Edited by Stephen R. Powell

White Settlement of Erie County Begins

-Within the territorial bounds of Ontario county, which now embraces fourteen counties, the takers of the first United States Census, that of 1790, found 105 white families in residence, but not one in that part of the county which eventually became Erie county.

Whether Cornelius Winney came in 1789 or 1790 cannot clearly be ascertained. He certainly was in residence in 1791. William Ketchum stated that Winney arrived in 1783 or 1784, but the evidence upon which he based that assertion has not been found by other historians. Horatio Jones was in the Seneca country at that time; was quite intimate with the Senecas at Buffalo Creek, as has been shown; and one would think that had Winney been in the vicinity for so many years before other white settlers, his presence would have been noted somewhere in "The Life of Horatio Jones;" for Jones would surely have come into contact with Winney during one of his many visits to Buffalo Creek. And many other visitors to the Niagara Frontier during the years 1783-1791 left descriptive accounts of Buffalo Creek without making any reference to what would have been a notable fact-the presence of a lone white settler so near to the Indian village. Colonel Proctor found Winney there in 1791 ; therefore Winney's residence may with authority be dated from that year, if not before. Winney is described "as a Dutchman from the Hudson river country," and therefore can hardly have been the "English trader from Niagara" who came into the Genesee country "with a stock of clothes and trinkets" in 1782, and to get more goods for whom Horatio Jones made a trip to Niagara. One might more reasonably set Winney's coming as in 1789-91, with the probability of the time being nearer 179I than 1789. The missionary, Rev. Samuel Kirkland, was in the Seneca village at Buffalo Creek in 1788, but makes no reference to Winney, but a man, Hinds Chamberlain, who visited the creek in 1792, found Winiey's presence noteworthy, as of course it would have been. Chamberlain wrote: "We arrived at the mouth of Buffalo Creek the next morning. There was but one white man there. I think his name was Winney, an Indian trader. His building stood first as you descend from the high ground. He had rum, whiskey, Indian knives, trinkets, etc. His house was full of Indians. They looked at us with a good deal of curiosity. We had but a poor night's rest. The Indians were in and out all night, getting liquor."

Winney's small log store stood at the foot of the hill which then descended towards the creek from the site of the Mansion House. The store was about four miles from the Seneca village, "but scattered huts stood all the way down the creek to Farmer's Point, as it was termed, where Farmer's brother, Honayewus, lived." Captain Powell, who lived a few miles from Fort Erie was, it is said, a partner with Winney in the Buffalo store. If he was not the only white inhabitant in 1792, it may be inferred that he was the leading resident at that time, from the fact that an arrangement seemed to exist between Winney and the Government officials. Winney wrote as follows to General Chapin, Superintendent of Indian Affairs:

"Buffalo Creek, --3rd Aug., 1792.

"I inform Gen. Chapin that about seventy-nine of the Canadian Indians is gone to Detroit. They seem to be for warr, and a number of Indians to go up. I further inform you that the Indians of this place are to go up in the first King's vessel that comes down. Prince Edward* is arrived at Fort Niagara. Should I hear anything worth while towrite, I shall let you know." C. WINNEY."

*The "Prince Edward," It Is thought, was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, later father of Victoria, who became Queen of England. His visit had no political Significance; presumably the grandeur of the Falls attracted him.

Winney soon passes out of Buffalo records however, for he moved away "soon after 1796." Ketchum thought it was in 1798, "as Mr. Eggleston, one of the surveyors of Mr. Ellicott, writes to him (Mr. Ellicott) at Schlosser, from Buffalo Creek, that he (Ellicott) had better bring some boards to make a mapping table, as there were none to be had in their new location, Mr. Winney having carried off those that were in the partition. Ketchum's belief that Winney was still in Buffalo in 1798 is supported by another record. James Brisbane, a pioneer settler at Batavia, was in Buffalo in October, 1798, and he lists Winney as among the occupants of the little cluster of log houses he then saw upon the site of Buffalo.

This text is Copyright 2001 all rights reserved by Stephen Powell and This electronic text may not be dupicated or used in any manner without written consent of Stephen R. Powell or




Black Joe

The next settler, if all of any other race than Indian who settled might be so classed, was perhaps "Black Joe," a negro who gave his name as Joseph Hodge. He may have been in the vicinity earlier than Winney; possibly he was the negro servant present at the important council attended by Rev. Mr. Kirkland at Buffalo Creek in 1788. Black Joe had been taken prisoner by Seneca Indians during one of the Revolutionary War raids, and was one of the Genesee captives taken by Seneca Indians to Fort Stanwix in December, 1784, and there surrendered to the United States authorities. Hodge, however, returned, married into the Seneca Nation, and became a fur trader. H. Perry Smith states: "Almost as soon as the earliest white man-possibly preceding him-the irrepressible African made his advent in our country; for in 1792 we find 'Black Joe,' alias Joseph Hodge, established as an Indian trader on Cattaraugus Creek, and from the way in which he is mentioned, we infer that he had already been there a considerable time."

"Almost as soon as the earliest white man-possibly preceding him-the irrepressible African made his advent in our country; for in 1792 we find 'Black Joe,' alias Joseph Hodge, established as an Indian trader on Cattaraugus Creek, and from the way in which he is mentioned, we infer that he had already been there a considerable time."

Further, the same authority writes: "At this date (1796) a negro, who was known as 'Black Joe,' or Joseph Hodge, lived in a cabin a little west of Winney's. He had an Indian wife, who bore him children. He understood the Seneca language and was often employed as interpreter. He was supposed to be a runaway slave, and died at an advanced age, on the Cattaraugus Reservation."

It is of course quite possible that William Johnston considered himself as of earlier residence in Buffalo, or in what became Buffalo, than either Winney or Hodge. As a matter of fact, Winney left before Buffalo came into existence, and possibly Hodge did also. The Buffalo Creek records regarding Johnson, or Johnston, go back to 1780-81.

He spent the winter of 1780-81 in the Indian village on Buffalo Creek acting as a British agent. His origin is somewhat obscure. He was stated to have been a half-breed son of Sir William Johnson; and again a half-brother of Captain Powell, with whom he came to the Indian village at Buffalo Creek in 1781-81. The two may have been related, but they were probably not the two children, Peter and William, born to Sir William Johnson by the latter's Indian wife, Molly Brant, sister of Joseph Brant. William Johnston died in Buffalo in 1807, and was then sixty-five years old; and there are other records of the children of that marriage which make it very improbable that the William Johnston of Buffalo was of that connection. Ketchum went more exhaustively into the matter. He

"Visited an aged lady, a sister of the late Colonel Warren, of Fort Erie, for the purpose of obtaining more authentic information in regard to Capt. William Johnston. She says he was a half-brother of Col. Powell, who after the close of the Revolutionary War resided on the Niagara River below Fort Erie. The mother of Col. Powell married a Col. Johnson, and William Johnson was a son by this connection, and was an officer under the British Government. Col. Powell died at an advanced age a few miles from Fort Erie. It is probable that Capt. Powell spoken of in the 'Narrative of the Gilbert Family' who married Miss Jane Moore, and the Col. Powell spoken of by Mrs. Hardison, the aged sister of Col. Warren spoken of above, is the same individual, and the house of Capt. Powell mentioned in the journal of Col. Proctor in 1791 was the place it is said by Mrs. Hardison Col. Powell resided."

Captain William Johnston, as he was later known in Buffalo, came to Buffalo Creek in 1780-81 as Lieutenant Johnson, or Johnston. Larned states that he was of "the notorious Butler's Rangers." How soon after his first visit to Buffalo Creek he came "and took a woman of the Senecas to wife" is not known, though it may be inferred that from I780 his time was spent mostly between Niagara and Buffalo Creek. H. Perry Smith states that Johnston "married a wife from the Senecas soon after his arrival," but whether after his arrival in 1780 or in 1794, when he "built a small log house near Winney's store," cannot be decided from that statement. But another record fixes the year more clearly. John Johnston, who married Ruth, daughter of judge Zenas Barker, of Buffalo, was the son of William Johnston by his Indian wife. Therefore it would seem that William Johnston had settled on Buffalo Creek, possibly in the Indian village at first, soon after 1780. Certainly this much may be accorded Johnston: that he had been familiar with the vicinity of Buffalo for a longer period than had the several other "first settlers," up to the time of his death.

Excerpted from the book: Hill, Henry Wayland, Ed. Municipality of Buffalo, New York, A History. 1720-1923. Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. New York. Chicago.



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This text is Copyright 2001 all rights reserved by Stephen Powell and This electronic text may not be dupicated or used in any manner without written consent of Stephen R. Powell or