Bell '18, and Rachel Dubin (GS). Finding aid written by Faith Charlton in February 2017.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Open for research.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

David Gelston Family Correspondence; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
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Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
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