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Chapter 2

The Holland Land Company

    Prior to 1788, lands in western central and eastern New York were claimed by Massachusetts by a pre-Revolution Charter.  In 1788, a tract of about six million acres, extending from Lake Erie to the Genesee River, was sold to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorman for about $30,000 . . . one-half cent an acre!  Shortly thereafter, the Federal Government decreed that the territory become part of New York State. 

    In 1791, Robert Morris, a Philadelphia financier and speculator, purchased the right to the land from Phelps-Gorman Company and divided it into five tracts; the eastern, or “fifth” settlement was sold in small parcels.  He offered the other four tracts to the Holland Land Company-a group of Dutch merchants from the city of Amsterdam in Holland. 

    But complications were involved.  By the terms of the sale, it was necessary for Morris to secure the Indian title to a large section of the land and, at the time, aliens could not own property in New York State. 

    In September 1797, Morris purchased all the Seneca land in western and central New York, a total of about 4,000,000 acres for $100,000 . . . 2-1/2 cents an acre!*  Theopile Cazenovia represented the Holland Land Company and, with Morris , signed the Indian Treaty of Big Tree.  In the latter part of 1798 the legislature of New York State authorized those aliens to hold property so the American Trustees conveyed the land, except for 300,000 acres, to the Holland Land Company. 

  * The Trade and Intercourse Act adopted by Congress in 1790 made the U.S. responsible to assure that Indians were treated fairly in land sales thereafter.  President Washington had told the Indians “Here then is the security for the remainder of you lands.  The general government will never consent to your being defrauded but it will protect you in your just right”.  No claim was made for the Robert Morris negotiation until 1965, when the U.S. Court of Claims asked the Indian Claims Commission to decide whether the Seneca Indians were cheated.  If the Commission rules that the Indians were short changed, the government must make good. (Buffalo Evening News, Dec. 17, 1965) 

      The following Spring, Joseph Ellicott surveyed and made a map of the purchase and as attorney and agent for the company, established the main office of the Holland Land Company in Batavia.

     At the first transfer by the trustees of the land company, the entire tract, except for 300,000 acres, was conveyed to William Willink, Nicholas Van Straphorst, Pieter Van Eeghan, Hendrick Vallenhoven and Rutger Van Schimmelpennick.  The remaining 300,000 acres were conveyed to Wilhelm Willink, Jan Willink, Wilhelm Willink, Jr., and Jan Willink, Jr.

      Two years later the proprietors of the main tract transferred the title of about 1,000,000 acres so that it jointly belonged to the original five members of their families (Wilhelm Willink, Jr., Jan Gabriel Van Straphorst, Roelif Van Straphorst, Jr., and Cornelius Vallenhoven) . . . and Hendrick Seye.  In some unknown manner, Pieter Stadnitski was also made a partner.

 In the hands of these three sets of owners, the titles remained during the most active period of settlement. Only as these men died did their shares pass to their survivors and were their names dropped from the deeds. Wilhem Willink headed each of the three sets of owners and, because he outlived all of the others, his name was the first in every deed.

In 1798 or 1799, two men, both Holland Land Company surveyors, traveled along the trail from the east and stopped at the plunging waterfall of Eleven Mile Creek which later on took the name of Ellicott, one of the two men.

Benjamin Ellicott, a brother of Joseph, and John Thomson knew the value of water power, luxuriant forest and productive soil. But even more important, they knew the land would soon be available.

On October 1, 1799 they purchased a grant of 300 acres, including mill rights, at $2.00 an acre from Joseph Ellicott in Range 7, Township 12. The property was eight miles west of Ransom's Tavern (Clarence of today) and was the nucleus (Williamsville) of the "fourth settlement" of the original tract.

This was the earliest recorded transaction by the Holland Land Company in Amherst. The Articles of Agreement between Wilhem Willink, Nicholas Van Straphorst, Pieter Van Eeghan, Hendrick Vallenhoven and Rutger Van Schimmel- pennick "all of the City of Amsterdam in the Republic of Batavia," by Joseph Ellicott, their attorney of the first part, and Benjamin Ellicott and John Thomson "of the County of Ontario in the State of New York" of the second part is recorded. The Articles of Agreement reads:

"Whereas the said Party of the second part is justly indebted to the said Parties of the first part, in the sum of six hundred dollars New York currency, to be paid to the said Party of the first part, his executors, administrators or assigns in the manner following, that is to say the sum of twenty dollars immediately upon the execution of these presents, and the remaining sum of Five Hundred Eighty Dollars in three equal yearly installations with the interest upon each from the ex- piration of two years from the date thereof, the first of said Installments to commence on the first day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and two. Now therefore, in consideration thereof, the said parties of the first Part for themselves, their heirs, executors and administrators, do by these presents, covenant, promise and agree to and with the party of the second part, his heirs, executors, etc. that said party of the second part, etc. shall on or before the first day of January next cause to be erected on the Lot of Land and premises, or some part thereof, a "messuage" fit for the habitation of man, not less than eighteen feet square, and shall live and re- side or cause a family to live therein during the term of five -years and that on or before the first day of July next, not less than eight acres shall be well cleared and fenced, being part of Township 12, in the seventh range beginning in the south boundary line, two hundred and ninety chains and forty eight links east of the southwest corner to an Ironwood Post, from which a bounded white pine bears north twelve degrees, forty eight links. Thence running from said post North fifty five chains and fifty six links to another Ironwood post from which a bounded Beach bears south twenty eight degrees East thirty one links; thence east fifty four chains to another Ironwood post, from which a bounded aspen bears south nine degrees west, one chain and fifty six links to a white oak post standing in the south boundary line of said township, from which a bounded white oak bears north six degrees, west sixty seven links. Thence west along the boundary line, fifty four chains to the Place of beginning, containing three hundred acres more or less. To be paid in three equal yearly installments. And that on or before the first day of July next, not less than eight acres of said tract of land shall be cleared and fenced." Signed by Joseph Ellicott. This notation written by hand appears on the contract: "Since Surveyed and Distinguished by Lot No. I."

Because the Article of Agreement was between Joseph Ellicott as agent for the Holland Lana Company and his brother Benjamin and John Thomson, who were surveyors under him, there is some uncertainty as to the legality of the record. Doubtless it was favorable to the recipients and no other part of the Holland Purchase was surveyed and ready for sale until three years later.


The first house built by the Holland Land Company in the Amherst area was erected on Main Street east of Ellicott Greek.

The land had been purchased on Articles of Agreement in 1799 through Joseph Ellicott, agent for the Company. The title search reveals that "Wilhem Willink and others" then sold three hundred acres of the land for six hundred dollars to Benjamin Ellicott and John Thomson with the understanding ,that a house would be built upon it, according to their specifi- cations and that ownership of the house would revert to the same "Wilhem Willink and others."

The house was to be 34 x 28 feet in size, built of hand hewn logs well covered with substantial shingles, with a good brick chimney and two fire places, one each in the upper and lower stories of the house. It was to be divided into seven rooms exclusive of the garret which was sufficiently large for additional rooms, with "stabling enough for several span of horses." The logs in the original construction were ten inches wide with the bark removed from their sides.

Some time later an addition was made to the west side of the structure. Of plank construction, it included a dining room, kitchen with "buttery" and a third fireplace. Above the kitchen was a large but low sleeping room reached by stairs from the woodshed.

One of Joseph Ellicott's reports to the company that "at present they have a careful man in the house which he keeps 

for the Accommodation of travelers" indicates that the house was used as an inn in the early days.

"Wilhem Willink and others" apparently rented the house to William Maltby who lived there in 1804 when the first wed- ding in the settlement took place, in which Timothy S. Hop- kins married Nancy Ann Kerr, sister-in-law of Mr. Maltby.

Mr. Maltby later established a mill four miles to the north on Ellicott Creek and, in 1808 the house was deeded to Jonas Williams who also established mills that were to give the hamlet its original name of "Williams Mills."

Isaac Bowman purchased the house in 1812 and it reverted to Joseph Ellicott in 1818, on a Sheriff's deed and foreclosure of a mortgage of two thousand dollars.

In his report to the Holland Land Company, Joseph Ellicott stated that, since the title of the property has been disputed, he felt that it would be policy to sell it to his brother Benjamin, convincing the public of the right of the company's title. Then, in case it would force an issue, it would be easy to refund the company for the money it had expended in improvements.

Lewis Ellicott Evans, nephew of Joseph Ellicott, purchased the house in 1823 and it remained in the Evans family until 1925.

Sometimes the house is referred to as General Scott's Headquarters during the War of 1812, although he actually spent only a few days there. Brought there as a casualty in the Battle of Lundy's Lane in July, 1814, he wrote to General Brown the following day, stating that he would remain only a few days before journeying to the home of his friend, James Brisbane, in Batavia.

At one time a group of local women tried to interest the people of the village in preserving the old house as a historic site and library, but were not successful. In 1928 the property at Main Street and Oakgrove Drive was purchased for a commercial site and the house was moved to the back of a lot on Oakgrove Drive where it deteriorated to an extent that it was necessary to destroy it in 1955.


To be continued  (last worked on 2/5/02) TWY


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Left click the picture for a bigger image A picture of Joseph Ellicot Chief surveyor and first agent of the Holland LandCompany, whose name is perpetuated on streets, buildings and waterways in the Western New York area. click here to see a bigger picture.
Left click the picture for a bigger image A picture of 5643 Main St taken in 1900. The Evans House is beleived to be the oldest house in Erie County. It was used by General Winfield Scott during the war of 1812. . click here to see a bigger picture.
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