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Connecticut Western Reserve

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Connecticut's land claims in the Western United States

The Connecticut Western Reserve was a portion of land claimed by the Colony of Connecticut and later by the state of Connecticut in what is now mostly the northeastern region of Ohio. The Reserve had been granted to the Colony under the terms of its charter by King Charles II.[1]

Connecticut relinquished its claim to some of its western lands to the United States in 1786 following the American Revolutionary War and preceding the 1787 establishment of the Northwest Territory. Despite ceding sovereignty to the United States, Connecticut retained ownership of the eastern portion of its cession, south of Lake Erie. It sold much of this "Western Reserve" to a group of speculators who operated as the Connecticut Land Company; they sold it in portions for development by new settlers.[2] The phrase Western Reserve is preserved in numerous institutional names in Ohio, such as Western Reserve Academy, Case Western Reserve University, and Western Reserve Hospital.

In the 19th century, the Western Reserve "was probably the most intensely antislavery section of the country".[3] John Brown Jr. called it, in 1859, "the New England of the West".[4]


The Reserve encompassed all of the following Ohio counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Erie and Huron (see Firelands), Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Trumbull; and portions of Ashland, Mahoning, Ottawa, Summit, and Wayne.[5][6]


Map of the Western Reserve in 1826

Prior to the arrival of European colonists, the land surrounding the southern shore of Lake Erie was inhabited by the Erie people.[7] At the close of a war against the Iroquois from 1654 to 1656, the Erie were almost completely annihilated.[8] Their towns were destroyed, and any survivors were assimilated into neighboring tribes, mainly the Seneca.[8]

After the American Revolutionary War, Connecticut was forced by the federal government to surrender the Pennsylvania portion (Westmoreland County) of its "sea-to-sea grant" following the Pennamite–Yankee Wars. Nevertheless, the state held fast to its claim on the lands between the 41st and 42nd-and-2-minutes parallels that lay west of the Pennsylvania state border.

The claim within Ohio was to a 120-mile (190 km)-wide strip between Lake Erie and a line just south of present-day Youngstown, Akron, New London, and Willard, about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of present-day U.S. Highway 224. The claim beyond Ohio included parts of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. The eastern boundary of the reserve follows a true meridian along Ellicott's Line, the boundary with Pennsylvania. The western boundary veers more than four degrees from a meridian to maintain the 120-mile width, due to convergence.[2]

Connecticut gave up western land claims following the American Revolutionary War in exchange for federal assumption of its debt, as did several other states. From these concessions, the Articles of Confederation government organized the Northwest Territory (formally known as the "Territory Northwest of the River Ohio"). The deed of cession was issued on September 13, 1786. As population increased in portions of the Northwest Territory, new states were organized and admitted to the Union in the early 19th century.

Connecticut retained 3,366,921 acres (13,625.45 km2) in Ohio, which became known as the "Western Reserve".[2][9] The state sold the Western Reserve to the Connecticut Land Company in 1796 (or possibly 12 August,[10] 2 September,[2] or 5 September 1795[9]) for $1,200,000.[2][9][10] The Land Company were a group of investors who were mostly from Suffield, Connecticut. The initial eight men in the group (or possibly seven[2][10] or 35[9]) planned to divide the land into homestead plots and sell it to settlers from the east.

But the Indian titles to the Reserve had not been extinguished. Clear title was obtained east of the Cuyahoga River by the Greenville Treaty in 1795[11] and west of the river in the Treaty of Fort Industry in 1805.[12] The western end of the reserve included the Firelands or "Sufferers' Lands", 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) reserved for residents of several New England towns which had been destroyed by British-set fires during the Revolutionary War.

The next year, the Land Company sent surveyors led by Moses Cleaveland to the Reserve to divide the land into square townships, 5 miles (8.0 km) on each side (25 square miles (65 km2).[13] Cleaveland's team also founded the city of Cleveland along Lake Erie, which became the largest city in the region. (The first "a" was dropped; spelling of names was not standardized at the time.)

In 1798 surveyors laid out the Girdled Road, indicated by girdled trees, which ran from Cleveland to the Pennsylvania state line near Lake Erie.[14] A modern portion of Girdled Road still exists by that name.

The territory was originally named "New Connecticut" (later discarded in favor of "Western Reserve"), and settlers began to trickle in during the next few years. Youngstown was founded in 1796, Warren in 1798, Hudson and Ravenna in 1799, Ashtabula in 1803, and Stow in 1804.

Connecticut finally ceded sovereignty over the Western Reserve in 1800. The United States absorbed it into the Northwest Territory, which organized Trumbull County within the boundaries of the Reserve. Warren, Ohio is the former county seat of the Reserve and identifies itself as "the historical capital of the Western Reserve." Later, several more counties were carved out of the territory. The name "Western Reserve" survives in the area in various institutions such as the "Western Reserve Historical Society" and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The Western Reserve was arguably the most anti-slavery region of the country in the pre-Civil War period. Many Underground Railroad routes ended with a trip through the Western Reserve to a boat to cross Lake Erie into what is today Ontario. The three oldest sons of the abolitionist John BrownJohn Jr., Jason, and Owen—together with other participants in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, were all living in Ashtabula County, for security; the Governor of Ohio, William Dennison Jr., refused to honor Virginia's request for Owen's arrest and extradition.[15][16] A U.S. Marshall, attempting to serve a warrant requiring Owen to testify before a U.S. Senate committee, reported that without "an armed force" he could not be arrested; "in Ashtabula County...there is a secret and armed organization numbering several hundred." They proclaimed themselves safer there than in any other place in the U.S., or even in Canada.[17]

This area of Ohio became a center of resource development and industrialization through the mid-20th century. It was a center of the steel industry, receiving iron ore shipped through the Great Lakes from Minnesota, processing it into steel products, and shipping these products to the east. This industry stimulated the development of great freight lakers, as the steam ships were known, including the first steel ships in the 20th century. Railroads took over some of the freight and commodity transportation from the lake ships. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these cities attracted hundreds of thousands of European immigrants and migrants (both black and white) from the rural South to its industrial jobs.

Seeking Heritage Area designation[edit]

At the request of Congress in 2011, the National Park Service prepared a feasibility study for declaring the 14-county region of the Western Reserve as a National Heritage Area. This is a means to encourage broad-based preservation of such historical sites and buildings that are related to a large historical theme. Such assessment and designation has been significant for recognizing assets, and encouraging new development and businesses, including heritage tourism, often related to adaptive re-use of waterways, and buildings, as well as totally new endeavors. The United States has designated 49 National Heritage Areas, including two in Ohio: the Ohio Canal of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Aviation Heritage Area.[18]

The NPS study coordinator said that while the region had the historic assets, and there was considerable public support for such a designation, the Western Reserve lacked "a definitive coordinating entity or supporting group," which is required to gain Congressional approval.[18] If such a body develops in the future, it might seek federal designation as a Heritage Area.


The settlers in northern Ohio repeated the style of structures and the development of towns with which they were familiar in New England; many buildings in the new settlements were designed in the Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival styles.[19] Towns such as Aurora, Bath, Canfield, Chagrin Falls, Gates Mills, Hudson, Medina, Milan, Norwalk, Oberlin, Painesville, Poland, and Tallmadge exemplify the expression of these styles and traditional New England town planning. For instance, Cleveland's Public Square reflects the traditional New England central town green.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Western Reserve. Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (2020-10-05). Retrieved on 2020-10-05.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Knepper, George W (2002). The Official Ohio Lands Book (PDF). Auditor of the State of Ohio. pp. 23–26.
  3. ^ Wyatt-Brown, Bertram (1995). "'A Volcano Beneath a Mountain of Snow': John Brown and the Problem of Interpretation". In Finkleman, Paul (ed.). His Soul Goes Marching On. Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia. pp. 9–38, at p. 19. ISBN 0813915368.
  4. ^ "'Felon Feast' at Oberlin". Cleveland Daily Leader (Cleveland, Ohio). 13 Jan 1859. p. 2 – via newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Western Reserve History". Fiscalofficer.cuyahogacounty.us. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
  6. ^ "Finding aid for the Ashland and Wayne County, Ohio Deeds". Ead.ohiolink.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
  7. ^ White, Marian E. (1971). "Ethnic Identification and Iroquois Groups in Western New York and Ontario". Ethnohistory. 18 (1): 19–38. doi:10.2307/481592. JSTOR 481592.
  8. ^ a b Bélanger, Claude. "Quebec History". faculty.marianopolis.edu. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  9. ^ a b c d Upton, Harriet Taylor (1910). Cutler, Harry Gardner (ed.). History of the Western Reserve. Vol. 1. New York: Lewis Publishing Company. pp. 10–11.
  10. ^ a b c Peters, William E. (1918). Ohio Lands and Their Subdivision. W.E. Peters. p. 153.
  11. ^ Stat. 49 - Text of Treaty of Greenville Library of Congress
  12. ^ Stat. 87 - Text of Treaty of Fort Industry Library of Congress
  13. ^ Elsewhere in Ohio, most townships are 6 miles (9.7 km) on each side (36 square miles (93 km2)), following the guidelines of the US Land Ordinance of 1785.
  14. ^ Williams Brothers (1879). "Chapter VI: Pioneer Events". History of Geauga and Lake Counties, Ohio. p. 21. The following are the names of the townships which this road passed through, as they now stand upon the maps: beginning at the Pennsylvania line, the first town is Conneaut, Ashtabula county, the second is Shefield, the third is Plymouth, the fourth Austinburg, and the fifth Harpersfield. It seemed to deflect to the south, and pass across a corner of Trumbull township; then passing into Geauga, across the township of Thompson; thence into the town of Le Roy, in Lake County. The road across this township is open and traveled at this time. Passing through Concord township, it crossed the road leading from Painesville to Chardon, about a mile south of Wilson's Corners, at a place called, fifty years ago, the 'Log Tavern,' and across the northwest part of Kirtland. The east end of the road at Pennsylvania was likely on or near modern Underridge Road according to a historic plaque.
  15. ^ Letcher, John; Dennison, William (March 14, 1860). Doc. No. LIX. Communication from the governor of Virginia enclosing letters from the governor of Ohio relative to requisitions for fugitives from justice. [Richmond, Virginia].{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ Hinton, Richard J. (1894). John Brown and his men; with some account of the roads they traveled to reach Harper's Ferry. Boston: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 554–555. Archived from the original on May 25, 2021. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  17. ^ "Armed Rebellion in Ohio". Shepherdstown Register. Shepherdstown, West Virginia. 5 May 1860. p. 1 – via VirginiaChronicle.
  18. ^ a b "Western Reserve loses bid as heritage area" Archived 2016-10-31 at the Wayback Machine, Akron Beacon Journal, June 18, 2011, retrieved November 29, 2012
  19. ^ Kaplan, Johnna (August 17, 2016). "Northeast Ohio is Built Like New England Because It Used to Be Owned by Connecticut. From architecture to namesakes". Atlas Obscura.


Further reading

Connecticut State Library (CSL) collection
  • The Public Records of the State of Connecticut [HistRef ConnDoc G25 1776-]. This multi-volume set contains the record of transactions of the Connecticut General Assembly. Each volume covers a given time period and has an index. Researchers interested in the Western Lands should consult these volumes to gain knowledge of the legislative actions and petitions granted by the Connecticut General Assembly.
  • Burke, Thomas Aquinas. Ohio Lands: A Short History. [Columbus, OH]: Auditor of State, c1997 [CSL call number HistRef HD 243 .O3 B87 1997].
  • Cherry, Peter Peterson. The Western Reserve and Early Ohio. Akron, OH: R. L. Fouse, 1921 [CSL call number F 495 .C52].
  • Fedor, Ferenz. The Yankee Migration to the Firelands. s.l.: Fedor, 1976? [CSL call number F 497 .W5 F43 1976].
  • Mathews, Alfred. Ohio and Her Western Reserve, With a Story of Three States Leading to the Latter, From Connecticut, by Way of Wyoming, Its Indian Wars and Massacre. New York: D. Appleton, 1902 [CSL call number F 491 .M42].
  • Mills, William Stowell. The Story of the Western Reserve of Connecticut. New York: Printed for the author by Brown & Wilson Press [ca. 1900] [CSL call number F 497 .W5 M6].
  • Peters, William E. Ohio Lands and Their Subdivision. Athens, OH: W. E. Peters, 1918 [CSL call number F 497 .W5 P47 1918].
  • Rice, Harvey. Pioneers of the Western Reserve. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1883 [CSL call number: F 497 .W5 R5 1883].
  • Upton, Harriet Taylor. History of the Western Reserve. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1910 [CSL call number: F 497 .W5 U7]. Volume 1, online Volume 2, online
  • Wickham, Gertrude Van Rensselaer. Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve. [s.l.]: Whipporwill, [197- ] [CSL call number F 497 .W5 W63 1970z].
Internet archive
Special topics
Church history

External links[edit]