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Oziel Smith; Builder, Soldier, Indian Captive

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Oziel Smith; Builder, Soldier, Indian Captive
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Date Added
8/30/2020 10:12:16 AM
Historical People
Gift of
Robert Underhill
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Oziel Smith (1784 - 1836) was born in Clarendon, the 4th of 8 children born to Lieut. Oziel Smith Sr. (1740 - 1818) and his 2nd wife Margaret Walton (1756 - 1793).  His father had served in the Revolutionary War in Vermont.  About 1800 the family moved to Augusta, NY and then from there to Livonia, NY.  

In 1806 or 1807 Oziel Jr. struck out on his own heading to Buffalo which wasn't much more than a small village at the time.  He went to work as a carpenter and in 1810 built the first courthouse in Buffalo.  He bought property and built a crude home as can be seen in the 1813 map in the cover photo, just a couple parcels to the left of the courthouse.  In 1809 he married Phoebe Norton (1789 - 1890) who was living in Lima, NY, near Livonia where Oziel had lived before going to Buffalo.  He and Phoebe had 5 children; 3 of which died young and 1 of which lived to be 102.

Oziel served in the military during the War of 1812.  The war caused him to relocate his family inland to Williamsville which today is a suburb of Buffalo.  His home in Buffalo as well as the courthouse he built were burned by the British in late 1813.  Oziel was taken captive by Indians fighting with the British.  He subsequently escaped but with the British on the march Phoebe, thinking Oziel was dead, had fled Williamsville with their toddler Julie to her sister's home in Gorham, NY.  It was some time before they were reunited. 

With the war's end, Oziel went to work building a new courthouse amongst other buildings and he began a career as a public official including being a State Representative.  Oziel had many business interests, primarily in Williamsville but also in Buffalo and in 1828 he built the Mansion House (undated photo below) which was a fashionable hotel and ballroom that was In Williamsville for 120 years.   In 1832 he built the Eagle House Tavern (sketch below) in Williamsville which he and Phoebe operated.  The building is still there housing a restaurant, holding the longest continually held liquor license in NY State. 

In 1836 at age 52 Oziel died of the effects of "rose cancer".  What exactly that was is not clear.  The British Medical Journal in 1858 described the term as coming from the "bright florid color of the skin".  Phoebe went on to live to be 100 and continued to manage various business interests until late in life. 

After Oziel's death the Rev. Stephen Rensselaer Smith wrote about him:

"Mr. Smith was a tall, well proportioned man of florid complexion, gray eyes and fine abilities.  One who knew him personally said that among the enterprising of the early village community, the most forceful, the man who did the most for the town and county alike, was Oziel Smith, His early death was an irreparable loss".  Although "his early death was a heavy affliction to this family', "he left a handsome property."

A full biography on Oziel, his family, and the events surrounding his life can be seen at the link above.

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