The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
On June 1, 1812, two actions took place that changed Chautauqua County.
On the national scene, President James Madison sent a message to Congress asking for a declaration of war against Great Britain. Great Britain was at war with France and that war was reaching the new United States of America in the form of blockades restricting trade between the United States and Great Britain and France. Also American sailors were being taken from their ships by the British who claimed them as British subjects. The "War Hawks" in Congress were pushing for something to be done and also looking for the "Indian problem" to go away so settlement could expand to the west. War was declared by Congress on June 18, 1812.
Chautauqua County was on the border with Canada where British troops were assembled. Residents of Chautauqua County knew of the British ships on Lake Erie which could easily attack the sparse settlements near the shore line. The county had only been organized the year before, after the requisite number of residents had been reached for the county to organize. Lt. Col. John McMahon of the militia was to raise a full company from Chautauqua County, which then had less than 300-able bodied men liable for militia duty. They assembled at the Crossroads (Westfield), and enough volunteered that the full company was formed. They again assembled on the Fourth of July in Westfield, marched to the Niagara frontier and in October were in the Battle of Queenstown Heights.
Joseph Ellicott was at this time the resident agent for the Holland Land Company with offices in Batavia. His job was selling land in Western New York to settlers. As the War of 1812 took shape along the western and northern areas of the Holland Land Company purchase, his job became even more difficult as few wanted to settle in a wilderness threatened by war. Many, especially around Buffalo, left and headed back east or at least farther away from the threatened areas.
It was for Joseph Ellicott that the town of Ellicott was named. On June 1, 1812, the New York state Legislature, which was meeting later than usual, passed the act creating the Town of Ellicott. The needed organizational meeting for the election of town officers could not be held until the next spring. The town of Ellicott at its formation included the first and second townships in Ranges 10 and 11 of the Holland Land Company's survey. This includes the present day towns of Ellicott, Poland, Carroll, Kiantone, the east portion of Busti and the city of Jamestown.
James Prendergast was the first town supervisor for the town and Ebenezer Davis was the first town clerk.
According to Judge Foote's history of Jamestown, Alexander Kelly, Nathaniel Baker and John Fent were three volunteers from the town of Ellicott who joined McMahan's company and went to the Battle of Queenston Heights. They were men who were working for James Prendergast at his mills.
Alexander Kelly was severely wounded and expected to die from his head wound, but he survived and was able to return to Ellicott an invalid and received a full pension for his service. He eventually returned to his birthplace in Massachusetts, where he died August 4, 1849. Both Baker and Fent returned healthy to Ellicott after their service.
See HOMETOWN, Page D2
Many others served from Chautauqua County but moved on to other places. After the war settlers began arriving in the western part of New York state. Many of these men also had served in their local militia during the war. Their service has been lost to history and today we are endeavoring to find it again and honor them for their service. If anyone knows of a War of 1812 veteran who is buried here in Chautauqua County, please contact the Fenton History Center to share that information.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.