When I first moved to this part of Ohio five years ago (between Cleveland and Toledo, near Lake Erie), I kept coming across references to the “Firelands.” There were schools, parks, roads, nature preserves, all with the Firelands name. When I asked people what the significance of the name was, I was met with blank stares.
The historian in me wouldn’t let it go. I grew up in Ohio, took courses in high school on Ohio history, and never once did the Firelands get a mention. It was up to me to search out the reason. It took a couple of years of digging, but the history I found is fascinating. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
During the Revolutionary War, there were several towns in Connecticut which were completely destroyed by the British. Danbury, Fairfield, Greenwich, Groton, New Haven, New London, Norwalk and Ridgefield, to be specific. When the British discovered the residents of these towns were supplying the Continental Army with supplies and gunpowder, their vengeance was complete and utter destruction.
After the war ended in victory for the Continental Army, the citizens of these burned-out communities petitioned the state of Connecticut for compensation for their losses. It took years for the state to determine the best way to provide a settlement for these people who suffered so greatly, but finally, in 1792, the Connecticut legislature agreed to pay more than 1800 citizens by giving them land from the Western Reserve–land that is now the state of Ohio, but during the 1700s was owned by Connecticut, and at that time was considered the western boundary of the United States. This land was deeded to the state of Connecticut in return for them giving up all claims to any Pennsylvania land, and consisted of a strip of land 120 miles wide from east to west, and was bordered by Lake Erie. Settlement of the land began in 1796, when Moses Cleaveland began a community, which became the city of Cleveland.
It took years more for the remaining land to be surveyed, the Indians who currently occupied the land to be moved, and westward movement to officially begin. By 1808 a few hardy souls began to migrate to Ohio and stake their claims, but by this time, many of the original citizens who suffered Revolutionary War losses were too old or had already passed on, and had no desire to move to the frontier.
Much of the land known as the Firelands, or Sufferer’s Lands was sold to speculators, or given to younger relatives. The War of 1812 further stalled development of this area. The method in which the land was parceled off further complicated things, since some citizens were eligible for more than one parcel, but the distribution of the parcels was totally random. So, one person could have four lots in different segments of the Firelands, making farming impossible.
But some folks persevered, and eventually towns grew up in the Firelands area. Ohio towns named for the destroyed Connecticut cities are still evident today–New London, Norwalk, Ridgefield and Greenwich, all in the area known as the Firelands.