The WESTERN RESERVE (aka New Connecticut, or the Connecticut Western Reserve) encompassed approximately 3.3 million acres of land in what is now northeastern Ohio. Bounded on the north by Lake Erie and on the east by Pennsylvania, it extended 120 miles westward to Sandusky Bay.
In its 1662 royal charter, Connecticut's claim was established as extending "from sea-to-sea" across North America. Royal grants also had created New York and Pennsylvania, both of which intruded on Connecticut's claim. In 1753, a group of Connecticut speculators formed the Susquehanna Land Company to sell lots in the Wyoming Valley near present-day Wilkes-Barre, PA., which led to conflict with Pennsylvanians. In 1782, under the Articles of Confederation, a federal court determined that the Wyoming land belonged to Pennsylvania. As part of the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, states with trans-Appalachian land claims were required to surrender them. Following the example of Virginia's cession in 1784, which had exempted bounty lands promised to war veterans, Connecticut ceded most of its claim on 14 Sept. 1786, reserving a 120 mile strip roughly equal in dimension to the Wyoming Valley losses in compensation. On the south, the Reserve's line was set at 41 degrees north latitude, running just south of the present cities of Youngstown, Akron, and Willard. On the north the line was at 42 degrees 2 minutes (western extensions of Connecticut’s own boundaries), putting much of the northern portion in Lake Erie.
Native American title to the land east of the CUYAHOGA RIVER was extinguished in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, making 70 percent of the Reserve immediately available for sale and settlement. That same year, the State of Connecticut sold what was supposed to be 3 million acres of the Reserve to the CONNECTICUT LAND CO. for $1.2 million and destined the proceeds for its Connecticut School Fund. Imprecise maps lead to expectations that there would be more land than the acreage being purchased, so a speculative Excess Company was formed to buy that extra land, which ultimately proved not to exist. Land east of the Cuyahoga River, which was the northern end of the boundary line for the Greenville treaty, was surveyed by the Company in the summers of 1796 and 1797 and found to be about 2 million acres. The Treaty of Fort Industry in 1805 removed remaining Native American claims to both the western 830,000 acres of the company’s land, which was surveyed by Abraham Tappan in 1806 and distributed to the company’s investors, and the adjacent Firelands, an area of some 500,000 acres off the western end of the Reserve that was surveyed in 1805/06 by Almon Ruggles. The Firelands grant had not been part of the sale to the Connecticut Land Company. Rather it had been set aside by the state to compensate citizens whose property had been destroyed in British raids during the Revolutionary War.
When the Continental Congress created the Northwest Territory the year after the Connecticut cession, it was assumed that Connecticut, not the territory, was empowered to exercise political jurisdiction over the Reserve. The ambiguity lasted until the Constitutional Congress approved the "Quieting Act" in 1800, whereby Connecticut surrendered all governing authority. Shortly thereafter Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, designated the Western Reserve as Trumbull County, fixing the county seat at Warren. After the last of the Connecticut Land Company’s holdings were distributed in 1809, it went out of business. Never an official governmental entity at any point, the Western Reserve survives in a plethora of place names in NE Ohio.
Updated by William C. Barrow
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Finding aid for the Arthur St. Clair Papers. WRHS.