The Connecticut Western Reserve and the Origin of Cleveland, Ohio Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Connecticut Western Reserve and the Origin of Cleveland, Ohio

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In 1776, the United States was born. The small area known as Connecticut went from being a colony to being a state in the young nation.

The western borders of the new country were unclear, as nobody knew how far the land stretched or what was where. As a result, some states claimed lands directly to the west of them that were territories of the United States. In theory, this could have resulted in a state on the East Coast that bordered the Mississippi River. Denver could today have been part of Virginia.

The colonies that had just been freed from British rule had little colonies of their own. Sometimes these claims were just an extension of the state's borders. Sometimes they were nowhere near the state that claimed them.

Northern Ohio is just about west of Connecticut1, though to get there from Connecticut you must go through New York and Pennsylvania2. Connecticut claimed much of Ohio, as did some other states.

However, the Northwest Territory was being formed before the turn of the century. The Federal Government asked the states nicely to give up claims to their western territory. Most did, and Connecticut gave up most of its Ohio land in 1786, but held onto a chunk west of Pennsylvania that sat on Lake Erie and included the Cuyahoga River Valley. This was called the Connecticut Western Reserve.

The western border of the Reserve was from present day Sandusky (near Kelleys Island) to a point about 50 miles south. The northern border was Lake Erie, and the eastern border was Pennsylvania. The southern border was simply a straight line from the bottom of the western border over until it hit Pennsylvania. Today, this area would include parts of 13 counties, and such major cities as Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Sandusky.

Connecticut gave land in the western part of the Reserve to its citizens who had lost property in the Revolution. These 500,000 or so acres were called the Firelands3. There, Connecticut was able to offer its citizens a fresh start. A company called The Ohio Corporation handed out the land and got it ready for settlement4. The most western part of the Firelands was given to Ohio Indians in a treaty. However, they would eventually be forced off even that small bit of land by a growing thirst for land by the Americans.

The eastern portion of the Reserve was sold by the state to help pay for Connecticut's educational system. The Connecticut Land Company purchased land worth 1.2 million dollars in 1795 from the state at 40 cents an acre. Today, Western Reserve is still a fairly common geographical descriptor for north-eastern Ohio. For instance, there is a higher learning institute in Cleveland called Case Western Reserve University.


The Connecticut Land Company sent a surveyor named Moses Cleaveland, who had invested heavily5 in the corporation, to survey and map the newly-bought land and establish some towns. He had been a General in the Revolution, and had served in the Connecticut State Legislature when the Constitution was ratified by that state.

When he arrived at Buffalo, New York, he convinced several Iroquois chiefs that their land around the Cuyahoga River had been lost in the Treaty of Greenville with General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne. He also had to convince other tribes as he met them in the Western Reserve with gifts. His party advanced and surveyed safely.

On 22 July, 1796, Cleaveland met the mouth of the Cuyahoga River at Lake Erie, and decided that because of its geographic features, that area would be a perfect capital city of the Connecticut Western Reserve. A town was quickly established, and he named it after himself.

The name Cleaveland changed to Cleveland through an error in either a map or a newspaper6. Cleaveland seems not to have cared much for Ohio, because after he went to survey it once, he never returned, dying in Connecticut in 1806.

Connecticut gave up the Western Reserve on 10 July, 1800, and it became Trumbull County in the Northwest Territory. It would eventually become part of the US state Ohio.

1At least, it looked that way according to maps of the time. Now we know that Connecticut is slightly more northerly than northern Ohio.2In fact, Connecticut claimed a large section of Pennsylvania land, and refused to give it up, causing a conflict called the Yankee-Pennamite Wars.3Many of those who had lost their property had their homes burnt down by British soldiers. The area was initially called the fire-sufferers' land, but was later shortened to 'Firelands'.4Most families who received land did not actually move there. In fact, in 1820, there were only 100 families in the Firelands area.536,200 dollars to be exact.6Some stories say that there was a mistake in recording the spelling of the name on the map of the survey group. Other stories say that the editor of the city's first newspaper, The Cleveland Advertiser, took out the 'a' so that the newspaper's name would fit at the top of the paper.

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