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Spalding Family Papers

An inventory of their papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: JEJ
Date: Feb 1969

Biographical History

The Spalding, Evans and Ellicott families (some of whom were Quakers) were prominent in the early history of western New York, and various family members were involved with the Holland Land Company, the Erie Canal, agriculture, and the temperance and anti-slavery movements. Their rise coincided with a decision by the directors of the Holland Land Company to sell all lands in the so-called Holland Purchase, a vast tract between Lake Ontario and the Pennsylvania border. Pressure on the American frontier forced this decision upon Dutch investors, no less than European turmoil around 1800, when "Empires were daily swinging from their moorings" (Batavia Times, September 15, 1826). At the turn of the century, therefore, the Holland Land Company contracted with Americans to dispose of the land.

The first resident company agent was Joseph Ellicott who had served the Holland Land Company as a surveyor in Pennsylvania and New York. He was succeeded by Jacob S. Otto, who died in office in 1826. Ellicott's nephew, David E. Evans, held the post for the next ten years, and during this time he managed to parcel out more land than his two predecessors combined. Peter J. VanHall served briefly in 1837, but at this juncture the Holland Land Company's control over the remnant of the Purchase was disrupted by world depression, proprietary mismanagement, and armed debtors converging on the land office.

In the process of developing the Holland Purchase Joseph Ellicott founded Buffalo and Batavia. He also encouraged the construction of turnpikes and canals across western New York through his political influence and an offer of 100,000 acres to the Erie Canal Commission. At the end of his life of prosperity, power and bachelorhood, Ellicott divided his wealth among several brothers and sisters, three of whom had married into the Evans family.

David E. Evans, son of Rachel Ellicott and Lewis Evans, succeeded Joseph Ellicott in the management of the family fortune. He lost much of it in the panic of 1837, however. His son, Ellicott, pursued an academic career after attending Harvard. Ellicott Evans became a professor of law and political economy at Hamilton College, where he remained until the early 1880's.

The Ellicott and Evans families were united to the Spaldings of Lockport, New York, when Charles Evans, another son of David E. Evans, married Alice Jane Spalding. Her father, Lyman A. Spalding, was a significant member of the Lockport community after its foundation. By marrying Amy Pound in 1824 he combined two prominent Quaker families owning valuable property along the Erie Canal.

For further information, refer to the following family trees:

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Spalding Family Papers consist of correspondence, legal and financial records, journals and miscellany. While the legal and financial documents relate to the Ellicott properties, and many of the letters were written to members of the Evans family, the most significant items in the collection are the journals of Lyman A. Spalding. Genealogical charts, constructed from the Spalding Memorial (1897) and information in these papers, follow this description.

Correspondence spans the years 1804-1887, and while letters of all three families are present, the greater part revolve around the figures of David E. Evans in the early period and his son, Ellicott, in the later period. The letters are arranged chronologically and an index is provided below.

Some of the gathering political controversy between old Clintonians and new Bucktails can be detected in exchanges among Joseph Ellicott, Martin Van Buren, David E. Evans and William L. Marcy, but most of the correspondence deals with commercial and family matters.

The Lyman A. Spalding Journals, which begin in 1832, contain a wealth of observations about farming, merchandising, canal commerce, politics and reform over a period of fifty years. Passages from this continuous narrative indicate that Spalding was a sensitive diarist with a wide range of interests. He knew or saw from a distance many prominent Americans of his day -- Benjamin Lundy, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Martin VanBuren, Theodore Dwight Weld, Gerrit Smith, Horace Greeley -- and he gave all a line or a paragraph in his diary. The style is spare but artfully appropriate for the recording of everyday events in rural New York. Spalding took part in the temperance and abolition movements and is said to have operated in the underground railroad.

Legal and financial documents consist of contracts; court judgements; two indentures (1800 and 1804), one for a nine-year-old boy, the other for a seven year-old girl, both apprenticed to Erastus Spalding; memoranda (1819) about a proposed court house, jail and adjoining commons in Batavia; two copies of a formal claim against Paul Busti by Joseph Ellicott (1825) together with a legal opinion in the dispute (1822); autographed military commissions of David E. Evans by Governor Daniel D. Thompson (1812), and Charles Evans by Governor Horatio Seymour (1864); deeds, mostly for the properties of Joseph Ellicott and David E. Evans; miscellaneous receipts and vouchers; and wills, codicils and property inventories of Joseph Ellicott and his sister, Rachel Ellicott Evans.

Miscellany includes old newspapers from Batavia, Buffalo and Lockport; offprints and broadsides, biographical data; ephemera, which consist of pencil sketches, photographs, programs and verse; a lot map of Ellicott and Evans properties in Buffalo. There is also a copy of the Holland Land Company map of 1804. Newspaper clippings once laid in among the leaves of the Spalding journals have been placed in folders following the journals, while others remain firmly laid into the journals at front and rear.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence and Journals are arranged chronologically. Legal and financial papers and Miscellany are arranged alphabetically.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Ellicott family -- Archives.
Evans family -- Archives.
Evans, David Ellicott, 1788-1850.
Evans, Ellicott.
Spalding family -- Archives.
Spalding, Lyman A., 1800-

Corporate Bodies

Holland Land Company.


Erie County (N.Y.)
Lockport (N.Y.)
New York (State) -- History.
Niagara County (N.Y.)

Genres and Forms


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Spalding Family Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Bulk of collection purchased, 1968.

1888 correspondence, gift of Len Chaitin, 2015.

Table of Contents



Legal & financial papers


Selected index to correspondence


Selected index to correspondence