Ellicott, Joseph - Erie County

JOSEPH ELLICOTT was the founder of the city of Buffalo. He selacted its site, designed its plan, prevailed upon the Indians to surrender their title and, upon the Holland Company to secure possession, and used his resources and influence to induce immigration and settlement. He was the central figure of early Buffalo, a pioneer of pioneers.

Born in Bucks County, Pa., Nov. 1, 1760, Joseph Ellicott gained the rudiments of knowledge in the common schools, but he was practically self-educated. The son of a farmer and miller, in eary life he worked on his father's farm and assisted him in his milling business. Meantime he began the study of surveying and mastered that profession. His elder brother was also a surveyor and young Ellicott became his assistant. He was chosen to survey the disputed line between South Carolina and Georgia, and later became the chief surveyor of the Holland Purchase.

In the fall of 1797, Mr. Ellicott came to Western New York, being accompanied by several assistants. To determine the number of acres in the Holland Purchase a preliminary survey was made, but the real surveying campaign began in 1798.

Besides Mr. Ellicott eleven surveyors were employed, each having a corps of assistants, the whole force being under his direction. He himself surveyed the east line of the purchase, usually called the East Transit, and the others worked at different points. It was a task of toil and critical negotiation to preserve the site of Buffalo, there being reason to apprehend that the State and Buffalo Creek Reservations would be so bounded as to interfere with the future city's building and growth. The danger was obviated by Mr. Ellicott's skill as a surveyor and diplomat, and through his efforts the Indians were persuaded to leave the city site out of the reservation. In the spring of 1798 Mr. Ellicott opened the first wagon track in Erie County by improving the Indian trail from East Transit to Buffalo. The first map of Buffalo was made by Mr. Ellicott in 1804, the place being then called the village of New Amsterdam. For many years and throughout the rest of his active career Mr. Ellicott continued to be the local agent of the Holland Company. He energetically furthered the settlement of Buffalo and the building up of the place along broad lines of commercial advancement. He was also an earnest promoter of the Erie Canal and one of the first Canal Commissioners appointed by the Legislature. About 1824 Mr. Ellicott's health failed, his mind being seriously affected, and at last he became a hypochondriac. He entered the Bloomingdale Asylum at New York, but his malady was hopeless, and August 19, 1826, he died by his own hand. Mr. Ellicott never married.

SOURCE:  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York; Volume I