During the Revolutionary War, the British soldiers burned the towns of New London, Groton, Norwalk, Greenwich, New Haven, Ridgefield, Fairfield and Danbury, Connecticut. The state of Connecticut gave lands of the Western Reserve to pay the people whose property was destroyed in these seven towns. Those people whose homes or stores were burned were called the "fire sufferers." The land they were given was called the "fire sufferers' land" or the "Firelands."
The Firelands is the part of Ohio that today is Huron and Erie counties as well as Danbury Township in Ottowa County and Ruggles Township in Ashland County. There are half a million acres in the Firelands.
One thousand eight hundred and ninety families owned this land. The state of Connecticut helped them form the company to get the land ready for settlement. Before the settlers could come, the Indian tribes had to be paid for the and. The chiefs of the Indian tribes and men who acted as agents for the fire sufferers agreed to pay the Indians $19,000.00 for the title to the Firelands land.
Next, the land had to be surveyed. Almon Ruggles of Danbury, Connecticut was hired to be the surveyor. Have you ever seen a surveying crew measure a road? The surveyor has special instruments that are not too different from the ones Almon Ruggles and his crew would have used. It was hard to survey in a new country. Most of the land was covered with trees, there were no bridges over the rivers or streams and the men had to watch out for wild animals and snakes. One line on the east side of the Western Reserve had to be measured twice because a mistake had been made when the Western Reserve was first surveyed. Almon Ruggles and his crew found that the west line was two miles too far west, and part of the land actually belonged to the Indians.
Some of the men who surveyed the Firelands came back to live there. Almon Ruggles lived on the lake shore near Huron. That land is still called Ruggles Beach, and his descendants still live in the area. Simeon Hoyt bought land in Clarksfield Township and lived there. Simon Durand bought land in Henrietta Township, on the edge of the Firelands, and lived the rest of his life there. Some of these surveyors have descendants who still live in the Firelands.
Even with surveying the islands and the uneven lake shore, when the land was divided into parcels for the fire sufferers Ruggles and his surveyors were only 27 acres off. There were supposed to be 500,000 acres in the Firelands, but there are really 500,027 acres. That was very good, when you think of all the hardships they faced!
When a family decided to move to the Firelands, much work had to be done. A wagon, strong enough to go over the mountains, had to be found or made. Food for the family and for the animals they would take, furniture and cooking utensils, an axe, a rifle, and any tools they would need in the new country would all have to be packed into the wagon. If they could take a cow with them they would tie it to the back of the wagon. The horses or oxen that would be used to pull the wagon were hitched up, and the father, the mother, and the children of the family took their seats, and were ready to leave for the Firelands. As they drove through the village where they had lived for many years, they took a last look at all those things that they would probably never see again. It was a sad time, but a happy one, too. A farm in the Firelands would make a good home.
At first the wagon would move easily over the old roads that connected the towns in the East. But soon the roads became hilly and rough. Brush and small trees had to be cut away so that the wagon could pass. There were no bridges over the rivers and streams, so a low or shallow place had to be found before the wagon could cross one. At night, the family might stay in an inn or farmhouse if one was near, but most of the time they had to camp out in the forest.
When the family found a good camping site, they would unhitch the animals and let them graze. They fed them grain, and let them drink. A campfire was built, and all the cooking tools had to be unpacked to prepare the meal. The father might go hunting for squirrel, wild turkey, or other game. If he was lucky enough to shoot a deer, the meat was cut into strips and smoked over the campfire until it was dried, so that the family could carry it with them to eat on their long trip.
It might be many weeks or months before the family arrived at what would be their new home. One of the first things they did was to look for a good spot to build their cabin. The best place was near a creek on a spring and on the south side of a hill. The whole family would be very busy building their new home and clearing the land to plant crops.
The first white settler in New London township was Abner Green. He came with his wife and three daughters on February 1815. They did not have a wagon, or animals to ride, and so they had to walk all the way to their new home from their old home in Connecticut-- more than five hundred miles! They carried all their farming and cooking utensils, and what food they could, with them on the journey. Their land was on Cook Road, near where Barrett's Chapel is today. He built a log cabin, cleared two or three acres of land, planted corn and had a good crop that fall.
Isaac P. Case was the second settler in New London. He came in the fall of 1815. He and his brother-in-law built a raft and traveled together down the Alleghany and Ohio Rivers to Marietta. From here they came to New London.
Other early settlers were the Days, Posts, Miners, Russells, and the Andersons. Before long, many families were living in our area. By the time the census was taken in 1820, here were 100 families in the Firelands.
Excerpted from "A Schoolchildren's History of the Firelands," a collection of stories about early events in the New London, Clarksfield, Fitchville, Rochester and Ruggles area, the southest corner of the Firelands. COPYRIGHT 1989. By permission of the New London Area Historical Society.
To learn more about the Firelands in Ohio, visit The Huron County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society.
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