William “Moll” Berczy

Johann Albrecht Ulrich Moll, alias William Berczy or William Moll Berczy, was born in Wallerstein, Ries, Bavaria, Germany in 1744.¬†Although, his parents were Protestant, Berczy was baptized in the Catholic Parish of St.Alban’s of Wallerstein. From information given to us by a German researcher, Hermann Strass, who has seen the baptismal entry in Latin (as done for all entries in those days), translated into English it gives us the following information:
Date: 10 December 1744
Child: Johannes Albrecht Ulrich
Parents: The noble Albrecht Theodor de Moll, not catholic, counselor and Maria Johanna, wife
Godfather: The honorable Johannes Ulrich Bernhard Dillmann, Mayor of the Town

He studied art in Vienna and Jena and had an adventurous life in eastern Europe.

In 1791, Berczy was in London and heard that a group led by Sir William Pulteney had purchased one and one quarter million acres of land in the Genesee area of New York State, just south of what is now Rochester. Berczy and others became interested and could see the potential for profit by bringing hard working settlers from Germany to the tract. After much difficulty, two vessels, the “Catharina” and the “Heinrich and Georg” with Berczy, his wife and family and some 220 settlers left Altona, Hamburg in May and June of 1792 for Philadelphia.

From Philadelphia, the settlers made their way to the Genesee lands and attempted to settle in and get title to their land. They opened the first inland north-south road between Williamsport and Painted Post — known as Williamson Road and currently Route 15. However, the arrangement was not satisfactory to Berczy and his settlers so some 60 families followed him to Upper Canada in 1794 to take advantage of free land offered by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. Most of these families settled on land in Markham Township by late 1794 after a brief stop over in York (Toronto). The men helped clear Yonge Street northward as part payment for the land.

Berczy remained in the Markham-Toronto area until about 1798, supervising the supply of rations to the settlers as there was a crop failure and much famine in 1795. During this time he also designed many of the commercial buildings in York. He continually pleaded with the government, both in York and London, England to turn over the remainder of the 64,000 acres of land Simcoe had promised him.

He moved to Quebec, and later Montreal, and supported his family and attempted to repay some of his debts, by painting portraits. In 1802, he returned to York and attempted to salvage what he could from his enterprise, alienating many of his settlers in the process. It was at this time he painted the portrait of Joseph Brant that now hangs in the National Gallery in Ottawa.

His later years were not good ones for Berczy and he died on a trip to New York City. It is reported that he was buried in New York in the Old Trinity Graveyard on 5 February 1813.