A HISTORY of
the TOWN of AMHERST, NEW YORK
SUE MILLER YOUNG
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The Holland Land Company
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
To be continued (last worked on 2/5/02) TWY
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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.
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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.