"Mr. Holland Purchase"
In the sultry waning days of August in 1797 a distinguished-and cosmopolitan-company began to gather on the Wadsworth meadows along the meandering Genesee at the place called Big Tree.
High chiefs of the Seneca Nation had come to sit at the council fire beneath a massive oak with representatives of the United States, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and of great American, British and Dutch land-holding interests.
After many days of bickering and dickering, the Treaty of Big Tree was sealed on Sept. 15. That is a momentous date in Western New York history. Under the treaty the Indians yielded, for a paltry $100,000, nearly all their York State lands west of the Genesee. A vast new frontier was thrown open to settlement.
In 1792-93 Robert Morris, the greatest real estate dealer of his day, had sold to a group of Dutch capitalists for one third of a million dollars some 3,300,000 Upstate acres-in several tracts. American agents of the Dutch syndicate signed the deeds because at the time aliens were barred by law from holding title to land in New York. The deal was subject to release of the Indian claims.
Merchants and bankers of Amsterdam had organized the Holland Land Company in 1795. They also acquired lands in Central New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Their names-strange to frontier ears-came out in 1798 when New York repealed the law preventing aliens from owning property. Some legislative hands were crossed with silver before that came about. The names of the Dutchmen were Willink, Van Staphorst, Van Eighen, Vollenhoven and Schimmelpennick. In the background was Stadnitski, the banker.
England's tenacious hold on the border forts and Indian unrest in the West had delayed the treaty making. But in 1797 the way was clear at last and to the Genesee came the former commissary general of the Revolution, Col. Jeremiah Wadsworth of Connecticut, to oversee the proceedings as representative of the federal government and Gen. William Shepard, for Massachusetts. The Senecas were represented by their foremost chiefs, among them Red jacket and Cornplanter. In behalf of Robert Morris appeared his suave young son Thomas, who emerged as the chief negotiator, and Charles Williamson, land agent for the British interests that owned a big chunk of the Genesee Country.
The Holland Land Company, into whose hands a wilderness empire was to pass, had its men at the council-William Bayard of New York, one of the "dummy" buyers of Upstate land, and two young Van Staphorsts, right out of old Amsterdam.
Also at Big Tree was a 37-year-old employe of the Dutch syndicate. He was a surveyor, a powerfully built six footer, lithe as a whip in those days, decisive in speech and action. His name was Joseph Ellicott and he was destined to play a mightier role in the development of the new frontier than any other.
Ellicott had come to Big Tree on horseback from Philadelphia, armed with maps and plans. He was a methodical man, always prepared for any eventuality. Nine reservations, containing a total of some 200,000 acres, had been set aside for the Senecas at the treaty fire and the big surveyor was able to answer all the questions of the chiefs as to their boundaries.
There is no record that he told them they had been allocated the poorest lands on the Holland Purchase. Later he wrote that five sixths of the Allegany Reservation along the river of that name was inaccessible and untillable. The astute Ellicott saw to it that the Buffalo Creek Reservation did not include the best approach to Lake Erie-the site of Buffalo's teeming harbor today.
Joseph Ellicott was of Welsh Quaker stock. He was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1760. Ten years later his father and three uncles bought land and established mills along the Patapsco River in Maryland, the present Ellicott City. Joseph was one of four brothers, all of whom took up surveying. His formal education was limited. He early developed a skill with figures.
Joseph was trained in his profession by his elder brother, Andrew, who was to become surveyor-general of the United States. He worked with Andrew in laying out the capital city of Washington according to the plans of L'Enfant and in determining the southwestern boundary of New York State and running the corrected Pre-emption Line for Phelps and Gorham.
In 1791 Joseph Ellicott was engaged by Secretary of War Pickering to run the boundary between Georgia and the Creek Indian territory. He rose rapidly in his profession and in 1797 was hired by Theophilus Cazenove, agent general in the United States for the Holland Land Company, to survey its lands when the Indian titles were extinguished. Before the Big Tree Treaty was signed, Ellicott spent long hours in the company's Philadelphia headquarters going over plans and maps for the big surveying job west of the Genesee.
He was ready to begin operations in the Spring of 1798. With his exquisite attention to detail, he made out a list of all the articles the surveying party would need from pack horses to butcher knives. He included "presents for the chiefs in broadcloth, red or green, of good quality." He contracted with Thomas Morris of Canandaigua to deliver at the mouth of the Genesee 100 barrels of pork, 15 barrels of beef and 270 barrels of flour. He sent surveying instruments and other supplies over the water route in charge of 22-year-old James Brisbane of Philadelphia. He calculated in advance the costs of all materials and wages.
On arrival at Canandaigua in June, 1798, Ellicott went into the woods at the head of 130 men. His first task was to determine the exact limits of the Holland Purchase. Among his assistants were two of his brothers, Benjamin, who was to live the rest of his days on the Purchase, become a Congressman and a leading citizen, and David, who soon drifted South and was never heard from again.
In determining the Eastern limits of the tract, Ellicott used for the first time in America the instrument known as the transit. Benjamin had made it specially for him in Philadelphia. In this rugged country the ordinary compass would not suffice. Ellicott first established a true meridian by astronomical observations, then his choppers cleared a swath three or four rods wide in advance of the transit. In the meantime other gangs were running the division lines of the ranges and townships which the chief surveyor had so carefully plotted the Winter before in Philadelphia.
His surveyors and axemen moved like an army through the wilds. They lived in tents in the woods, carrying their provisions forward as the line advanced-through blistering heat and bitter cold, over the rough hills, the wooded valleys and the brawling streams. None showed greater powers of physical endurance than the chief surveyor.
The first base of the "army" was at Williamsburg on the Genesee; then it moved to Buffalo Creek where there was a huddle of log buildings and later to the "Transit Line," the present Stafford. The stupendous task of surveying the Purchase and laying out the ranges and townships was completed in 1799, although it was 1808 when all the lot surveys were done.
In 1799 Cazenove, whose name is perpetuated in the lovely Central New York village of Cazenovia, was succeeded as agent general by Italian-born Paul Busti, who had been schooled in the temples of the money changers of Amsterdam. Busti was a practical, far-sighted man of generous impulses.
When the time came to pick a resident agent for the Purchase, Busti did not have far to look. In 1800, on his 40th birthday, Joseph Ellicott was named the land agent, a post he was to hold for more than two decades.
To the brawny Marylander fell the task of superintending the settlement of the vast tract he had surveyed. Not only was he to sell the land and collect the payments from the settlers but also he was to organize towns and counties, father cities, build roads, erect public buildings, establish postoffices and business places-and to keep the settlers, the Indians and his principals happy.
But his principals were in faraway Holland and his immediate superior, the agent general, stayed in Philadelphia, venturing on the Purchase only twice in 24 years. So the peopling of a wilderness and virtually the governing of it in the early years rested on the stalwart shoulders of the surveyor-land agent. Joseph Ellicott was "Mr. Holland Purchase," a sort of pro-consul for the Dutch company. For many years he was almost "the monarch of all he had surveyed."
And that included the political field. Although he never held public office and the land company frowned on political activity among its employes, Ellicott became increasingly influential and both political parties courted his favor. He had a say in patronage and his power extended to Washington and Albany. He was partisan by nature and could not keep out of political strife.
He had a passion for order and for detail. He kept meticulous accounts. But he was not merely a human calculating machine, not just an expert bookkeeper. He was a very human person, strong willed, capable of towering rages. He was impatient of opposition, likely to be autocratic and on occasion irritable. He might tongue-lash a delinquent settler but he did not hale him to court or evict him. His policies, and those of his company, were on the whole liberal. Ellicott had integrity, he was industrious, vigorous, with a fund of common sense. He made a few warm friends, a number of ardent enemies.
Settlement of the Holland Purchase started from scratch. The whole territory was a mass of thick, dark woods. The first crops-oats, a few potatoes and garden vegetables-were raised in 1799 at a clearing in Stafford where Ellicott had built a storehouse and put young Brisbane in charge.
James Brisbane was to become Batavia's first merchant and postmaster, acquire a fortune and father a son named Albert, who followed strange gods and was a leading Socialist. Albert begat a son, Arthur, who was no Socialist but a famous Hearst editor-columnist.
Land sales dragged at the start. The first land office was at Ransom's, now Clarence. In 1801 the headquarters briefly was a crude log inn at Buffalo Creek, to which Ellicott gave the name of New Amsterdam, a name not relished by the settlers.
In 1802 the land agent opened an office at "the great bend of the Tonnawanta," where two major Indian trails met It was a log structure with a kitchen in the rear for the use of the bachelor Ellicott. There the land agent determined to build a village that would be the capital of the Holland Purchase.
He wanted to name the embryo city Busti or Bustiaville, but the sensible Paul Busti vetoed the idea. The name, he wrote Ellicott, sounds "ferocious" and he ordered that the place be called Batavia, the name of the then Dutch Republic. Few of the names Ellicott bestowed on places or streets stuck.
The land agent moved swiftly to develop the Purchase. He improved the old Indian trail from Stafford to Buffalo and when there was not a house on it installed taverns every ten miles. The innkeepers received gifts of land. The road later was extended to Le Roy.
Ellicott used the newspapers extensively to advertise the new frontier and scattered handbills along the main routes of travel. In a glowing description of the new land, he wrote:
"The greater part of this tract is finely watered with never failing springs and streams, affording sufficiency of water for grist mills and other works. The land is calculated to suit every description of purchaser and settler. Those who prefer land timbered (here was inserted a long list of the various trees) may be suited. Those who prefer level land or gradually ascending . . . will find the country adapted to their choice . . . this Genesee Country almost everywhere is covered with a rich soil."
Ellicott's planning involved the least possible outlay. He would build a few main roads, a land office, taverns at strategic points, but would tolerate no frills, no theater or big hotel such as the grandiose Williamson had provided on the Pulteney lands. Ellicott had no illusions that the Holland Purchase would attract landed gentry.
It was generally rougher country than the earlier settled lands to the Eastward and the settlers were poorer. As O. Turner wrote in his History of the Holland Land Purchase:
"No new region of our country has been settled by a class as poor in the aggregate as were the pioneers of the Genesee Country . . . The great bulk of them had but little left when they planted themselves in the wilderness and erected their rude cabins."
Ellicott saw that collections would be difficult and, strongly supported by Busti, who often was even more lenient than his agent, adjusted his policies to conditions, He relaxed the rules rather than lose sales. His primary objective was to get people on the land.
At first the company asked $2.75 an acre with one tenth down payment. But Ellicott often waived the advance and took notes in lieu of cash. He traded land for settlers' labor in building highways. He extended long term credit. He cut the price to $2 an acre, in an effort to meet competition from Canada where land was cheap. After 1811, however, the prices on the Holland Purchase were gradually increased.
Ellicott would not deliver a deed until the settler had completed his payments. But he never foreclosed as long as there was a reasonable chance the delinquent might pay up. He resisted Busti's recommendations that the seven per cent interest rate be lowered.
When he took the land agency, Ellicott was quoted as saying: "God made Buffalo. I will try and make Batavia." He saw that nature had given Buffalo a tremendous advantage with its frontage on Lake Erie and he visioned its future greatness as a lake port. Batavia, the inland capital, was purely an Ellicott creation. He made a village at the bend of the Tonawanda Creek where two narrow trails met in the woods.
He cut a road, wide and straight, through the village. He saw that a grist mill was built and that Brisbane's pioneer store housed the first postoffice, which for a while was known as Genesee Court House.
In 1802 Ellicott lobbied at Albany for a new county of Genesee, with Batavia, of course, its shire town. James Wadsworth fought to make Avon the capital. When the matter came to a vote, Wadsworth had been called away. Ellicott was on the ground and the new county of Genesee, with Batavia its seat, was cut off from "mother" Ontario. In the beginning Batavia township was the entire new county, which included the present counties of Genesee, Orleans, Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and Wyoming.
The year 1804 saw the second land office at Batavia, a two-story frame building which became a wing of Ellicott's mansion. That year the first court house was built. It was half court room-jail and half tavern, Ellicott was named first judge of Genesee County but he declined. He was a Presidential elector in 1804.
The land agent was becoming a power on the frontier, He planned a village on Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Oak Orchard Creek to be called Manila, and he built a road from Batavia to the "lake port," which never materialized.
In 1810 there were 12,657 residents on the Purchase. Only 400 of them lived in the future Buffalo, Not a lot had been sold there until 1804. The Erie Canal, which was to make Buffalo great, was still in the future. In 1810 Ellicott wrote expansively of the growth of Batavia in a decade from nothing to a community of 400 people, with "dwelling houses built on a handsome stile, all kinds of stores, every description of mechanics."
At the end of his first decade as agent, Ellicott under the terms of his contract received lands totaling one twentieth of all he had sold. That gave him property scattered over the Purchase, including the site of Medina. Also during the decade he had been paid five per cent of all sales, beside outright grants of 6,000 acres of good farm land and 500 acres in Batavia. He reserved for his proprietors much of the choicest land, a policy that brought criticism, especially from Buffalo.
Included in the land agent's personal holdings were 100 acres in the heart of the present Buffalo on the east side of Main Street. In the center of this frontage, between Swan and Eagle, was a semicircle projecting beyond the line of the Street. There Ellicott planned to build an imposing residence.
He even had the building materials on the lot in 1809 when the village fathers spoiled everything. They eliminated the curve and straightened the street. They were not going to have the land agent's house sticking out into the principal avenue like a grandstand in the center of a race track.
Joseph Ellicott was a proud, stubborn man. He took the action as a personal affront and after that was cool toward Buffalo and lavished his largess and affection on Batavia. It was there he built his sprawling mansion and kept his headquarters. Some influential Buffalonians reciprocated his antipathy.
That was unfortunate. For Buffalo owed a great debt to the land agent. He picked the site of the city, urged the land company to secure it, persuaded the Senecas to leave it out of their reservation and directed the layout of the town, in part after the plan his brother and he had followed in the design of Washington, with broad streets radiating from Niagara Square.
Buffalo had no reason to be grateful for the outlandish names Ellicott fastened on its principal streets-in an excess of loyalty to his Dutch employers. In 1812, the year that New Amsterdam officially resumed its old name of Buffalo, dropping the "creek," the aroused village fathers changed Stadnitski Avenue to Erie Street; Vollenhoven Avenue to Church Street; Schimmelpennick Avenue to Niagara Street; Cazenove Avenue to Court Street; Busti Avenue to Genesee Street. Also they renamed the principal thoroughfare Main Street, a prosaic choice perhaps, but an improvement over Ellicott's. The land agent had called the section north of Shelton Square Van Staphorst Avenue and the southern end Willink Avenue.
How would you like to be the traffic cop at the corner of Van Staphorst and Cazenove Avenues, directing a motorist to "turn left off Schimmelpennick Avenue on Vollenhoven?"
The War of 1812 had paralyzed settlement. It brought devastation and terror to the frontier. After the British had ravaged Lewiston and the surrounding countryside and burned Buffalo and Black Rock in 1813, the roads were clogged with retreating troops, fleeing refugees and panic-stricken settlers.
Batavia became a haven for many of them. Ellicott converted his residence into quarters for army officers and the land office into a hospital. Private homes, taverns, barns, even sheds housed the influx. At Batavia families were reunited and settlers traded tales of horror. The war had come home to the Holland Purchase. When a fund was raised for the war sufferers, Ellicott personally gave $200 and the land company subscribed $2,000. After the battle of Lundy's Lane in 1814, a wounded army colonel named Winfield Scott convalesced at the home of James Brisbane.
After the peace, the settlers began to swarm into the Purchase but the boom was short-lived. In 1815 Ellicott had completed the handsome stone land office with wooden portico and four Doric columns that still stands beside the Tonawanda, now a historical museum. In his report to Busti, the land agent wrote he was building "a very superb edifice."
In 1818 he completed his mansion with two-story pillars in its central section and two wings. The now affluent bachelor installed elegant furniture, including a musical clock that was the talk of the frontier. He entertained notable visitors to the Purchase. After all he was its first citizen.
Joseph Ellicott was an early and staunch champion of the Erie Canal project. He clearly saw the benefits the Purchase would gain from the waterway. In 1810 he reserved many choice acres along the route of the Ditch for the land company, an action not enhancing his popularity with the ordinary settler.
In 1816 Ellicott was made a member of the state canal commission headed by DeWitt Clinton, the leader of the canal forces. The land agent was an admirer and ally of Clinton then. In a few years they came to the parting of the ways. At Clinton's behest in 1816, the Holland Land Company gave 10,000 acres of land in the wild hills of southern Cattaraugus County to the canal building fund. Enemies of Ellicott and the company jeered at the donation, saying it was land the company could not dispose of otherwise. The state sold it for $28,000 a dozen years later.
The Erie Canal made Buffalo a mighty city, it spawned many other ports along the line-Lockport, Gasport, Middleport, Newport (renamed Albion)-provided a new road to market and brought prosperity to the northern counties of the Holland Purchase.
The voluminous reports which Ellicott made periodically to his chief and other correspondence which he copied in his clear hand reveal much of his personality, especially his attention to detail.
For one whole day he measured the flow of sap from a single maple tree. Someone in the company had the idea that there would be a fortune in the production of maple sugar on the Purchase and that the maple product would one day supplant cane sugar in general use. In Ellicott's letter book is also a long recipe on the best way to cure beef.
Sometimes he wielded his pen as if it were a bludgeon. For example the plain-spoken land agent branded the administration of James Madison "a contemptible haphazard thing without any general system."
He railed at "the trespassers on my cleared land in New Amsterdam" and went to court to expel them. He was displeased at the Porters' shipping monopoly on the Niagara Frontier. He was outraged when newly-born Cattaraugus County in 1808 increased land taxes.
Caustically he paid his respects to Yankee settlers on the Holland Purchase. The man who was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Maryland wrote:
"The New England people, having been bred from infancy in habits of continual small trade, take a pride in a species of low cunning which induces them to take advantage of the liberal and fair dealer. They are the kind of people who feel under no obligations for favors and it is a fixed principle with them never to make any return but rather to press for more benefits."
That blast was inspired by the foxy Yankee settlers who held back payment of their interest until the time came for renewal of their contracts when interest was compounded. In some cases the renewal interest was less than that in arrears and they saved money through this practice. Ellicott retaliated by raising the recontract interest rate.
There was another side to the land agent. He could be politic and conciliatory. In his correspondence is an account of a conference with the Indian chiefs Cornplanter and Farmer's Brother, "who I respect and to whom I took the liberty of making some small presents." He listened patiently to Red Jacket's incessant complaints that the white men were "crowding in" on the Indians at Buffalo Creek, the home of the orator.
When he wished, Ellicott could be a persuasive and entertaining conversationalist. In his later years he liked to recall the privations of the early days on the frontier. As a surveyor he had been sinewy and strong as a bull. As the years went by he took on considerable weight. In his broad- cloth, linen cambric ruffles and plaited shirt, he looked like a stout old English squire.
He never married but he held strong family ties. Remembering how brother Andrew had started him up the ladder by teaching him surveying, Joseph after he became affluent sent his brother considerable sums. He kept brother Benjamin with him on the Purchase and saw that he prospered. He rewarded his legion of nephews and nieces' husbands with jobs.
His last years were troubled ones. He broke with DeWitt Clinton in 1819 and the powerful Clintonians joined his other enemies in demands for his scalp. They forced him from the presidency of the Bank of Niagara at Buffalo and that was a bitter blow.
But many of the land agent's troubles were imaginary. Around 1817 Ellicott began to exhibit hypochondriac tendencies. Later he suffered from recurrent spells of melancholia. As his mental and physical health declined, he became increasingly irritable and high handed in his dealings with the settlers and his onetime popularity on the Purchase sank.
In 1820 and 1821 the discontent took the form of a demand for Ellicott's ouster. In the latter year Paul Busti made his second visit to Batavia in 16 years. This time he came to ask for the land agent's resignation. After 21 years the "father of the Holland Purchase" laid down the reins.
If the Clintonians had hoped one of their own would succeed him they were disappointed. Busti installed as the new agent Jacob S. Otto, an amiable Philadelphia businessman with no political ties.
The deposed Ellicott did not give up despite his ill health. He visited New York and Philadelphia in a vain attempt to interest capital in a new company which would purchase all the unsold lands on the Purchase, which in 1822 amounted to half the tract. Ellicott had the money to swing the deal alone but that was not his way.
By 1824 his health had so deteriorated that kinsmen took him to New York where a council of physicians had him sent to Bellevue Hospital. There in the Summer of 1826 he eluded his attendants and died by his own hand.
His estate, which was estimated at $600,000, was bequeathed to 87 relatives. A nephew, David E. Evans, who had been a clerk in the land office since 1803, took over the Ellicott mansion. That stately structure was razed in 1887 to make way for a new street.
Otto, Ellicott's successor as agent, found the job no bed of roses. He tried the experiment of taking cattle and crops as payment in lieu of cash from settlers but accumulated a surplus of such commodities that was difficult to dispose of. Otto died in 1826 and David Evans became the third agent on the Purchase.
It was during Evans' regime that discontent erupted into violence. Joseph Ellicott had been in his grave 10 years when mobs and rioting disturbed the peace of the Holland Land Purchase.
Stringent new measures had been taken to enforce payment. For the first time the company began eviction suits. Repeal of the land company's tax exempt status in 1833 brought a new get-tough policy and eventually spelled the withdrawal of the Dutch syndicate from Western New York.
In 1835 the land company began selling their interests to other companies. The new proprietors announced an increase in land prices. Settlers found that when they renewed their contracts they had to pay, in addition to the regular payments and interest, a certain sum per acre. That exaction, known as the Genesee Tariff, aroused wide resentment.
In February of 1836 some 300 determined settlers marched on the land office at Mayville in Chautauqua County, seized some company records and tore down the building. The furor spread Eastward and in May of the same year another mob mobilized. This one, recruited from Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie Counties, converged on the land office at Batavia. The presence of militia, cannon in the court house park and muskets protruding from every window of the land office cowed the mob which dispersed. These manifestations won some small concessions from the proprietors.
By that time the Holland Land Company was pretty much out of the picture. By 1839 the company had wound up all its affairs in Western New York-with a return of between five and six per cent on its investment.
The land office, that "very superb edifice" which Ellicott had built and where, according to tradition, the phrase "doing a land office business" originated, passed into private hands.
In 1894 the Holland Purchase Historical Society purchased the building for use as a museum. On October 13 of that year the land office was dedicated to the memory of Robert Morris with pomp and ceremony. There was a parade, a speech by Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle and two other members of the Cleveland cabinet took part.
Until January, 1945, the collection of the historical society was displayed in the museum. Then the building came under the control of the city board of education which turned it over to the Red Cross for five years. During that period the relics of the pioneer era were housed in two upstairs attics. They saw the light of day again in 1950 when through the co-operation of the Genesee County Board of Supervisors and the historical society, the old land office was reopened as a public museum in 1950.
It may bear the name of Robert Morris, the land speculator who never saw the Holland Purchase, but over it hovers the spirit of Joseph Ellicott, the builder.
Ellicott's name lives in the charming old village of Ellicottville, the onetime shire town of Cattaraugus County and the site of a sub-land office, There are Ellicott Streets in Buffalo, Batavia and other communities. An immense office building, Ellicott Square, covers an entire block in downtown Buffalo near the site of the mansion the land agent never built.
Ellicott did build a house in Buffalo, a charming Georgian type home with tall pillars, not for himself but for a niece, Sarah Lyon. He began building it in 1823 on Main Street near High but he died before it was completed. In 1891 it was moved to Amherst Street in sections. Known as the Hoyt Mansion, it was a center of genteel Buffalo society in the early years of this century. A stipulation in the will of its last owner, Mrs. William B. Hoyt, prevented its use for anything but educational and residential purposes. After 1945 it slowly deteriorated and in 1955 it was torn down.
Joseph Ellicott sleeps in the old Batavia Cemetery opposite the harvester plant under an imposing monument. Beside it are the less pretentious tombstones of the twins, bachelor brother Benjamin and sister Rachel.
A far grander monument to the big surveyor is a big chunk of the Empire State map-all the land west of the Genesee-eight counties with industrial cities, brisk villages, crossroads hamlets, the fecund lakeside fruit belt, the oil country near the border, the cattle on a thousand hills.
That was the Holland Purchase that Joseph Ellicott surveyed, settled and fathered, that blossomed out of the wildwood.
The Baron of Belvidere
Philip Church, born to the purple, reared in high society here and abroad, came to the Genesee Country in 1800 at the age of 22, the owner of 100,000 acres of woods.
He made that backwoods domain the major part of Allegany County and spent the rest of his long life developing it. The father of Allegany was as much a power in his own duchy in the early years of the 19th Century as were his neighbors, the Wadsworths, in the Middle Genesee Valley.
He was the son of John Barker Church, a well-born Englishman, who came to these shores under an assumed name to, much to the dismay of his family and fashionable friends, espouse the cause of American independence. He became a commissary general to the French army in the colonies and was a friend of Washington and Lafayette.
John B. Church allied himself to a wealthy and influential colonial family when he married Angelica, daughter of General Philip Schuyler. Another daughter became the wife of Alexander Hamilton. In 1778 a son was born to the Churches and he was named Philip after his American grandfather.
Philip was a babe in arms visiting the Schuyler mansion in Albany with his mother when a band of Tories, Canadians and Indians raided the house in attempt to capture General Schuyler. A Schuyler daughter, Margaret (there were many Schuyler daughters and all were beautiful) snatched her sister's child from a cradle and carried him to safety, although an Indian hurled a tomahawk at them. His aim was bad. Miss Schuyler's dress was torn, the infant's forehead was grazed and the tomahawk dented a stair railing. To his dying day, Philip Church bore a small scar on his forehead and the mark of the tomahawk is still to be seen in the Schuyler mansion.
The Churches lived abroad for a time after the Revolution. Young Philip grew up in a rarefied atmosphere as a student at Eton College and in London's Middle Temple. He hobnobbed with the aristocracy. One of his friends was the Prince of Wales.
After the family returned to America, Philip served on the staff of George Washington with the rank of captain. He also was private secretary to his celebrated uncle, Alexander Hamilton, and remembered filing away with other papers the final draft of Washington's Farewell Address.
John B. Church had a finger in many financial pies. He lent Robert Morris, the land baron, $80,000, taking as security a mortgage on 100,000 Genesee Country acres. Morris could not meet his obligations. So it came about that in 1799 young Philip Church journeyed to Canandaigua from his home in New York to bid in at foreclosure sale the 100,000 acre tract. His father gave him a half interest in the purchase which the son was to develop.
The next year the young captain came to look over his domain and engaged Moses Van Campen to survey it. Van Campen was a fabulous frontier character. Scout, woodsman, veteran of the Revolution, he had been captured by the Indians, had run the savage gantlet. There were so many notches on his gun that he was known as "the Injun killer."
Philip Church was a vigorous youth. He was a cricket star, a crack shot and could outrun some of the fleetest Indians. There's a legend that when he came to pick the site of his own estate in the virgin forest he shinnied up a tall pine tree to sight the land.
He expressed a desire to visit Niagara Falls and so he and the redoubtable Van Campen made an arduous journey through the woods to view that wonder of the world. Van Campen and another pioneer, Evert Van Winkle, paved the way for settlement of the Church lands, and the young owner returned to New York.
Soon Church was back on the frontier, developing his "capital." which he named Angelica, after his mother. He had roads built and saw that his village had a store, an inn, a saw mill and a grist mill, besides the inevitable land office. Early records showed he once owned Negro slaves.
In 1804 he built his first home in the backwoods, a frame dwelling which was known as the White House because it was the first painted building west of Canandaigua. It was felled by a wind storm early in this century.
It was to that house that Philip Church in 1805 brought his 19-year-old bride, Anna Matilda Stewart, a Philadelphia belle whom he had met at George Washington's funeral. Their wedding journey was a strange one-first by coach and four to Bath, then by jolting wagon to Hornellsville, whence they rode on horseback along a blazed trail through the woods to the Genesee. When they reached the White House, the pack horses with the bedding and provisions were far behind, so the high-born honeymooners slept on straw, harried by howling wolves outside and prowling rats inside.
Philip Church began building the manor house near the White House in 1807. Villa Belvidere was completed in 1810. The eminent Benjamin Latrobe designed it. Its brick and stone came from the Church lands but the workmen were brought in from the seaboard. It still stands today, still known as Belvidere, a tribute to the good taste of its builder, two stories of brick and stone, with two wings, its Ionic pillars facing the curving river.
In the meantime the master of Belvidere had been advertising his Genesee lands and his promotions attracted not only stout American pioneers but some distinguished Royalist refugees of the French Revolution.
Among the newcomers were Madame d'Autremont, widow of a Royalist who had died in the Revolution, and her two sons. After leaving France, they had first found refuge at the French colony at Asylum in Pennsylvania. Many generations of the family have lived in Allegany County.
Only briefly a resident of Angelica was the French Baron Hyde de Neuville, although he hung on to his Genesee lands a long time. His wife was an artist and she painted the main street of the frontier settlement, a huddle of houses amid stumps and with cattle grazing along the road-not a prepossessing scene. After the monarchy was restored, the Baron returned to France and was that nation's minister to the United States from 1816 to 1821.
Bearing no title but a name destined to become famous in America was another French settler, Victor du Pont de Nemours. He came, not seeking a haven, but a fortune in land speculation. He bought 500 acres from Church in 1806 and the deed was the first recorded in Allegany County. Du Pont plunged into local affairs. He was a major of the militia, Angelica's first town clerk and the first clerk of Allegany County. He opened a store but it did not prosper. Also he quarreled with Church over politics. In 1809 he left Angelica, a bankrupt, to join his brother Irenee, who had founded a powder mill in Delaware and spawned an industrial dynasty.
Philip Church pushed through the organization of Allegany County in 1806 and saw to it that the village which bore his mother's musical name became the shire town, although it involved snatching three townships from Steuben so that Angelica would be the geographical center of the new county. He was Allegany's first judge and served for 14 years. It was the only public office he ever held although he exerted considerable political influence.
Judge Church gave to Angelica its public square and donated the land for the four churches. He was a leader in the movement for the Genesee Valley Canal which traversed his county on its way from Rochester to Olean. With rare prescience he expressed his belief, however, that the railroad was the coming thing. And this was in 1825, three years before the first passenger train ran in the United States.
He was an original incorporator of the New York and Erie Railroad, a colossal undertaking for the time, and he fought down every move to divert its route north of his bailiwick. When the first proud train steamed over the line in 1851, with President Fillmore, Daniel Webster and other Whig notables aboard, an aging Judge Church, first citizen of Allegany County, joined them at the little station named Belvidere, near his estate.
He foresaw that after the forests were denuded, Allegany's mainstay would be agriculture and he visited England to study new farming and breeding methods. He imported superior breeds of live stock and brought from Albany, suspended from his gig in a crate, the first Spanish Merino sheep in the region.
His wife, who had been so abruptly transplanted from Philadelphia's sophisticated society, easily adjusted herself to the primitive life on the frontier. She was equally gracious to visiting patricians and to poor settlers and she made friends with the Indians of the neighborhood. They called her Ye-nun-ke-awa, which means "first white woman," although that title really belonged to Mary Jemison. In the War of 1812 when her husband was stranded abroad, the Senecas, who knew a battle was raging along the Niagara, camped at Belvidere for two days to protect Mrs. Church and her children.
Philip Church lived out his years as a country gentleman, selling his lands, developing his estate, guiding the affairs of his community and of his nine children.
A tradition of elegant hospitality prevailed at Belvidere and Very Important Personages rode and hunted over the estate and were entertained in the high-ceilinged rooms with the floor-deep windows and the gleaming chandeliers. Among them were the Schuylers and the Rensselaers and other Church kinfolk: Thomas Morris, Robert Troup, Horatio Seymour, once a candidate for President, and the Wadsworths from their nearby estates.
The dignified and courtly judge would show them the pistols that his uncle, Alexander Hamilton, carried to his death in his duel with Aaron Burr on the heights of Weehawken, and the private papers of Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury and the leader of the Federalist Party.
Philip Church died at Belvidere early in the year of 1861. He was 73. The grandee of the Southern Genesee, who had been born in the midst of a great war and had known its heroes, Washington, Lafayette and Hamilton, did not live to see the outbreak of a greater war, one between brothers.
His son, Richard, a genial squire, lived on the estate until 1892 when financial reverses forced Belvidere out of the hands of the Churches.
But the spirit of Philip Church, who fathered a county and molded a civilization out of a wilderness, stilt invests the historic estate beside the Genesee and the distinctive village he founded and gave his mother's name.
His given name was Ebenezer but on the frontier he was known as Indian Allen, because of his ways with the Indians, especially the squaws. There was no Indian blood in his veins, but he sired at least two half-breed children.
He was a pioneer of pioneers in the Genesee Country. He was the first white settler on the site of Rochester and he built the first of the many mills that were to grind wheat along the Genesee. He possessed energy and initiative and he performed valuable services in promoting peace between the settlers and the Indians after the Revolution.
Yet no Western New Yorker was ever more heartily despised by his neighbors. Allen had been a lieutenant in the hated Tory Rangers of the Mohawk Valley and first came to the Genesee as a British agent among the Indians. He was a polygamist and he was lawless, violent, and fantastic-and undocumented-tales of his brutality sprang up about him.
According to one of them, because a boy he had sent for a bucket of water loitered on the way. Allen beat the lad to death with the pail. Another tale has him hiring two Indians to drown one of his wives. They took her out in a boat in the middle of the Genesee, but after they upset the craft, she foiled the plot by swimming to shore and rejoining the Allen harem.
Consequently Indian Allen was not treated kindly by early historians. He was variously branded a "Tory bloodhound," "a brutal Bluebeard" and "a man of bad character, without conscience or patriotism."
Research by later historians has indicated Allen was not exactly the villain he had been painted. The late archivist, Morley B. Turpin of Rochester, spent many years studying the life of "the Bad Boy of the Genesee," and came to the conclusion that while the pioneer miller was no paragon, many of the stories about him were fabricated by his enemies and embellished by repetition.
Turpin wrote that Allen "was a product of his environment and that always was harsh and relentless. Without doubt he was shrewd and possibly unscrupulous in his dealings . . . Progressive, energetic and keenly alive to his own interests, he was an outstanding figure in Western New York."
All historians agree that Indian Allen was about the most colorful figure of this frontier.
He first appeared in the Genesee Country in 1782, a tall, straight, vital man, light complected and good looking and with ingratiating manners when he chose to use them.
As an agent of the British Indian Department, he stayed at the Gardeau cabin of Mary Jemison, the White Woman of the Genesee, in 1782-83. The peace treaty between the colonies and England had not yet been signed and Allen was watching the Indian situation for his superiors at Fort Niagara.
When 40 years later Mary Jemison came to tell the strange story of her life to James Seaver, she said that "Allen was always honorable, kind and even generous with me," but added that "the history of his life is a tissue of crimes and baseness of the deepest dye." At least that's the way Seaver wrote it in his biography of the White Woman.
After his dismissal by the British in 1783 he became a trader and a farmer at the site of Mount Morris. There were no white neighbors. He lived with a Seneca woman named Sally and of this unorthodox union two daughters were born.
About that time Allen stole a belt of wampum from the Indians and took it to an American military post, announcing that the Senecas would not take part in any border war. At that time the British and Indians at Fort Niagara were menacing the few frontier settlements and Allen apparently acted to protect his own property and that of others.
That same year Allen carried a message from the Indians to the Congress at Philadelphia. It was an acceptance by the Six Nations of an invitation to a peace council. His mission was fraught with danger, for the British did not want the message to get through.
Allen presented a letter of his own to Congress. It is on file in the Congressional Library and it said in part:
"Permit me, gentlemen, to inform you that the Indian nations are well disposed for peace but are ready for war and will desolate the frontiers of Pennsylvania, if the United States resolve to conquer their lands, yet . . . they will readily give up a part of their country, and will engage nevermore to make war or join the enemies of the United States, or trespass over the boundary which may be agreed upon.
"It is my opinion that if Congress adopt this system and direct an honest, wise conduct to be observed toward the Nations, it will save thousands of lives and much money.
I hope I shall soon be dispatched back to the Nations and that Congress will send some persons they have a confidence in to meet the Indians in their own towns rather than on our frontiers."
A treaty of peace was signed in 1784 between the government and the Six Nations. "The Tory Bloodhound" should receive some credit for that. And his letter to the Congress shows considerable vision for a backwoodsman.
In 1786 Indian Allen was a squatter on fertile acres north of Scottsville at the confluence of the Genesee and the stream now known as Oatka Creek, for many years Allen's Creek. There he built a cabin and soon had a herd of cattle cropping the grass of the river flats. He added to his household, by formal marriage, a white girl, Lucy Chapman. She lived in the cabin with the squaw, Sally; the two half-breed children, Allen's sister and her husband, Christopher Dugan.
Somewhere along the line Allen annexed another white spouse, one Millie Gregory, daughter of a former Tory Ranger. There is no record of ring, parson or book, but she bore him six children.
In 1789 Phelps and Gorham granted to Allen the one hundred acre tract, comprising much of the present downtown Rochester, on condition he build a saw mill and a grist mill there.
In November, 1789, after his saw mill had cut the timbers, 14 husky frontiersmen helped Indian Allen "raise" his grist mill. It was a gay occasion. A trading vessel the day before had dropped off a keg of rum at the mouth of the river and Rochester's first industry was launched with lifted flagon and song. The two-day ceremony ended with "a shooting match in the woods." The mill stones were floated down river in canoes.
Early in the new year, Allen sold his Scottsville land to Peter Schaffer and moved his assortment of wives, children, dogs and relatives into the new mill, which was powered by a 14-foot cascade where Broad Street now crosses the river. That waterfall was obliterated by the building of the Erie Canal Aqueduct. Until it was stolen in 1956, a tablet in a stone wall along along the downtown alley dignified by the name of Graves Street marked the site of the pioneer grist mill in the Genesee Valley.
The pioneer grain grinder was a failure. The principal reason was lack of patronage, for only 24 families lived West of the Genesee and the mill was not easy of access. There were no roads and when the river could not be forded, customers from the East had to cross in canoes and then tote their grist some distance through the woods. The Allen mill had a capacity for only 10 bushels a day. But most of the time the stones stood idle. The miller was often away on hunting trips.
The reminiscences of pioneer Enos Stone in Turner's History of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase give a picture of night life at the Genesee Falls in the 18th Century:
"In one of the early years I carried some grist to the Allen mill and had to remain overnight. Allen was then on a spree or carousal. To make a feast he had sent some Indians out into the woods to shoot hogs that had gone wild and he furnished the whiskey. Many Indians collected. It was a high time and the chief of the entertainment was enjoying it in high glee. When he tired of the carousal, he retired to a couch where a squaw and a white wife awaited his coming."
After two years Allen sold his mills. They eventually became a part of the Pulteney purchase and Allen's brother-in-law, Dugan, ran them for Charles Williamson for a time. Then they fell into disuse. A freshet carried off the saw mill in 1803. The grist mill burned in 1807. The place became a rendezvous for rattlesnakes-until 1811 when Nathaniel Rochester began laying out his city by the Falls.
Ebenezer Allen, after leaving the site of Rochester, lived for a time at Mount Morris and in 1792 was operating a saw mill on the Silver Lake Outlet. In 1793, with at least two of his wives he left the Genesee Country forever to spend the rest of his years at Delaware, Canada, near London. He died there in 1813, a generally respected citizen. For years Morley Turpin tried vainly to locate Allen's grave, as well as to establish his birthplace.
In 1859 when Rochester was the Flour City and the Genesee Valley was the breadbox of the nation, the Allen millstones, which had been cut out of the native rock in the Conhocton Valley, were rescued from oblivion. For a time they served millers along the Irondequoit Creek. They were found serving as a horse block in Brighton.
The stones were brought into the city and placed in the rear of the old Court House. After work was begun on the City Hall in 1873, they formed the bases for the lampposts at its entrance. In 1896 when the present Court House was built, the historic stones were placed in the second floor west wall of the building.
They constitute the only memorial to Rochester's first settler, the pioneer miller of the Genesee, the uninhibited, rowdy polygamist-who was hardly the Rochester type.
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