Jacob S Ellis (1820-1902)
Jacob Ellis, who died in 1902, played a vital part in the economic development of Tottenville in the late 1800’s. The Ellis Shipyard, at the foot of Main Street east of Totten’s Dock, provided jobs for over 40 years in Tottenville.
In 1898 there were eight boatyards in Tottenville, declining after 1900 as steel replaced wood in ship construction. Along will Ellis, there was Rutan, Butler, Sleight, Nass, Tracy, O’Boyle, and the biggest shipyard, Brown across from Ward’s Point, off Hopping Avenue . World War I brought another massive expansion in shipbuilding to Tottenville, with the most notable shipyard being Cossey. Opened in 1908, this 20 acre plant was the center of Tottenville shipbuilding for 22 years until 1930. Its 250 workers built 1,149 boats.
Jacob Ellis learned his trade from William Henry Totten of Tottenville and William H. Webb, of New York City. Totten’s Shipyard was on the waterfront of the Arthur Kill next to his brother John’s general store and dock at the end of Main Street .
William Smith Pelletreau writes that after working as a journeyman in the shipbuilding trade, Ellis began his own business. “In this undertaking he met with immediate success,” Pelletreau writes, “as a logical result of his skill and enterprise and his honorable methods of transacting all his business affairs.”
Jacob Ellis was a highly respected citizen of Tottenville and he and his family were members of the Baptist Church in Tottenville. He was devoted to his family and a conscientious reader. He and his wife Sarah had three children: Phoebe, Hampton, and Sadee. After an education at the local Tottenville schools, Ellis’ only son Hampton, at 18, attended Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn for two years. At 20, Hampton joined his father at the shipyard, learning the shipbuilding trade from him, continuing on in the family business of Ellis & Son.