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Posts Tagged ‘pioneers’

streetSt. John’s place is a short, one block long street located in Allentown.  The street is named after the St. John family.  The St. John family had a significant role during the Burning of Buffalo 200 years ago, on December 30, 1813.

The St. John House  was the only house to survive the burning of Buffalo.  Only three buildings remained after the burning:  The St. John House, the jail on Washington Street near Eagle Street and David Reece’s blacksmith shop on Seneca Street.

Margaret St. John

Margaret St. John

Gamaliel St. John was born in Norwalk Connecticut on September 22, 1766.  Margaret Marsh was born in Kent, Connecticut.  Margaret’s father was among the first class of graduates at Yale College.   Gamaliel and Margaret were married in Kent on October 16, 1788.  They moved to Danbury, Connecticut where they lived for several years, before moving to Oneida County, New York.    While there, Gamaliel worked on constructing a portion of the turnpike from Albany to Cayuga Lake.   They had many children:  Elijah, Northrop, Maria, Aurelia, Cyrus, Sarah, Margaret, Parnell, Martha, John and LeGrand, and Orson.

In 1807, they moved to a farm in Williamsville.  Their farm was located near where the historic mill is now located in Williamsville.  They lived on the farm for three years before moving into Buffalo in the spring of 1810.  The family settled on Main Street.  Mr. St. John kept a tavern on the corner of Main and Court Streets.

Cyrus St. John died in December 1812 of camp distemper (also known as diphtheria).  Gamaleil and his eldest son, Elijah died on June 6, 1813, drowning in the Niagara River when their boat capsized after coming into contact with the war vessel John Adams, which was anchored in the River.  Gamaleil and Elijah were bearing dispatches from army headquarters in Buffalo to a division in Canada.

st. john houseJust before the burning of Buffalo, there were approximately 2,000-4,000 drafted and volunteer militia encamped in front of the old courthouse.   Recollections of the St. John children indicated that the citizens of Buffalo felt safe due to the presence of the militia, who could be seen marching through the Village.   When the alarm rang for people to evacuate Buffalo on December 30, 1813, the St. John family planned to leave in two trips.   Mr. Asaph Bemis, the husband of Aurelia St. John, accompanied the family.  Conditions along the roads prevented Mr. Bemis from returning. Margaret St. John was left in the house with her daughters Maria and Sarah.

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Plaque at site of St. John House

The St. John house was located at 437 Main Street, near Mohawk.  The house was demolished in 1871.  Today, the location is marked by a plaque.

As Buffalo settlers returned to town on New Year’s Day, Mrs. St. John and her daughters took in the refugees, while warding off constant threats to their home.  Many of the settlers returned to town and constructed makeshift roofs over their former basements, living in them for the rest of winter until a new house could be constructed.

Following the fire, a relief committee provided money, supplies and clothing.  The committee raised $13,000 quickly to help the citizens of Buffalo.  The State Legislature also contributed nearly $60,000.  Reconstruction of Buffalo happened quickly.  By April, Joseph Pomeroy had rebuilt his hotel.  After only five months, many stores and taverns were erected.

While the St. John family had its share of hardships, the family prevailed. The women sold their needlework and managed to survive on that income, keeping their place in society of the time.

grave of gamiel and margaretMargaret St. John died April 29, 1847.  She and her husband are buried in Forest Lawn.

Sarah St. John was only 16 at the time of the fire, spending her days putting out fires set by the Native Americans and foraging for food under the cover of night.   At one point, the Native Americans entered the St. John home.  Sarah fled in terror, chased by a man.  It is said that he raised his tomahawk to kill her, but she laughed at him.  He was so taken aback that he could not kill her.  He instead painted her face and let her return to her home.  Sarah went on to become the second wife of Samuel Wilkeson.  She was among the first to dig the earth for what became the Erie Canal on August 9, 1823.  She was beloved by the people of Buffalo; they reopened the Franklin Street Cemetery to bury her when she died in 1836, despite the cemetery being closed due to cholera fears.  (The Franklin Street Cemetery was located where the present County Hall is now).

Sarah’s grandson by marriage, Tellico Johnson, was one of the earliest developers of the Historic Plymouth neighbrohood.  He developed Orton and St. Johns Places and lived at 22 Orton Street.  The streets were created in 1884, from what was the Buffalo Circus Ground.  Several big name circuses performed there, including WW Cole Hippodrome, PT Barnum Circus, John B. Doris Inter-Ocena Show and the Adam Forepaugh Show.  In 1882, PT Barnum brought the elephant legend, Jumbo, to the grounds from London.

So remember the St. John family, all of the settlers of Buffalo, and all who fought in the War of 1812 today.  Remember that we’ve since had 200 years of peace between the United States and Canada.  The Peace Bridge plaza today stands where Fort Porter was located, a fitting tribute to the years of peace replacing a military establishment.  Remember the spirit of the earliest settlers of Buffalo, who were not afraid to brave a winter in makeshift home in order to build what became our city.  I believe that pioneer spirit still lives in Buffalo today….and that we can rebuild after 50 years of decline.

Be sure to check out the street index to learn about other streets. 

Sources:

  1. Mrs. Jonathan Sidway.  “Recollections of the Burning of Buffalo and Events in the History of the Family of Gamaliel and Margaret St. John”.  Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, Volume 9.  Buffalo NY. 1906.
  2.  Brown, Christopher.  “Historic Plymouth Avenue in the Kleinhans Neighborhood”.  Kleinhans Community Association.  May 2008.
  3. Severance, Frank, editor.  The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo.  Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Vol. 16, 1912.
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Holland Land Purchase

Holland Land Purchase

This is Part Two of a series on Joseph Ellicott, for whom Ellicott Street is named.  If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can read it by clicking here.

Following his time surveying in Washington, DC and along the Georgia-Carolina boundary, Joseph Ellicott began to survey some property in Western PA that a group of Dutch investors purchased.  The Dutch Investors had formed the Holland Land Company to invest in land in New York and Pennsylvania.  The Company also purchased a large tract of land in Western New York known as the Holland Purchase.  The Holland Land Purchase consisted of approximately 3,250,000 acres of land, stretching from 12 miles west of the Genesee River to the present western boundary of New York State.  Much of the land had been owned by Robert Morris, who had purchased it from the Senecas.  Between 1798 and 1800, the area was surveyed under the direction of Joseph Ellicott.  Joseph brought a crew of 11 surveyors, each with his own assistants to survey the property.  Joseph himself surveyed the east line of the purchase.   While Joseph laid out the site of Buffalo, there were many who doubted a city would establish there. Interference from the State and Buffalo Creek Reservations was calmed due to Joseph’s skills as a surveyor and diplomat.  He persuaded the Senecas to leave the Village’s location out of the reservation.  At the time, the Buffalo River as we know it was only a simple stream that ended in a marshland.  Joseph foresaw that Buffalo would be important as a port due to the convergence of Buffalo Creek on Lake Erie.  In Spring 1798, Joseph opened the first wagon track in Erie County, improving the trails from East Transit to Buffalo, and from Buffalo to Batavia.

The Holland Land Company had purchased the land, intending to sell large tracts of lands to investors for a profit. The bankers were unable to sell large tracts of land and began to sell directly to settlers looking to build homes.   Holland Land Company bought the land for 35 cents per acre and sold it for $2-2.50 per acre.

Holland Land Office in Batavia (now a museum)

Holland Land Office in Batavia (now a museum)

Joseph Ellicott was appointed Resident Agent of the Holland Land Company and opened an office in Batavia in 1801.    He oversaw the surveying crews to complete the subdividing the land into townships , each six square miles.  The townships were then subdivided into lots.  The officers of the Holland Land Company had an extensive program to build roads, lay out towns and attract settlers to the area by selling small tracts of land on liberal terms and providing loans to help businessmen set up shops.  The typical agreement was a down payment of  5-25 percent to be paid in 4-8 years at 7 percent interest.  During that period, the settlers were required to clear several acres of land, erect a dwelling and fence in a portion of his property.   Pioneers purchasing land here faced the hard task of relocating.  It took weeks or months to navigate over muddy, rugged roads.   The area was primarily a primeval forest.   A typical settler would have to clear about 50 trees to build a modest log cabin.

The first map of Buffalo was made by Joseph in 1804, calling it the Village of New Amsterdam, to honor the Holland Land Company.   The fledgling Village had a population of about 25 at the time, including a blacksmith, a silversmith, and half a dozen houses.  While Ellicott wanted to call it “New Amsterdam”, the residents preferred the name of Buffalo Creek, so their name stuck, which was then later shortened to Buffalo.  He is responsible for the radial street plan of the City of Buffalo.  He named most of the streets after members of the Holland Land Company.

Buffalo Lots in 1805

Buffalo Lots in 1805
(Lot 104 can be seen in the center of the map)

Joseph Ellicott also purchased his own share of Downtown Buffalo, a 100-acre tract of land known as Outer Lot 104, bounded by the current Main Street, Swan Street, Eagle Street and Jefferson Avenue.  There was a half-moon shaped piece of land along the Main Street frontage of Joseph’s property, from which Niagara, Church and Erie Streets radiated.  Joseph planned to build a mansion on this half-moon; however, in 1809, the Village authorities decided to straighten Main Street.  Ellicott abandoned the idea of building on the lot and during his lifetime, no development occurred on Outer Lot 104.   Also, Ellicott changed his will, which had been drawn to leave the tract of land to the City for a public park.   Today, the Ellicott Square Building sits on the Main Street part of the lot, a fitting reminder of Ellicott’s influence in Buffalo.

Many of the settlers were unable to pay back for their land; however, Joseph was lenient with them and allowed them to extend their payments.   After 10 years, the Holland Land Company opened an office in Mayville in Chautauqua County. This allowed them to better serve the pioneers by ridding them of the burden of travelling all the way to Batavia to make payments.

During the War of 1812, the Holland Land Company allowed settlers to make payments in goods instead of cash.  They mostly accepted black salt, which they would then make into pearl ash to sell to Montreal.

In 1833, New York State laws changed, forcing foreign owners to be taxed the same as residents.  The Holland Land Company began to enforce their payment schedules and were no longer as lenient with settlers.

Holland Land Company Vault postcard, Mayville NY

Holland Land Company Vault postcard, Mayville

In 1835, the Holland Land Company sold its remaining holdings in Chautauqua County to Trumbell Cary, George Lay, Jacob LeRoy and Herman Redfield.  They instituted a new policy called the “Genesee Tariff”, forcing those who still owed to pay a penalty of a specific amount per acre in additional to the original price paid for the land.  They also threatened to sell the land to another purchaser if payments were not made.  The settlers fought back against the Genesee Tariff.  In 1836, 500 men gathered in Hartfield, rioted and marched to Mayville to destroy the Land Office.  The building and furniture were destroyed and the company’s books were burned in a bonfire.  The company salvaged what they could and reopened an office in Westfield.   William Seward was made the Land Agent of the new office, and was able to renew peace.  Seward later went on to become Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and is best known for “Seward’s Folly”, aka the purchase of Alaska.  A stone vault near the present day County Courthouse is the only visible landmark of the Holland Land Company’s presence in Chautauqua County.

In 1839, the Holland Land Office in Batavia closed.  The last holdings of the company were sold in 1846 at little profit.  The building, which was built in 1815 to replace the original log cabins is still standing in Batavia.   The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The building was saved by a Batavia High School teacher, John Kennedy, and the Class of 1894.  The site currently operates as the Holland Land Office Museum.

For more on Ellicott’s legacy in Western New York, check out Part Three by clicking here.

Sources:

  1. “Joseph Ellicott”  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York. Volume 1, Biographical and Genealogical
  2. 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.
  3. “Our Street Names:  They Tell Much of Buffalo’s History”.  Buffalo Express, November 14, 1897.
  4. Burns, Rosamond.  “Paving the Way For Settlers:  The Rise and Fall of the Holland Land Co.”  Buffalo News, January 25, 2004.
  5. Houghton, Frederick.  “History of the Buffalo Creek Reservation”.   Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume 24:  Buffalo, 1920.

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prattPratt Street is located between Genesee Street and William Street on the near East Side.  Pratt Street was the location of the Iroquois Brewery.   Iroquois was the longest operating brewery in Buffalo, starting as the Jacob Roos Brewery and operating from 1830 until 1970.  According to Courier Express – “there have been so many prominent members of the Pratt family, even their descendants aren’t sure which one Pratt Street is named after”.   I am going to go into the lives of six of the Pratts today…but there were many members of the Pratt family that contributed to early Buffalo and beyond!

Buffalo History Museum Pioneer Gallery

Buffalo History Museum Pioneer Gallery

The first Pratt to settle in Buffalo was Captain Samuel Pratt.  Samuel Pratt was born in East Hartford, Connecticut.  His family moved to Vermont while he was a child.  During the Revolutionary War, he joined the 3rd Company, 8th Regiment, Huntington’s brigade.    In 1801, Captain Pratt went to Montreal and led an expedition through the forests from Montreal to Buffalo.  He was convinced that Buffalo had an opportunity for future greatness, went home to New England to bring his family to settle in Buffalo.  Samuel, his wife and eight of their children arrived  via a carriage followed by two wagons.  It was the first carriage ever seen in what would become Erie County.  They arrived in Buffalo in 1804, when there were only a dozen houses here.   To get an idea of what Buffalo looked like when they arrived, you can visit the Pioneer Gallery at the Buffalo History Museum.  The first lodging for the Pratt family was at Crow’s Tavern, a replica of which is set up in the museum’s exhibit.  Samuel Pratt established a store and took a leading role in matters of public improvements   He did a large share of trading between the whites and Native Americans, trading furs for flour, salt and other food.    He first built a log cabin for his family on the Terrace.  His store prospered and he built the first frame dwelling in Buffalo.  He hired a cabinet-maker from Vermont to build furniture for his home out of the black walnut that grew in the forests of Western New York at the time.  The Pratt family had the first carpet in Buffalo, shipped in from Boston.  The house was located at the corner of Main and Exchange Streets.   In addition to his store, Samuel was one of the first to introduce public worship to Buffalo and was a pioneer in the education of Buffalonians.  Captain Pratt died on August 31, 1812 and was survived by nine of his ten children.

Hiram Pratt

Hiram Pratt

Hiram Pratt, the fifth of Captain Pratt’s eight children, was Mayor of Buffalo between 1835-1836 and 1839-1840.   Hiram was born in Vermont in 1800 and came to Buffalo with his family as a child.   Hiram was close with Dr. Cyrenius Chapin, an early citizen of Buffalo due to Dr. Chapin having lost a son at an early age.  During the burning of Buffalo by the British, Hiram aided his neighbors to help flee the fire.  He helped Dr. Chapin’s  daughters to safety at a farm in Hamburg.   He was involved in Dr. Chapin’s general store and a partner in a warehouse business with Asa Meech.    He later founded Bank of Buffalo, which built some of the earliest Great Lakes steamers and contributed to much of the development of Black Rock.

Statue of Columbus in Prospect Park

Statue of Columbus in Prospect Park

Hiram was elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1835, on the Whig party, which was the party of many of the 15,000 Buffalonians in the 1830s.    Hiram owned a large area of land on Porter Avenue, bounded by Seventh and Connecticut Streets and Prospect Avenues.    He gifted the land that to the City of Buffalo.  He built a mansion on the property, but never lived in it.  The land is now Prospect Park.   Hiram and his family lived in the house on the corner of Swan and Center Streets.   Hiram died in 1840 and is buried in Forest Lawn.

Captain Samuel Pratt’s oldest son was Samuel Pratt, Junior.  Samuel Junior was born in Hartford Connecticut and did not accompany his parents to Buffalo at first.  He arrived in Buffalo in August 1807 to help his father’s business.  He quickly found other interests in Buffalo and became Sheriff of Niagara County in 1810.    At the time, Niagara County included the land that would become Erie County.  During the War of 1812, Samuel Junior joined the army.  He bravely defended the Village when Buffalo was attacked in December 1813 by the British.   Samuel Junior died in 1822.  Samuel Junior had four children.

Samuel Fletcher

Samuel Fletcher

Samuel Junior’s oldest sun was Samuel Fletcher Pratt.  Samuel Fletcher was born in Vermont in 1807.  Soon after his birth, he came to Buffalo with his parents.  In 1822, he entered into the hardware business with George and Thaddeus Weed, forming George Weed & Company.  Mr. George Weed died in 1828 and the business became Weed & Pratt.  Samuel Fletcher continued the business for many years, eventually bringing in his brother Pascal, establishing the store as Pratt & Company.  In 1845, Samuel Fletcher and Pascal founded the firm of Pratt & Letchworth with William Letchworth, making saddles and hardware for horses.  In 1848, Samuel Fletcher helped to organize the Buffalo Gas Light Company and served as President until his death.   He was often asked to run for Mayor, but Samuel Fletcher always declined.  In 1851, he was one of the founders of the Buffalo Female Academy.  He was a member of First Presbyterian Church.  Samuel Fletcher died on April 27, 1872.

fitchdrawingSamuel Junior’s second son was Lucius Pratt.  Lucius was born in Buffalo in 1809.  Lucius was a Great Lakes shipping merchant and owned a warehouse on the River at the Pratt Slip.  He was married to Cynthia Weed, who died in 1843.  He then married Susan Beals in 1844.  Lucius and Susan had six children between 1845 and 1854.  Lucius and his family lived at 159 Swan Street.  The house was built around 1835 of land that was originally deeded to Captain Samuel Pratt, Lucius’ grandfather.  At the time, Swan Street was one of the social centers of Buffalo.  The house was purchased by Benjamin Fitch in the 1870s after Lucius’ death.   Fitch then donated the house, following urging from Maria Love, to the Charity Organization Society of Buffalo.  The Fitch Creche was located in the house, opening on New Year’s Day 1880.  The Fitch Creche was dedicated to providing nursery care and education for children of working mothers.  It was the first  kindergarten in the Country!  The program developed at the Fitch Creche was emulated in other cities across the country.  Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1998.

Pascal Pratt

Pascal Pratt

Samuel Pratt’s youngest son was Pascal Pratt.   Pascal was born in Buffalo in 1819.   He was educated in local schools and went to Hamilton Academy (now Colgate University) and Amherst College.  He learned the business trade at his brother Samuel Fletcher’s store.  He was made a partner in Pratt and Co and eventually in the firm of Pratt and Letchworth.   Pascal founded the Buffalo Iron and Nail Company, the Fletcher Furnace Company and the Tonawanda Furnace Company all in 1857.   Pascal was considered to be progressive and publicly boasted about Buffalo being a good place for manufacture and brought many residents to Buffalo in order to work at his companies.  He encouraged his friends to invest in the young city and was a strong force for the industrial development of the city.

In 1856, Pascal founded Manufacturers and Traders Bank (M&T).  He also was a director of three other banks – Bank of Attica, Bank of Buffalo and Third National Bank.  Pascal was the largest contributor to Buffalo’s original YMCA building and the first president of the Y’s Board of Trustees.  He was vice-president of the Civil Service Commission and of the Buffalo Street Railroad Company   He was involved in other cultural and philanthropic organizations including Buffalo Seminary, State Normal School (Now Buffalo State College), North Presbyterian Church and Buffalo Orphan Asylum.   Pascal  has been called father of the Buffalo Parks System.   He was chosen as a member of the Park Commission of Buffalo in 1869 and served the commission for a decade.   He was one of three commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court  to assess the value of the Niagara Falls property that is now the State Reservation (state park).  He was a charter member of the Buffalo Club and active in the Ellicott Club and Country Club.

prattfamilyplotMany members of the Pratt family are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  Stop by and visit them sometime to say thanks to this pioneer family that shape Buffalo’s early history.

[Learn about other streets by checking out the Street Index]

Sources:

  1. “Named for Three Pratts”  Courier Express June 11, 1939, sec 6 p2
  2. “Memorial and Family History of Erie County, New York”, Volume 1.  The Genealogical Publishing Company, Buffalo, 1906.
  3. Rizzo, Michael Through the Mayor’s Eyes.  Old House History:  Buffalo NY, 2005.
  4. Conlin, John.  “A last look…159 Swan”.  WNY Heritage Magazine.  Fall 1998.

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