Biography of Joseph Ellicot


JOSEPH ELLICOTT was a son of Andrew and Ann Bye Ellicott, who were natives of the town of Cullopton, Wales; they came to this country in 1781, having been “disowned” by the Society of Friends through the marriage of Andrew to his wife, who was not a member of that sect. These adventurers, with an infant son, landed in New York, and being possessed of some means they purchased a tract of land and settled upon it. From that date until about 1760, little is known of their history. Previous to 1760, however, they had become residents of Bucks county, Pa., and had four sons, the elder having at that time just begun operations in several business engagements. It is probable that the family did not long remain in New York after their immigration and were among the pioneers of Bucks county. The four Sons of Andrew Ellicott were Nathaniel, Joseph, Andrew and John. As early as 1770 they purchased a tract of wild land on the Patapsco River in Maryland and there built mills which were long known as Ellicott’s Mills.

Joseph Ellicott, son of Andrew, was the father of the subject of this notice. He was a man of liberal scientific attainments for that period and was a naturally skillful mechanic. Without special instruction he constructed a clock with four faces, showing the time, motion of some of the heavenly bodies, a chime of bells playing twenty-four tunes, etc.; it was pronounced a marvel of mechanical ingenuity and skill. The other sons of that Joseph were Joseph (the subject), Andrew, Benjamin and David. Andrew became a prominent surveyor and was at one time surveyor-general of the United States; his three Sons were Andrew A., John B. and Joseph, all of whom became residents on the Holland Purchase. Benjamin entered the service of the Holland Company and was assistant to his brother Joseph. He was one of the judges of Genesee county and a member of Congress. The younger son of the first Joseph (David) was a surveyor on the Purchase in early life and then went south and was not heard from again. There were also five sisters, daughters of the first Joseph, three of whom married three brothers named Evans. The family were prominent in Maryland as millers, founders, builders of wharves, inventors, etc.

Joseph Ellicott was only fourteen years old when his father removed from Bucks county to Maryland. His educational opportunities up to that time were confined to the public schools. His early lessons in surveying were taught him by his brother Andrew, and his first practical experience in that business was as assistant to his brother in the survey of the city of Washington. In 1701 he was appointed by the secretary of war to run the boundary between Georgia and the lands of the Creek Indians. Soon after this he was selected by Mr. Cazenove to survey the Holland Company’s lands in Pennsylvania. This work finished he was engaged a short time in Maryland in business with his brothers, and then began his service for the Holland Company on their lands in this State.

The active years of Mr. Ellicott’s life were principally those between 1790 and 1821. Ten or twelve of those years were passed in the arduous duties of surveyor, mostly in unsettled districts, to be finally given up for the little less trying task of local land agent. His success in these positions was largely due to his practical education, his great industry, his careful and systematic methods and his natural adaptability for executive work. These qualities are clearly shown in his voluminous correspondence and his journal. His memory must forever be identified with the surveys and settlement of Western and Central New York and the origin of the Erie canal, in both of which capacities his influence upon the future of Erie county was paramount.

After a life of great activity and usefulness he approached its close in a manner greatly to be regretted and deplored. As early as 1816—17 he became subject to periods of great depression of spirits and melancholy which, in course of time, settled into confirmed hypochondria. The causes of this condition may be sought in his natural temperament, his lonely unmarried life, disappointments in the outcome of some of his hopes and expectations and the apparent emptiness of his later years. His land agency ceased in 1821 by his own act. No neglect of duty was ever charged to him, but his condition had become such that further useful activity in that direction was not to be expected from him. Fully conscious of this he resigned. This was practically the close of a busy and useful life. In November, 1824, by medical advice, he was removed to New York, making the journey on a canal packet. In New York a council of physicians was called, who decided that he should enter Bellevue Hospital. Anticipated benefits from this step were not realized; mental and physical infirmity increased and in July or August, 1826, he escaped from the vigilance of his attendants and took his own life. His remains were brought to Batavia for burial.

Our County and it's people
A descriptive work on Genesee County, New York
Edited by: F. W. Beers
J.W. Vose & Co., Publishers, Syracuse, N. Y. 1890



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