Western Reserve

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WESTERN RESERVE. The Western Reserve, a part of northeastern Ohio lying along the south shore of Lake Erie and once belonging to Connecticut, is an irregular quadrilateral—with Conneaut, Youngstown, Willard, and Port Clinton at the corners. The charter that the Connecticut river towns obtained from Charles II in 1662 fixed the colony's boundaries north and south by parallels extending westward to the "South Sea" (Pacific Ocean). With royal disdain for the inconveniences of geography, King Charles granted parts of the same region to the Duke of York and to Admiral William Penn, while King James had already given Virginia a basis for a claim to all the territory included in Connecticut's boundaries beyond Pennsylvania.

Following the American Revolution, these overlapping claims left the thirteen states to face serious territorial disputes. Small states without western lands, particularly Maryland, were loath to enter a union with great inequalities in public lands. Congress proposed that states cede their western lands, all or in part, to the Confederation, promising to admit the territories as new states on equal terms with the original thirteen. The states accepted the plan, launching the Confederation.

In 1786 Connecticut ceded its lands west of Pennsylvania except for a portion, the Western Reserve, that it attempted to keep as recompense for its relatively small size. It proceeded at once to plan for an advantageous disposal of its western estate. In 1792 it assigned 500,000 acres from the western end to the inhabitants of the Connecticut towns along the Long Island Sound as compensation for losses inflicted by British raids during the revolution. The "Firelands," as they called this western region, drew a steady stream of immigrants from Connecticut. In 1795 the Connecticut Land Company purchased the remaining portion of the Western Reserve, estimated at the time at more than 3 million acres.

Moses Cleaveland, one of the purchasers and general agent of the company, went west in 1796 to supervise a survey and other preparations for sale and settlement, finding a heavily forested area along the south shore of Lake Erie that was long unfavorable for extensive sale. The absence of any form of local government also for many years created a barrier to settlement. In 1800 Connecticut and the United States arranged by a joint agreement that the Western Reserve should be attached as a county to the newly formed Ohio Territory. Governor Arthur St. Clair gave it the name Trumbull County and proceeded to organize local government. Later, particularly after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the population grew, resulting in Trumbull County's division and redivision into multiple counties.

The term "Western Reserve" ceased to have any territorial meaning and later lingered in the names of various commercial and banking enterprises, or in such instances as the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Western Reserve University. But Connecticut's Western Reserve developed as an extension of New England into the West. Names of families, towns, architecture, and social customs carried evidence of this transfer of population from the East and marked Western Reserve apart from other parts of the country until later industrialization and immigration blurred its origins.


Campbell, Thomas F., and Edward M. Miggins, eds. The Birth of Modern Cleveland, 1865–1930. Cleveland, Ohio: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1988.

Lupold, Harry F., and Gladys Haddad, eds. Ohio's Western Reserve: A Regional Reader. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1988.

Van Tassel, David D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. 2d. ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Elbert J.Benton/c. w.

See alsoCleveland ; Colonial Charters ; Connecticut ; Pennsylvania ; Western Lands ; Duke of York's Proprietary .

Western Reserve

views updated May 17 2018

Western Reserve

WESTERN RESERVE. About three million acres in the northeast corner of modern Ohio were reserved by Connecticut when that state surrendered claims to all other western lands in 1786. A 500,000-acre tract known as the Fire Lands (later the counties of Huron, Erie, and the eastern tip of Ottawa) was used to repay citizens of Danbury, Fairfield, Norwalk, New Haven, and New London for war losses.

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Western Reserve