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Joseph Ellicott

Holland Land Co. deed signed by Joseph Ellicott now on display at museum

By Billie Owens

Press release:

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce our newest acquisition of a land deed for the Holland Land Company dated June 30, 1813 acquired at auction at Bontrager Real Estate & Auction Service.

The deed is signed by members of the Holland Land Company and Joseph Ellicott. It represents a well-preserved example of the documentation that was created to expedite the early settlement of Western New York.

The land listed on the document is a lot within present day Newstead in Erie County. The purchaser, a John Voak, bought 120 acres of land for $359.19, an average of $2.99 per acre.

Though the land is in Erie County today, the deed lists the area to be in Niagara County, as the sale occurred before Niagara County was split in 1821.

The deed is currently on display at the museum (131 W. Main St., Batavia) in our Land Office Room exhibit, with other items connected to the Holland Land Company.

Rare historical document, a deed signed by Joseph Ellicott, to be featured in upcoming auction at Bontrager's

By Howard B. Owens


About a year ago, Dale Vargason, from Wayland, purchased a cache of documents from the late 18th, early 19th centuries and when he got them home, he found a surprise -- a deed to a piece of property in what is now Ontario County signed by Joseph Ellicott.

Yesterday, he dropped the deed, framed, at Bontrager's Auction on Wortendyke Road, Batavia, where Todd Jantzi said he will present it in a consignment auction featuring antiques and historical documents. A date for the auction has not yet been announced.

"As soon as I saw the Joseph Ellicott I dropped everything else and said, ‘oh, my gosh’ and I started researching it," Vargason said. "I knew who he was but I wanted to figure out how much was this worth but I couldn’t find any comparables so I decided, ‘we’ll see’ and I thought I would hang onto it. When I mentioned it to Todd, his eyes lit up."

Jantzi said it's a fairly rare document and should go for $600 to $800. The deed is from 1813.  

Ellicott was an agent for the Holland Land Company from 1800 to 1821. He laid out the first plans for the Village of Batavia and the Village of Buffalo. He signed many land deeds during those years.

Documents of this much historic value don't come into the auction house often, according to Jantzi.

"We might see it maybe once every three to five years," Jantzi said.


A true Batavia boyhood account about a bugle that did not belong to Joseph Ellicott

By David Reilly

People like to make discoveries. It makes them feel important, that they've found something unique. Children especially like to have something to show off and I was no different. When I was about 9 or 10 I tried to get something I found put in a museum -- the Holland Land Office Museum.

As it turned out, the thing I found belonged in a dumpster, not a display case.

It all started because of jealousy. A kid I knew had uncovered an arrowhead in his backyard or somewhere. The local museum had it displayed in a case with his name by it and every time I saw it I turned green with envy. Why wasn't it me who unearthed something while digging around as kids do?

I loved that museum. They had antique guns, a drum from the Civil War, an actual hangman's noose from the old jail -- great stuff. But nothing contributed by me, David Reilly. Every time I went there I imagined a card with my name on it next to something that every visitor would remark about.

One day while prowling around the attic of a house where we were renting an apartment, I found an old, dented, beat up bugle. I ran to show it to my mother and asked if it could be a valuable souvenir, possibly from the Civil War. She didn't think so, especially since if it was valuable no one would have left it in the attic. Of course.

Crushed, I trudged back upstairs. But as I went to put the bugle back in the cobwebs, a seed of a scheme entered my mind.

What if my mother was wrong? After all, wasn't our house on Ellicott Avenue? And wasn't Joseph Ellicott the man who was the land agent for the Holland Land Company and the one who made the plans for the city of Batavia, New York? And wasn't my favorite museum down the street named The Holland Land Office where Joseph Ellicott had his office for many years?

That bugle could have been his! Or at least belonged to someone that he knew.

I thought, “Maybe if I take this bugle to the museum they will put it in a case, type up a card with my name on it, and finally I'd be famous, at least in Batavia. Nah, they'd never fall for it. But on the other hand... oh why not give it a try?”

The next day I went to the backyard, rubbed some dirt on the bugle so it looked like it had been dug up, and nervously headed for the museum. I hung around in front playing by the cannons for awhile trying to get up my nerve. Finally, I entered.

“What can I do for you young man?” the elderly woman at the desk asked.

“I found this bugle and it's got dirt on it and it was in my backyard right across the street on Ellicott Avenue and I dug it up and I bet it was lost there by Joseph Ellicott or at least by someone he knew look see how old it is can you put it in the museum?” I spewed out the words like my voice was trying to win the Indianapolis 500.

“Oh,” the woman said thoughtfully. “Ellicott Avenue you say? Well, that's right close by isn't it? What is your name young man?”

“Oh boy!” I rejoiced in my mind. The neatly printed card next to my donated bugle was looking pretty clear to me now.

“David Reilly,” I replied, “and I live at 20 Ellicott Avenue where I dug it up.”

"Well, David,” the woman said, “I'm going to show this to our museum experts and we will check it out very carefully. You come back next week and we'll let you know.”

All week long I couldn't sleep, paced the floor, and thought incessantly about that bugle. Finally, the big day came. I walked to the museum, marched straight to the lady's desk and looked imploringly into her eyes.

“What can I do for you young man?” the woman asked.

My heart dropped to my stomach. She doesn't even remember me? But wait. She's old; at least 90. She's just forgotten.

“I'm David Reilly. I brought in Joseph Ellicott's bugle last week.”

“Bugle? Oh yes, of course. I wouldn't forget a thing like that. We took a very close look at it I can assure you.”

My stomach felt like butterflies were having a gymnastics competition. “Yes! I'm in! I've got it!" I thought. If there was such a thing as a high five back then I was giving myself plenty of them mentally.

“Unfortunately, David, that bugle is no more than 20 years old at most. Are you sure that you dug it up in your yard?”

"Oh boy. What now?" I thought. "I'm done for on the display case. Can I get arrested for lying?"

But I proceeded nonetheless.

“Oh yes ma'am, it was way down there," I told her, then blurted out this realistic tidbit: "I thought it was gold when I first saw it."

My palms were sweating so badly now that they were leaving streaks on the sides of my corduroys.

The lady reached into the drawer of her desk and pulled out the bugle. She handed it to me with some of the dirt still clinging to the sides. She wiped her hand on one of those little old-fashioned hankies.

“Well, young man, I'm sorry that we couldn't use your discovery, but it's always nice to see someone your age so interested in history. If you ever come across anything else be sure to bring it in.”

I took the bugle and managed to utter a quick “Yes, thank you ma'am” before making a hasty exit.

As I slunk back home I could almost hear the guffaws of the museum staff as they mocked my find of the “bugle of Joseph Ellicott.”

Looking back on it, the museum volunteer probably had a little laugh after I gave it to her, then put it in the drawer and never thought about it again until I came back.

As I clumped up the back steps, I chucked the bugle into the garbage can where it clanged forlornly, never to be seen again.

As I went through the kitchen my mom stopped me. “Where've you been Dave?” she asked.

“Oh, just down at the museum,” I replied.

“Again? You must have been there a hundred times. Anything new down there?”

“Nope. Nothin' to toot about anyway,” I told her and headed off to check out that new comic I had stored under my pillow.

PHOTO: Bugle shown is for illustration purposes only; it is not the bugle David found.

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