John Fagant on the Internet
The First Settlers of Buffalo
By John Fagant
published in The Buffalo
Reprinted with permission.
Who was the first non-Native American to settle on the land that eventually grew into the village, and later the city, of Buffalo? There are four individuals in which a case could be made. Interestingly, the one who seems to be the most likely candidate may also have been the last one to move into the WNY region.
Martin Middaugh & family
Col. Thomas Proctor visited the Senecas at Buffalo Creek in the spring of 1791. His journal, dated April 30th, stated:
“In the evening, Captain Powell (British officer stationed at Fort Erie) invited me to go with him to a store in which he was interested, and his partner who kept it, a Mr. Cornelius Winney of Fishkill.”
A year later, in 1792, Hinds Chamberlin traveled through the area:
“We arrived at the mouth of Buffalo creek the next morning. There was but one white man there, I think; his name was Winne, an Indian trader. His building stood first as you descend from the high ground.”
Cornelius Winney can be dated to present-day Buffalo at least as far back as the spring of 1791. As an Indian trader and partner with Captain Powell in 1791-92 and later with Joe Hodge, he seemed to have a lucrative business, at least in terms of a frontier settlement:
“He had rum, whiskey, Indian knives, trinkets, etc. His house was full of Indians… (who) were in and out all night, getting liquor.”
And he had the respect of the local Native Americans, probably because he had access to the trade items they desired. Hinds Chamberlin described Buffalo as they once again passed through on their way back East:
“On our return, we again staid (sic) at Buffalo overnight with Winne. There was at the time a great gathering of hunting parties of Indians there. Winne took from them all their knives & tomahawks, and then selling them liquor, they had a great carousal.”
Winney’s cabin was located on the north side of the Little Buffalo Creek.
An African-American, Hodge was a trapper & trader known as “Black Joe”. Tradition has it that he was a runaway slave who was captured by the Senecas during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). He seemed to have blended well into the Iroquois culture for upon his release from “captivity” he followed the tribes, married an Indian woman, had children through her and acted as a trapper & fur trader, an interpreter and a frontier guide.
In 1792, the traveler Deacon Hinds Chamberlin had Hodge living with the Native Americans along the Cattaraugus Creek.
“The Indians stared at us; Joe gave us a room where we should not be annoyed by Indian curiosity, and we stayed with him over night. All he had to spare us in the way of food was some dried venison. He had liquor, Indian goods and bought furs. Joe treated us with so much civility, that we stayed with him till near noon.”
By 1796, Hodge was in Buffalo living in a cabin just west of Cornelius Winney’s and a partner with him in the Indian trade.
1795: “At Buffalo, there lived a man by the name of Johnstone, the British Indian interpreter — also a Dutchman and his family, by the name of Middaugh, and an Indian trader by the name of Winne.”
William Johnston had arrived several years earlier in the Niagara Region. During the Revolutionary War, Lt. Johnston was a member of the notorious Butler’s Rangers, whose base of operations was from Fort Niagara and Fort Erie. During the winter of 1780-81, he and his half-brother Capt. Powell (see Cornelius Winney) stayed with the Seneca in the Buffalo Creek village. This was the same winter when the Gilbert family captives were spread out among the various villages, including Buffalo Creek.
By the 1790’s William Johnston was a Captain and a landowner. The land, given to him by the Senecas as a gift, encompassed several acres in Buffalo and made him the village’s first landowner as Winney, Hodge & Middaugh were squatters.
Martin Middaugh & Ezekiel Lane
The Middaughs, their daughter and son-in-law Ezekiel Lane seemed to have arrived in Buffalo at some point between 1792 & 1795. There are some, however, that contend Middaugh & Lane were the first Buffalo settlers, having arrived in 1784. Frank Severance, who edited many of the writings in the “Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society”, believed it and based it on an obituary. Ezekiel Lane lived to the ripe old age of 102, dying in the year 1848. His obituary, written in the April 8th edition of the Commercial Advertiser, said in part:
“Mr. Lane was the first white resident of this city and erected the first house in this place, in 1784.”
The “Journals of Henry A. S. Dearborn” offered some insight based on a conversation with Lane’s son in the 1830’s:
“Lane informed me he was the first white man born west of Utica. He had his birth in Buffalo in 1786, when there was only one other house beside his father’s, and that belonged to a Negro, who kept a little shop to trade with the Seneca Indians.”
The African-American was undoubtedly Joe Hodge.
Could this be true? Could Middaugh & Lane have arrived in and settled in Buffalo at so early a date? Possibly. However, Silas Hopkins wrote that in 1788, “The only white inhabitant in Lewiston… was Middaugh.” Another writer mentioned that when the Middaughs arrived in Lewiston, “They occupied one of the old houses left by the Mohawks.” It seems plausible that the Middaughs could have arrived in 1784, but most likely in Lewiston, not Buffalo. Could they have settled in Buffalo, moved to Lewiston and then returned? Certainly that is a possibility. However, it seems odd that none of the travelers through Buffalo Creek in the 1780’s — such as Horatio Jones & Rev. Samuel Kirkland - mentioned the existence of a white settler family. More than likely Ezekiel Lane confused his Lewiston home with that of the Buffalo residence, thus setting off this controversy.
To summarize, in this writer’s opinion concerning the settlers of Buffalo, Joe Hodge & William Johnston were the first to arrive in WNY, probably by the late 1770’s or the very early 1780’s. The Middaughs & Lanes more than likely did arrive in 1784 but in Lewiston, not Buffalo. And Cornelius Winney, who most likely arrived in WNY the latest of the four, was the first to settle in Buffalo.
History of the City of Buffalo (published by the Buffalo Evening News, 1908) p. 10-11
Local History Scrapbook, Volume 1 p. 6 (B&ECPL) excerpt from the Commercial Advertiser City Directory for 1847
Orsamus Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of WNY; p. 310, 311, 312, 314-315,321-322, 372;
Frank Severance, The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo, p. 47-49