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Joseph Ellicott

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Joseph Ellicott
BornNovember 1, 1760 (1760-11)
DiedAugust 19, 1826 (1826-08-20) (aged 65)
Occupation(s)Surveyor, city planner, land office agent, lawyer and politician
Known forLaying out Batavia and Buffalo; advocating Erie Canal
Parent(s)Joseph Ellicott
Judith Blaker
RelativesAndrew Ellicott (brother)
Benjamin Ellicott (brother)

Joseph Ellicott (November 1, 1760 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania – August 19, 1826 in New York City) was an American surveyor, city planner, land office agent, lawyer and politician of the Quaker faith.[1]



Ellicott was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on November 1, 1760.[2] He was the son of Quaker miller Joseph Ellicott (1732–1780) and Judith Blaker (1729–1809). Joseph's siblings included older brother Andrew Ellicott (1754–1820), a fellow surveyor, and younger brother Benjamin Ellicott (1765–1827), a U.S. Congressman.[3]



In 1790, his brother Andrew Ellicott was hired by the federal government to survey the new federal district, where the new capital city of Washington was to be built. Joseph was Andrew's chief assistant during the latter part of the survey. Joseph Ellicott was subsequently sent to Georgia to survey the boundary line, established by treaty with the Creek tribe.[4]

Holland Land Company


He was then engaged to survey some property in western Pennsylvania which had been purchased by a group of Dutch investors, who had formed the Holland Land Company. He also extended the New York - Pennsylvania border westward. When the company purchased a huge tract of western New York (that became known as The Holland Purchase), Ellicott was hired in 1797 and was sent to perform the monumental task of surveying it.[1] Ellicott spent two years (1798–1800) living outdoors in summer and winter, laying out the townships of the new land in order to complete the Great Survey of the land in October 1800.[5]

In 1800, the principal agent of the company, Paul Busti, gave him a new position as their agent at their Land Office in Batavia, New York. From this office, for the next 21 years he supervised the sales of the tract, with his personal signature on many deeds. Ellicott was an observer for the investors at the Big Tree Treaty when the Senecas sold their rights to the land in Western New York.[6]

In 1801, he laid out Batavia, New York, and in 1804 the village of Buffalo, and established mill sites and communities.[7]

He advocated a canal to be built from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, and was among the Erie Canal Commissioners appointed in 1816 to supervise the canal construction, but resigned in 1818 due to ill health. The Erie Canal was finished in 1825. He also arranged for the contribution of more than 100,000 acres (400 km2) of company land to this project.[8]

Joseph Ellicott Obelisk, Batavia Cemetery, April 2011

As seller and land agent, Ellicott offered generous terms to the buyers, some of whom purchased farms for as little as 25 cents down. When some buyers could not make payments he often extended the terms and sometimes forgave interest if they had made improvements. He offered some selected parcels free upon condition that the buyer would establish a mill or an inn, to help stimulate growth in the area. In later years, Ellicott became the target of complaints by citizens who were unhappy with the land company.[9]

Ellicott was held responsible for the state of New York's decision not to buy up unsold land of the land company, and he retired in 1821. He then attempted to finance the purchase of the unsold land himself, but no one would join his venture, and he had to abandon the plan.[10]



Ellicott was a presidential elector in 1804, voting for Thomas Jefferson and George Clinton. From March 1806 to June 1807, he was First Judge of the Genesee County Court.

Personal life


Ellicott never married. His final years were marred by serious mental problems. Family members had him admitted to Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in New York City, where he died in 1826 by hanging himself. Soon after his burial in New York City, he was exhumed and re-buried in Batavia, New York at the Batavia Cemetery.[10]

At his death left an estate valued at about $600,000 (equivalent to $16,158,000 in 2023).



Places named after Ellicott:[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c Mingus, Nancy Blumenstalk (2003). Buffalo: Good Neighbors, Great Architecture. Arcadia Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 9780738524498. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Hammill, Luke (January 22, 2018). "The Buffalo of Yesteryear: Why the name 'Ellicott' is ubiquitous in Western New York". The Buffalo News. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  3. ^ Henry K. Sharpe. The Patapsco River Valley. p. 9.
  4. ^ Buffalo Historical Society Publications. Bigelow Brothers. 1922. p. 28. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  5. ^ Chazanof, William (1970). Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company: the opening of western New York. Syracuse University Press. pp. 214–219. ISBN 9780815601616. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  6. ^ Silsby, Robert W. (1961). The Holland Land Company In Western New York, Vol. VIII. Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  7. ^ Cutter, William Richard (1912). Genealogical and Family History of Western New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 1466–1467. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  8. ^ Smith, Henry Perry (1884). History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County: With ... Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers ... D. Mason & Company. p. 25. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  9. ^ LaChiusa, Chuck. "Joseph Ellicott". www.buffaloah.com. Buffalo Architecture and History. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Robert T. Englert (August 2001). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Batavia Cemetery". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Archived from the original on August 7, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2009.