Ellicott Street is one of the main north-south thoroughfares in Downtown Buffalo. As most people know, the street was named for Joseph Ellicott, the surveyor of the Holland Land Company who laid out the City of Buffalo. Since Ellicott was such a prominent man, instead of making this post too long, I have decided to break it up into three posts. Part 1 today is about Joseph’s early life. Part 2 details Joseph’s work with the Holland Land Company. Part 3 discusses Ellicott’s legacy.
Joseph Ellicott’s father, Joseph Ellicott, Sr. was founder of Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland in 1772 when he and his brothers set up a milling business there. The elder Joseph Ellicott was instrumental in the farming of the area, by convincing the farmers to plant wheat instead of tobacco. The farms flourished because he introduced fertilizer (using ground plaster of paris) to the area to help the depleted soil be revitalized. After the Revolutionary War, they were growing enough wheat to build a mills and the town grew up around the mills. Joseph Ellicott the elder had nine children. Two of his sons, Andrew and Joseph Junior became surveyors.
Andrew Ellicott was born in 1754. In 1784, Andrew was appointed to be a member of the survey group working to extend the survey of the Mason-Dixon line. He also surveyed the “Ellicott Line” in 1786. This is the line running north-south that forms the western boundary of Pennsylvania. During his work, he met Benjamin Franklin. Based on Franklin’s recommendations, Andrew was appointed by George Washington to survey the lands between Lake Erie and Pennsylvania to determine the border between Western New York and U.S. Territory. He also made the first topographical study of the Niagara River.
In 1791, Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State) selected Andrew to survey the boundaries of the Territory of Columbia, which became the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) in 1801. During this time, he surveyed the future city of Washington, working with Pierre L’Enfant. When L’Enfant disagreed with some of the commissioners, L’Enfant stepped down and Andrew took over the planning and revised the plans. Andrew Ellicott’s plans, printed in 1792 were the first Washington city plans to receive wide circulation.
In 1794, Andrew plotted the road from Reading, PA to Presque Isle on Lake Erie. He then laid out the City of Erie, PA and supervised the construction of Fort Erie.
In 1796, George Washington again commissioned Andrew for the commission to survey the border between the Spanish Territories in Florida and the United States. He traveled via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. He worked for four years on this survey and presented his final report to the government in 1800. However, political administrations had changed and the Adams administration refused to pay Andrew for the work done on the survey. He sold many of his possessions to support his family during this time. When President Thomas Jefferson offered him the post of Surveyor General, Andrew turned it down due to his negative experience with the Adams administration.
Andrew’s brother, Joseph was born in 1760 in Bucks County, PA. During Andrew’s survey of Washington, D.C., Joseph was Andrew’s chief assistant. Following the survey of Washington, Joseph went to Georgia to survey the boundary line between Georgia and Carolina. Following that survey, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he met up the Holland Land Company.
For more on Joseph’s days with the Holland Land Company, click here to read Part Two….
- “Joseph Ellicott” Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
- Beers, F.W. “Our County and It’s People: A descriptive Work on Genesee County, New York.” J.W. Vose & Co Publishers, Syracuse NY 1890.
- “Our Street Names: They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”. Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.