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Joseph Ellicott
Born November 1, 1760 (1760-11)
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Died August 19, 1826 (1826-08-20)
New York City
Occupation Surveyor, city planner, land office agent, lawyer and politician
Known for Laying out Batavia and Buffalo, New York; advocating Erie Canal

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



He was the son of Joseph Ellicott (1732 - 1780).

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. He was then engaged to survey some property in western Pennsylvania which has 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), Joseph was sent to establish the monumental task of surveying it. Ellicott spent two years (1798 - 1800) living outdoors in summer and winter, laying out the townships of the new land.

In 1800, the principal agent of the company, Paolo Busti, gave him a new position as their agent at their headquarters 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.

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

From March 1806 to June 1807, he was First Judge of the Genesee County Court.

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.

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.

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. His final years were marred by serious mental problems. Family members had him admitted to an asylum in New York City, where he died in 1826 by hanging himself. He was buried originally in that city, but was soon exhumed and re-buried in Batavia, New York at the Batavia Cemetery.[1]

Ellicott never married, and at his death left an estate valued at about $600,000, which was a considerable fortune in that day.

Places named after Ellicott


External links

  • "The Holland Land Company in Western New York", by Robert W. Silsby, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Adventures in Western New York History, volume VIII, 1961, (provides account of Joseph Ellicott, downloadable from, click on Adventures in WNY History)


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