Becky Robbins introduce our speaker today, Neil Robinson. He spoke to us about the history of the Holland Land Company in the early days of Chautauqua County.
 
Neil grew up in Lakewood and is a graduate of Southwestern Central High School.  He graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in history and from Cleveland Marshall College of Law as an attorney.  
 
Practicing in the Robinson Law Office, Neil is Town Attorney for the Towns of Ellery and Harmony.  He is the former Town Attorney for Busti (under the Robbins administration). He was the first assistant district attorney for Chautauqua County for 19 years. He is special counsel to the Lime Lake Sewer District, former counsel for the Findley Lake Sewer District and former chair of the South and Center Chautauqua Lake Sewer District.
 
In addition, Neil served as an adjunct professor at SUNY Fredonia for six years.
 
He was a founding member and past President of the Bemus Point Historical Society.  His wife Judie is a former Mayor of Bemus Point.  Neil and Judie lived for many years in the Bemus/Ellery area but moved to Jamestown several years ago and had an influence on Dale and Becky Robbins moving to Jamestown.
 
The couple attends Holy Apostles Parish in Jamestown.  They are the parents of Scott (a local banker), Lindsay (an attorney in Cleveland) and Matthew, a surveyor here in our area.
 
Neil Robinson was introduced by Becky Robbins, who shared that Neil was a member of Becky’s and Dale’s wedding party.  
 
When the Puritans came to this country, they had a charter from King James to go as far west as one could imagine. In 1664, the charter of New Amsterdam went as far west as who knows?
 
After the revolution when colonies became states, both New York and Massachusetts claimed ownership of the land – the Hartford Compromise settled the claim. New York would own the land and Massachusetts would receive the money from the sale. Massachusetts sold all the land west of the Genesee River to Phelps and Gorham who then sold it to Robert Morris (the richest man in the country at that time) for $3 million. No title could be given until a survey was completed which depended on the Indians agreeing – which they did not. The Seneca Nation claimed they owned the land. The syndicate told Morris to settle the claim with the Seneca tribe. The Treaty at Big Tree was finally agreed to with the Indians receiving extraordinarily little compensation ($100,000) in comparison to what they lost (3.3 million acres) to the Holland Land Company. The first land sale was in 1801 and then the company moved the office to Batavia when Genesee Country was founded in 1802.
 
The Holland Land Company was really the first form of government in western New York.
 
The Holland Land Company hired Joseph Ellicott as Chief Surveyor. He was very accomplished after surveying all the company’s land in northwestern Pennsylvania. His objective was to lay out the 3.3 million acres of land, arrange boundaries for the Indian Reservations and subdivide all the towns into counties measuring six miles square. The towns were further divided in 64 lots (8 miles by 8 miles). Ellicott developed the standard one-foot ruler and required complete field notebooks describing the land, waters, mill seats, valleys, mines, minerals, etc. His final report included types of trees, potential sites of towns and suitability of soil for raising crops. The report also identified different types of wildlife including snakes, bears, wolves, elk, foxes, deer, minks, otters and other animals.
 
Ellicott’s son became the surveyor for large tracts of wilderness. Every deed for property west of the Genesee begins with reference to the Holland Land Company. For the next 20 years, Ellicott was the resident in charge of land sales. Several subagents were appointed in various areas. In the southern tier it was William Seward (future Secretary of State under Lincoln.)
 
It took two years for 150 men to complete the survey – by chains and links 66 ft. long. It turned out to be a fully accurate survey. Ellicott got it done and the HLC hired him as their agent for $11,000, to survey the City of Buffalo, and the Black Creek area. He brought in government, built roads and infrastructure There had been only one road in Chautauqua Co. – the Portage Road, built by the French. People were not interested in buying as there was no way to get products in or out. The area was very dense wilderness. Who did they sell the land to? New England settlers took advantage to buy under land contracts for $1 down and so much per year.
Ellicott wanted landowners to have votes to pressure Albany to set up government to build more infrastructure.
 
Batavia, Buffalo and Mayville were locations for 3 more offices. The recorded deeds were held in Batavia.
 
Chautauqua County’s first settlers were William Bemus in 1806 who came from Saratoga with his brother-in-law James Prendergast.  Bemus landed at what is now the ferry landing in Bemus and built a sawmill on the lake and a huge home on the Westman Road.
 
William Peacock laid out Mayville and disgruntled settlers set fire to all records. Little did they know that the Holland Land Company had duplicates.
 
We could have gone on for hours listening to this wonderful history of western New York. If you want more information, check out www.nyheritage.org. Don’t miss a minute of it – it was enthralling.
 
Thank You Neil Robinson.
 
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