History of African-Americans in Buffalo, NY

Joseph ("Black Joe") Hodge

Joseph ("Black Joe") Hodge

By Nancy Blumenstalk Mingus
Excerpts from
Buffalo: Good Neighbors, Great Architecture
, by Nancy Blumenstalk Mingus. Pub. by
Arcadia Publishing 2003

Although they did develop forts and trading posts, the French explorers did not build permanent residences in the area. Depending on the source you choose to believe, this honor fell to

These individuals may have been here prior to 1790

There is no dispute, however, that by 1795, when La Rochefoucault Liancourt visited Buffalo, there were already at least four houses belonging to Winney, Johnston, Lane, and Middaugh.

According to Joseph Landon, who was a member of a 1796 surveying party, Jesse Skinner and Hodge were also here.

Another source says that Asa Ransom was a resident by 1796, as were John Palmer and Sylvanus Maybee by 1798.

Joseph ("Black Joe") Hodge

Joseph Hodge was a former slave who had been captured by the Seneca Indians during the Revolutionary War. He was released in 1784, married a Seneca woman, and they settled in the area sometime prior to 1792. They lived in a log cabin near Winney.

Hodge is also known as Joe Hodges and "Black Joe,"

Hodge was a tavern operator / Indian trader. According to some, Hodge was a partner of Winney's and a resident since 1771.

Since Hodge was fluent in the Seneca tongue, he was an active Indian trader and sometimes functioned as interpreter, too. In 1796, he was hired as a guide and interpreter for Moses Cleaveland's surveying party working west of Buffalo to Conneaut Creek near present day Cleveland, Ohio.

Some reports say that Hodge and his wife later moved to the Cattaraugus Creek Reservation, where he died, yet others claim he moved on to Canada. Regardless of where he went,he was no longer in Buffalo by 1810.

There are also rumors that Hodge was involved in the Underground Railroad activity in Buffalo, but this isn't likely unless it was in the very early 1800s and not the more traditional Underground Railroad time frame.

Text Copyright © 2003 Nancy Blumenstalk Mingus


Siting Joseph Hodges’ Cabin and the Original Buffalo Settlement

By Tara Mancini

Buffalo Rising, January 12, 2022

Coming along the lake one would need to have either a canoe or a flat-bottom French “bateaux” to make it over the sandbar that was deposited at the mouth of the Buffalo river. The inability to access the river with a larger boat likely delayed the development of the area by outsiders. The sandbar worked as an economic barrier to entry, that until a solution was developed secured the area for the Senecas, Wenney, Joseph Hodges, and William Johnston. 

The area that downtown Buffalo now occupies was once heavily wooded, with rolling hills, a healthy watershed and plump quail, pheasant and turkeys running about. Butterflies such as the Cloudless Sulphur yellow, the Karner Blue, Silvery Blue, and American Copper fluttered about. It was a little paradise. And like the magical town of Brigadoon, Scotland, every winter  the area became cut off from the rest of the world with the snowfall. The Senecas, two  Dutchmen, an African, and a Briton, plus their wives and children were sealed off from outsiders. 

Up until the time the surveyors came in 1796, travelers looking to relocate from Albany, Syracuse, and Rochester, kept going past the turnoff towards Buffalo Creek, and headed onward to Lewiston to the north. These families were looking for higher populations in which to live.  Most people traveling through the area for fur trading came via water through Ontario and up the Niagara River. Then to the footpath around Niagara Falls, and back onto the water, onward and up the river to Lake Erie. There, during the 1790s, they would have encountered this small outpost of people. 

Map found on buffaloah.com

It had to be over 10 years ago when I found a document of interest that I will soon divulge to you. At first I simply used it to get a sense of the population. I did not readily realized its significance. You see, I thought at the time, the location of William Johnston’s, Winney’s, and Hodges’ homes were known, as in we could GPS it. While the document that I am referring to is not a map, it does account for every non-indigenous person living along the shores of the Buffalo River and their approximate location relative to one another.

For the record, there were 12 households when Ellicott arrived at the mouth of the Buffalo River, including Joseph Hodges and his wife, Midaugh with Lane, Johnston, and the Palmers. Winney was gone when Ellicott arrived. It is interesting to note that many more of the original settlers came earlier than previously thought. Which would lead to problems, as people were now having to pay rent to the Holland Land Company for land they previously thought was in the hands of the Senecas.

Now, hold on to your horses, because I will share this undisclosed document with you all… eventually. But I thought a bit of a scavenger hunt may be of interest due to the recent snow.

While this particular document is not a map, one other document – the original “field notes” of the survey – actually does pinpoint Winney’s house. If it really is where it says it is, then when the Hamburg Canal was put in, surveys may have missed it.

Fortunately, Main Street already existed, and the Palmers already had a post located on that street. As for Hodges? His home appears to have been roughly between the two, although there is no official documentation. This is the mystery that is currently unfolding. Is it possible that we will finally be able to identify the exact location of Hodge’s house in 2022? If so, with dirt fill often being brought in and placed on top of old sites, a portion of the original site may still exists.

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