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Western Reserve History

Recorder Cuyahoga County Ohio


Cleveland Public Square - 1859


As Americans we are interested in the history and traditions of the community in which we live. On becoming Recorder of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, there came into my custody land records for the County dating back to the time when the first settlers began settling northeastern Ohio. Included in those documents was a paper prepared by one of my predecessors, Donald F. Lybarger, written in 1934, which provides a general overview of our history as residents of Cuyahoga County. I have attempted to provide the booklet in its entirety while updating and adding some other sections that I think you will enjoy.

The so-called Western Reserve comprises the Northeastern corner of the state of Ohio. Its southern boundary extends 120 miles westward from the Pennsylvania line along the 41st parallel of north latitude. It includes all of the counties of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Huron, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Trumbull; and part of Ashland, Mahoning, Ottawa and Summit counties. In all it contains about 5,280 square miles and is larger than the states of Delaware, Connecticut or Rhode Island.


The Origin of the Western Reserve

The Mound Builders

Centuries ago there lived along Lake Erie, and throughout Ohio, a race of men who, for want of a better name, are called the Mound Builders. Their origin and destiny are uncertain. In the absence of any definite evidence of human life in America prior to the glacial period, it is now generally believed that the progenitors of the Native American race belonged to the Mongoloid branch of the human family. Probably they came from Asia by way of the Bering Strait, migrated south, and then in the course of time worked their way northward and settled throughout what is now the United States.

In the fertile valleys they established their home sites, tilled the soil, and built mounds of earthworks, the remains of which bear witness of their presence. The mounds which they constructed were of three types: (1) for the purpose of burial, (2) as the foundation for dwellings, and (3) effigies for religious purposes, figures of serpents, birds, animals and humans. Their fortifications were located at strategic points which furnished a natural defense against attack. 

The Mound Builders hunted, fished and engaged in agriculture, using implements of stone, shell and bone. They probably carried on a limited trade with one another. Copper from Lake Superior, shells and sharks teeth from the Gulf, mica and quartz from the mountains, and pearls and other ornaments were bartered among them. They decorated pottery, tanned leather, and were acquainted with spinning and weaving. 

That the Mound Builders inhabited the southern shore of Lake Erie is evidenced by the finding of mounds and fortifications in northeastern Ohio. Numerous remains have been located in Cuyahoga County. As late as 1840 a mound was visible on the southeast corner of Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street, in Cleveland. Fortifications were found on the Cuyahoga river near Newburg and Independence, in a bend of Rocky River near Weymouth, and elsewhere in the Western Reserve. Prior to the dawn of history it was the Mound Builders who occupied the land on which Cleveland and its neighboring cities of Northern Ohio now stand.


Early Native American Settlement

The Mound Builders had vanished long before the European traders entered the territory. The early Americans who claimed the land at that time had no knowledge of the Mound Builders or their culture. At that time the southeastern shore of Lake Erie was occupied by a tribe of American settlers called the Eries, or the Cat Nation. They possessed the land eastward from the Cuyahoga River as far as the Genessee River in New York. West of the Cuyahoga, the land was held at various times by the Wyandots, Ottawas, Delawares, Chippewas and Antastas. The Miami tribe was the first of these tribes to reside in Ohio, coming in the late 1660’s and settling in the southern part of what would eventually become Ohio.

The Eries were a proud and powerful people, but in 1655 they were defeated and annihilated by the Iroquouis, or Five Nations, who lived in the Finger Lake region of New York. Thereafter the Iroquois reserved this part of Ohio as a hunting ground and annually made expeditions westward for the purpose of replenishing their game supply. This unique concept of land possession was the basis for the various Native American claims to the land of the Northwest Territory. The Native American’s claim to Ohio lands rested upon this type of conquest and possession. They did not claim ownership of the land, as the Europeans did, rather they claimed the right to use the land for various purposes. Therefore, different boundaries existed for hunting, fishing, farming and villages. These overlaps of claims often led to wars among the various tribes.

Regardless of the conflicting claims of European nations to the Ohio country, the Native Americans considered it theirs and more or less held title and possession until their rights were extinguished by formal treaty. After the battle of Fallen Timbers, at Greenville, on August 3, 1765, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne dictated a treaty whereby the Native Americans ceded their claims to all territory from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River eastward as far as Mercer County, Pennsylvania, and southwesterly to the Ohio River and the Indiana line. The consideration was $20,000.00 in goods and $9,500 annually for five years.

In 1795, in another Treaty of Greenville, 16,930,417 acres of the lands still occupied and controlled by the Native Americans in Northern Ohio, as provided by the Treaty of 1765, were ceded by eleven tribes residing in that area to the United States. The treaty granted the tribes their traditional right to hunt and fish in an area of land that stretched from the west side of the Cuyahoga River to the Ohio border.


The Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument

Over the years, through a series of subsequent treaties, the remaining tribes of Native Americans ceded their rights to the government. In a twist of irony, it was the first tribe in Ohio, the Miami’s, who were the last Native American tribe to cede their rights to a substantial amount of land in this state. On October 6, 1818, by a treaty made at St. Mary’s, Ohio, as an amendment to the previous Treaty of Maumee Rapids, the Miami, along with the Wyandot, Seneca and Shawnee, ceded over 297,000 acres to the government. It wasn’t until March 17, 1842, at the Treaty of Upper Sandusky, that the last group of Wyandot living in Ohio gave up their claim to 109,000 acres in Northwestern Ohio and moved to a reservation in what is now modern-day Kansas.


Chief Tarhe’s Grave - Wyandot County, Chief of the Wyandot’s

The Claim of France

In 1679 LaSalle, the celebrated French explorer, accompanied by the Franciscan friar, Father Hennepin, and thirty-two others, set sail for the French for the first time on the waters of Lake Erie. His craft was a 60-ton vessel called the Griffin. In 1682 La Salle further explored the Ohio country and perhaps crossed the northeastern part of the state on his way to the Ohio River. On the basis of this and other explorations France founded her claim to all of the land drained by the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the tributaries of these rivers. Time passed and the French advanced westward. One thing, which retarded their settlement in this part of the country, was the enmity of the Iroquois. After 1690, when peace was made between the French and this powerful tribe, the French began to occupy the Great Lakes region and the territory west of the Alleghenies. A fort was built at Detroit in 1701. In 1749 they took formal possession of the country on the banks of Ohio.

The earliest known European establishment of any sort in Cuyahoga County was made around 1752 when the French set up a trading post on the west bank of the Cuyahoga about six miles south of the lake. By 1754 the French had built forts at Niagara, Presque Isle (opposite Erie), Le Boeuf (French Creek), (Pittsburgh). Thus they had completely surrounded the English colonies on the west.

This led to the French and Indian War, which lasted until 1760. The conflict ended with the complete victory of the English. When the formal treaty of peace was made in 1763, France ceded Canada and practically all of her territory in North America to England. Thus title and possession of all western territory, including Ohio, passed from France forever and the French claim to northeastern Ohio was extinguished.

English Claims

The origin of English claims and settlements in North America is of importance in connection with the question of title to the Western Reserve. It was Henry VII who sent out the first English expedition to explore the new world. John and Sebastian Cabot in 1497 reached Nova Scotia and later explored the coast as far south as Chesapeake Bay. As a result of their journeys and those of subsequent navigators, England claimed all of North America from Florida to the St. Lawrence. In 1606 King James I chartered two companies, granting to them licenses to establish settlements between the 34th and 45th parallels of north latitude. The first permanent English settlement was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. In 1620 the king granted a charter to "The Council of Plymouth" and thereby conveyed to it the land between the 40th and 48th parallels of north latitude, in other words, from Pennsylvania to Quebec. In 1630 the Council deeded its holdings in the new world to Robert, Earl of Warwick. A description of the territory conveyed follows:
 “Being all that part of New England in America which lies and extends itself from a river there called Narraganset, the space of forty leagues upon a straight line near the sea shore, toward Southwest, west and by South of West as the coast lieth towards Virginia, accounting three English miles to the league, all and singular, the lands and hereditaments, whatsoever, lying and between the boundaries aforesaid North and South, in latitude and longitude, and within all the breadth aforesaid, throughout all the mainland’s there, from the Western Ocean to the South Seas." On March 19, 1631 the Earl of Warwick conveyed the land to Lord Say-and-Seal and associates. Thereafter settlements were made and separate civil governments established at Hartford and New Haven.

The description used in the above conveyances is important in spite of its vagueness. Concerning it Rufus Choate aptly said, "The commissioners (chosen to determined the boundary) might as well have decided that the line was bounded on the north by a bramble bush, on the south by a blue–jay, and on the east by a hive of bees at swarming time, and on the west by five hundred foxed with firebrands tied to their tails." The important consideration, so far as northern Ohio is concerned, is that the western boundary was to be the Pacific Ocean. Thus was laid the basis of the claim of Connecticut to all land lying in this particular latitude in the United States.

In 1662 Charles II issued a charter to John Winthrop and others for a unified colonial government in Connecticut. The land granted lay principally between the 41st and 42nd parallels of north latitude and extended from sea to seal. This was the famous charter of Connecticut, which in time of peril in 1687 was concealed for safe keeping in an oak tree, thereafter called the "Charter Oak." In 1689 this charter was confirmed by William and Mary of England.

Other claims to the Ohio country were advanced prior to the Revolution. In 1726 seven sachems among three of the Iroquois tribes deeded to the king a strip of land 60 miles wide, extending from the foot of Lake Ontario, all along that lake, the Niagara River along Lake Erie, "to the Creek called Canahogue" which was the earliest form of Cuyahoga. The king was to hold the land forever in trust for the Indians.

In 1763 when the French formally surrendered their claim to Canada, England had domain over all of Ohio. The mother country saw that with the danger of French invasion removed, the colonists on the eastern seaboard would be in a position to assume an independent attitude toward England and eventually to overrun the country west of the Alleghenies. To counteract this possibility England made two moves. In 1763 a proclamation was made forbidding settlers to occupy the territory north of the Ohio River and securing this land to the Native Americans for their use and occupancy. In 1774 Parliament placed the territory northwest of the Ohio River in the province of Quebec. Thus by English law the land which now lies in Ohio became a part of Canada.

Other colonies prior to and after the Revolution asserted claims to this part of the western country. Virginia claimed the land north and west of the Ohio River and attempted to exercise a certain jurisdiction over it. In 1778 the House of Burgesses of Virginia provided that all settlers of the northwest be considered citizens of Virginia, in Illinois county, district of Kentucky. Thus, in theory at least, Ohio was included in the latter political subdivision. Virginia was first in surrendering her claims to the federal government, doing so in 1784. Likewise, Massachusetts asserted a right to western territory on the basis of the charter of 1691, but did not seriously push the contention, and released the claim by deed on April 19, 1785. New York, by reason of her dealing with the Indians and the language of her charter, had a rather weak claim, which the state ceded to the United States on March 1, 1801. 
The American Revolution was terminated by a treaty of peace signed at Paris in 1783. At the peace conference the English commissioners wanted to make the Ohio River the boundary between Canada and the United States. They based their claim on the Proclamation of 1763 for the protection of the Indians and on the fact that Ohio had been made a part of Quebec by act of Parliament. By reason of the strenuous urging of John Adams, the American commissioners opposed this plan. The fact of the capture of the British forts at Kaskaskia and Vincennes on the western frontier by George Rogers Clark in 1778 and 1779 was the chief reason why the British commissioners reluctantly abandoned their claim. If it had not been for the ambitious and effective campaign of George Rogers Clark, perhaps Ohio would today be included in Canada. England forever withdrew from the picture and recognized the right of the United States to the Ohio country and all territory northwest of the Ohio River.

The Western Reserve of Connecticut

After the Revolution the new republic was confronted by the critical problem of disposing of the western domain. The logical solution was for each state to grant its western lands to the United States and thus do away with conflicting claims and dangerous rivalries. Virginia, Massachusetts and New York surrendered their rights in the manner previously mentioned. 

Connecticut’s claim to western land was ceded to the Unites States by a deed dated September 13, 1786 and signed for the state by its delegates in Congress. This instrument conveyed to the United States:
"All right, title, interest, jurisdiction and claim which the said State of Connecticut hath in and to certain western lands (all lands lying west of a line beginning at the completion of the forty-first degree of north latitude, 120 miles west of the western boundary of Pennsylvania and from thence by a line drawn north parallel to and 120 miles west of the said west line of Pennsylvania and to continue north until it comes to 42o 02' north latitude.)" 

Connecticut reserved from the conveyance a strip of land extending westward 120 miles from the Pennsylvania border and lying between the 41degree and the 42degree 02' of North latitude. This land became known as the Connecticut Western Reserve and over it Connecticut exercised not only ownership but the sovereign jurisdiction of a state. The Western Reserve Lands are found in 14 northeastern Ohio counties. The entire Western Reserve, starting at the Pennsylvania border, extended 120 miles westward to the present Seneca and Sandusky County lines.

The Ordinance of 1787 enacted by Congress created the Northwest Territory, with its capital at Marietta, Ohio. The northeastern portion of the future state of Ohio was included in Washington County. However, due to the reserve made by Connecticut, there was a conflict of jurisdictions. They’re being no population in the wilderness south of Lake Erie; no attempt was made to govern northern Ohio. A copy of the Northwest Ordinance can be found on the back pages of this article.

In 1788 Connecticut sold a tract of 25,450 acres of land in the Mahoning valley to General Samuel H. Parsons. It contained a salt lick and was located principally in what is now Wethersfield Township, Trumbull Country.

Connecticut in 1792 gave a half million acres of land on the eastern end of the Reserve to 1,870 citizens of Connecticut who had suffered damage to their homes during the Revolution. This tract was called. "The Fire Lands" and embraced what is now Erie and Huron counties, one township of Ashland county, and a small portion of Ottawa county.

Connecticut was anxious to sell the remainder of the Western Reserve, but it was not until 1795 that the opportunity presented itself. At that time a committee was appointed to receive proposals and to negotiate with a purchaser. By deed dated September 2, 1795 the committee on behalf of the state of Connecticut deeded approximately three million acres of land in the Western Reserve to thirty-five individuals or groups by means of an equal number of quitclaim deeds. It is interesting to note that the price paid for this vast parcel of land was $1,200,000.00- just about 40 cents an acre. On September 5, 1795 the 48 purchasers, having banded themselves together in articles of association, and being known as "The Connecticut Land Company", joined in deeding their interests in the Connecticut Western Reserve to John Morgan, John Caldwell and Jonathon Brace as trustees for the benefit of the members of the company, and specifically for the purpose of surveying, platting and selling the land in the Reserve.

The company issued to the state of Connecticut a mortgage on the land as security for the purchase price. From time to time as payments were made on this obligation, the state gave its deed of release and discharged the mortgage. Copies of such deeds are still on hand in the Recorder’s office in Cleveland. The land was offered for sale and an attempt was made to attract prospective settlers. The unsold lands were then apportioned into 400 shares or "drafts" with a value of $3,000.00 each. This value varied as the drawings were held in succeeding years. An investor owned an undivided interest in as many 400ths of the entire tract as he had shares. Drawings were held at the office of the company, the first in 1798 and the last in 1809.

In the summer of 1796 Moses Cleaveland began a survey of the Western Reserve. That year settlements were made at Cleveland (for some reason they dropped the "a' in General Cleaveland’s name), Conneaut and Youngstown. It is estimated that in 1800 there were no more than 300 persons living in the reserve.

In 1796, the Connecticut Land Company decided to subdivide their purchase into five-mile-square surveying townships. Surveying townships bordering Lake Erie do not contain the full 16,000 acres because of the irregular coastline. The interior subdivisions of the surveying townships were irregularly subdivided by the purchasers into tracts and lots of various sizes and land quantity. For example, the civil township of Brooklyn, in Cuyahoga County, contains 90 lots, while Madison Township, Geauga County, contains tracts subdivided into lots of various shapes and sizes.

This action conflicted with what is considered the major accomplishment of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the creation of an orderly method for the surveying, sale and settlement of public lands in the United States. The ordinance established the rectangular survey as the primary means to originally subdivide public lands. It provided that the western territory be divided into surveying townships of six-mile-square containing 36 sections, each one one-mile-square (640 acres). Sections were numbered one to 36, commencing with the number one in the southeast corner of the township, and running from south to north in each tier to number 36 in the northwest corner of the township. Townships were numbered from a base south to north in rows called ranges. Ranges were numbered east to west.

This Ordinance also set aside lands for Continental Army Land bounties (although this was changed in 1796); established the minimum price per acre; minimum land quantity which could be bought; reserved Section 16 out of every township for the maintenance of schools; and reserved Sections 8, 11, 26 and 29 for future sale or disposition by Congress. It further established that legal sale and settlement of public lands could not occur until the land had been surveyed, and the survey accepted by the federal government. Range, Township, Section, Part of Section, and the original land survey name have become the basic legal property description for most of the land originally surveyed by the United States government in the 29 public land states. The original field notes and plats of the United States government land surveys in Ohio have been deposited by the Auditor of State into the State of Ohio Archives at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus.

Although Connecticut had sold the land there still remained the question of who had the right to exercise jurisdiction over it. In theory it was still part of Connecticut. Actually it was included in the Northwest Territory of the federal government. In order to settle this difficult question, a deed of cession was made by Governor Jonathan Trumbull on behalf of the state of Connecticut May 30, 1800 whereby the state released to the United States all jurisdiction over the Western Reserve. On March 2, 1801 John Adams, president of the United States, in turn, deeded to Jonathan Trumbull, governor of Connecticut, and his successors in office forever, all the right and estate of the United States to the soil of this tract. 

Native American title to the Western Reserve lands lying east of the Cuyahoga River was extinguished by the Treaty of Fort McIntosh on January 21, 1785 and then confirmed by the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795. The lands west of the Cuyahoga River were released by the Treaty of Fort Industry on July 4, 1805.

In the chain of title to the Western Reserve, therefore, are found the Moundbuilder, the American Indian, France, England, the colonies of the Connecticut Land Company, and finally the individual purchasers of the land. Thus through the centuries it has been handed down to its present holder, and they have reason to be proud of the history and traditions of the land on which they live.

Land Office Districts in Ohio - 1813