The Consequences of Cleaveland by Dr. John Grabowski

(Map of English Colonies Bordering on Ohio River 175

The Consequences of Cleaveland

by Dr. John Grabowski, PhD | WRHS Krieger Mueller Historian

On July 4th 1796, on the bank of what is now Conneaut Creek, a group of surveyors led by Moses Cleaveland celebrated Independence Day.  Naming the site Port Independence, they fired off a salute, ate a meal of pork and beans, and drank to six patriotic toasts.   Eighteen days later they arrived at the mouth of Cuyahoga River, climbing up a hill on the east bank (near what is now St. Clair Avenue) to the heights over the river valley.

The river marked the boundary of that part of the Western Reserve to which Native Americans had ceded their claims in the Greenville Treaty of 1795, and it seemed a likely area to begin the exploration and mapping out of the lands now “available” to settlement.  Yet it took several weeks for Moses Cleaveland to decide if the site would serve as the center for the survey party’s work, and what some might call the capital of the Western Reserve.  He made that decision in August.  It was the best possible choice and considered naming the settlement Cuyahoga, but his colleagues convinced him that it should take his name.

This is a quick and far too easy summary of the founding of Cleveland for it misses the broader impact of the event.   When Cleaveland’s surveying crew began to lay out the lines that would define the townships of the Western Reserve, they were imposing a change on the landscape that exceeded anything that had come before.

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Oliver H. Perry/Battle of Lake Erie/War of 1812 aggregation

1 War of 1812: Culmination of 20 Years of Conflict Opened Up the Future for Ohio: Elizabeth Sullivan
2 Cleveland and the War of 1812
3 Perry Drives British From Lake Erie
4 Fort Huntington
5 The Battle of Lake Erie
6 History of the Battle of Lake Erie
7 Battle of Lake Erie
8 Oliver Hazard Perry Bio

War of 1812: Culmination of 20 Years of Conflict Opened Up the Future for Ohio: Elizabeth Sullivan

Courtesy of the Plain Dealer June 10, 2012

The link is here

War of 1812: Culmination of 20 years of conflict opened up the future for Ohio: Elizabeth Sullivan


When federal census-takers ventured into the wild Ohio country in 1800, they found (pdf) 45,365 settlers already living in “the Northwest Territory.”

So many had flooded into this frontier land — from the East Coast, looking for cheap, fertile land; from slave-owning states, wanting to live in a slave-free area; from eastern cities, looking to profit on land speculations — that Ohio had almost reached the magic 60,000 number needed to become a state. It achieved that milestone in 1803.

These newcomers had headed for Ohio despite a series of shockingly violent wars and raids in the 1790s pitting early settlers against indigenous Indian tribes determined to hold on to land specifically guaranteed them in a 1768 British treaty.

An equal thirst for territory propelled the migrants, however — the same inexorable expansionism that set the stage for Ohio’s part in the War of 1812, which started 200 years ago this month.

The war, as it was fought in Ohio, was in many ways the logical extension of more than a decade of Indian warfare for title to this verdant tract of land. Even before war was formally declared on June 18, 1812, the enterprise was viewed with far more enthusiasm on the Ohio frontier than in Philadelphia, New York or Washington.

While East Coasters fretted about the serious economic repercussions, Ohioans correctly understood the stakes as nothing less than control of America’s frontier, the key to the American experiment.

For more than a decade, folks in Ohio and neighboring Kentucky had been on the front lines of a series of Indian wars fought with the help of British weapons and other provisions.

Long after the Revolutionary War had ended, it seemed to many local settlers that Britain was determined to kill the United States through its back door, using indigenous tribes as proxies.

While that impression was exaggerated — the British were much more interested in preserving their stake in the lucrative fur trade than in starting another expensive war — British officials delayed enlightening Indian allies about their narrow aims, or about the 1783 treaty ending the Revolutionary War, when Britain had ceded to the fledgling United States the entire “Old Northwest” that the tribes considered theirs.

The ceded land included all or parts of what was to become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — although Britain kept armed forts in the area, ostensibly to secure its fur-trading interests.

In this way, more than a quarter-million square miles of prairie, deciduous forests, rivers, swamplands and fertile land became the logical pathway for U.S. expansion — America’s “manifest destiny” long before the phrase was coined.

That’s also why the 1790s Indian wars naturally morphed into the War of 1812 — which did settle, once and for all, America’s expansionist destiny westward, although not northward into Canada, after several invasion attempts failed.

No mere skirmishes, the 1790s wars involved pitched battles by a federation of Indian warriors who knew the stakes, acting in concert under skilled military leadership — and exacting, in 1791, what’s still the worst single-battle U.S. Army loss against Native Americans.

On Nov. 4, 1791, on the Wabash River near present-day Fort Recovery in western Ohio, more than 600 U.S. Army officers, men and militia members under the command of Arthur St. Clair, an aging Revolutionary War veteran afflicted with gout, were slain, along with hundreds of their camp followers, during a surprise attack by 1,000 warriors led by Miami Chief Little Turtle and Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket.

That was more than twice the casualties of the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The sweeping 1795 Treaty of Greenville was supposed to put the Indian claims in Ohio to rest.

That treaty followed the trouncing that troops led by U.S. Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne dealt to a united force that included Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware and Miami tribesmen at the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, in present-day Maumee.

But the 1790s wars did not resolve all of the competing claims.

When Ohio Gov. Return J. Meigs Jr. called in April 1812 for troops to assemble in Dayton — months before war was formally declared — so many showed up to fight that the Army didn’t have supplies for all of them.

Qualified commanders also were in short supply. Local militias near Dayton had to take up armslater that summer to defend the area’s settlements, after the ignominious capitulation in August 1812 of William Hull, another ailing Revolutionary War veteran, who had shockingly surrendered his Ohio and U.S. troops at Detroit to a smaller British-American Indian force, virtually without firing a shot.

Fortunately, other U.S. forces had more success. And the magnificent victory, in September 1813, of Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry in the naval Battle of Lake Erie was a strategic triumph that cut key British supply lines, although it would take another year to end the war.

By 1820, more than half a million people were in Ohio, many hoping to make their fortunes, others heading elsewhere. I was amazed to see, when I looked closely at the census earlier this year, that no fewer than 10 of my direct forebears were in Ohio by 1820.

They came because of hatred of slavery (James Sullivan from North Carolina between 1808 and 1811), thirst for cheaper land (Thomas Crook from Maryland in 1814), the adventure of the frontier (Jacob Kessler and Henry Horn, in-laws and Revolutionary War veterans, from Pennsylvania via Virginia between 1806 and 1814) and to make money in the state’s nascent manufacturing that needed abundant water for power (George Seager, who in about 1811 had emigrated illegally from Britain, where his skills as a wool carder and machine maker were considered an industrial secret “not for export”)

Thomas Crook, my great-great-great-grandfather, briefly served in the 1812 war at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, according to his sworn affidavit, then moved to Wayne Township northeast of Dayton — named for the general who’d defeated Native American forces in 1794. Many of Wayne Township’s early residents were veterans of the Revolutionary, Indian or 1812 wars.

One of Crook’s younger sons was George Crook, a West Point graduate and later famed Indian fighter who became an early champion of Native American civil rights.

Gen. Crook’s attempt in the late 1800s to seek redress for the broken promises to Apache leaders and others whom he’d first fought and then befriended was a lonely battle that alienated him from some of his oldest military friends.

But it suggests how combat veterans often see war — as a failure to act decisively to redirect the elements that are spinning out of control and propelling conflict and violence.

Gen. Crook, who was born on the Ohio frontier a dozen years after the War of 1812 ended, would have grown up surrounded by men who understood that.

Sullivan is The Plain Dealer’s editorial page editor.


The Man Who Saved Cleveland by Michael Roberts and Margaret Gulley

The pdf is here

The Man Who Saved Cleveland

By Michael Roberts and Margaret Gulley

Cleveland in the summer of 1797 was hot, thick with malaria and filled with perilous swamps. Creeks, rivers, ponds and the lake invited drowning. Poisonous snakes slithered across the narrow Indian trails and lurking in dense forests were the natives themselves, strange and fearful creatures to the aspiring pioneers.

            The winter here offered even more treachery. Snow as high as a horse’s head and packs of snarling wolves threatened travelers. The ice and wind could freeze a careless man to death before he could contemplate his demise.

That fall, as the surveyors of the Connecticut Land Company prepared to return east before the harsh weather set in, only four families remained to endure winter’s wrath. The work had not gone well and the investors were upset because the land company was far behind schedule. While the city would be named after the surveying leader, Moses Cleaveland, he would never return, likely because of the trouble with the land company and the hardship of that summer.

Remaining behind would be the guardian of those families and ultimately the settlement itself, Lorenzo Carter. Considered a legend even in his day, Carter was a frontiersman who, when thrust into danger and travail, always seemed to emerge and prevail.

Yet today, he is barely celebrated. Time has cast a shadow on his rugged and outspoken spirit, while illuminating the more urban Moses Cleaveland. The truth is that for those first few critical years, Carter was the only thing holding the settlement together.

To this day some maintain that the city should bear Carter’s name rather than that of Cleaveland.

The founding of the city was no easy adventure and what happened in the summer of 1797 illustrated the challenges that were confronted and the role played by Lorenzo Carter in the fledgling community.

Aside from the difficulties that the swamps and forests posed, the land company workers fell victim to a fever that caused dysentery and fits, rendering them exhausted and unfit for work. The illness brought death as well as more and more of the settlers and workers succumbed to the disease.

There began an exodus back to the east and the settlement appeared in jeopardy as most of the original settlers moved away from the lake and river to higher ground toward the south. At one point the Carter family was the only white inhabitants of Cleveland proper.

A tough, dark-complicated man direct in his speech with riveting blue eyes and black shoulder length hair, Carter possessed extraordinary skills in hunting and woodcraft. He could communicate with the Native Americans and his appearance and demeanor appealed to them.

At six feet, muscular, yet as nimble as a forest creature, Carter presented an intimidating figure. His ability with ax, rifle, knife and fists were widely known. His contemporaries referred to him as the Major, or the Pioneer. Indians thought him possessed of magic and able to kill an animal with his rifle without piercing the skin.

With no medicines available to aid the suffering surveyors, Carter turned to the Indians for help. They showed him that a blend of dogwood and cherry bark would achieve similar results as quinine in easing the fever of malaria.

Carter became ill, but never succumbed to the disease. He and his wife, Rebecca, treated many in the plague filled community. He hunted game for those who lay sick with fever, enabling many to survive.

This demonstration of courage and knowledge most likely kept a flickering flame of community alive, for it would have taken years for Cleveland to develop as a location of any prominence had the fever been more ravaging.

How Carter came to the shores of Lake Erie was a story that many in the newly constituted United States shared. The lure that drew them was a future that would be governed by the freedom which had become the foundation of the new nation.

Carter grew up in Connecticut, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran who died of smallpox when Lorenzo was 11. As a child he was fascinated by the library in Warren, Connecticut, an interest that would be rekindled years later in Cleveland. After his mother remarried, the family moved to Vermont where he learned to ride and hunt and shoot and track wild animals.

In 1789, Carter married Rebecca Fuller and appeared destined to become a Vermont farmer. But Ohio fever— enticing stories of the opportunity that lay to the west in the land of “New Connecticut”— seized his imagination. Sometime in either late 1795 or early 1796 he set out with a companion to see this beckoning territory.

Carter’s reconnoitering of the Cuyahoga River gave him a vision of potential prosperity, for he returned to Vermont determined to relocate his family in the Western Reserve. They left Vermont with his brother-in-law, Ezekiel Hawley (sometimes called Holley) and his family, and wintered in Canada, arriving here on May 2, 1797.

He was 30 when he returned to the Cuyahoga River, well seasoned in the ways of the wild. Carter was more than a woodsman, though, having an aptitude for enterprise, construction, farming and the technology of the day.

Over time, it would take all of Carter’s considerable skills to save the settlement from starvation, fear of Indians, and disease. Later, as the colony grew, the community turned to him as a leader to such an extent that, before laws were codified and courts established, he was the law.

He built a log cabin that summer of 1797, on the river just north of what is now St. Clair Avenue. The land for it cost $47.50. The cabin was described as being pretentious and topped with a garret. This expansive log structure served the community in multiple ways. It was a town hall, the school house, a tavern and a place for travelers to seek shelter. It was a place to learn news, albeit old news, for the passage back to the east coast could be as long as three months.

The cabin was a malodorous place, smelling of smoke, sweat, the aroma of food cooking in the hearth and sometimes blended with the odor of New England rum. Virtually anyone who passed by was welcome and the nearby Indians would peer in with curiosity.

Rebecca Carter did not like Indians loitering around the cabin. She was terrified of them and often would cry out in fear if they surprised her. She ran and hid behind a wood pile if she saw them approach.

More than once, Lorenzo would catch a mischievous Indian harassing his wife and threaten him with physical harm, which he could deliver swifter than any man in the settlement.

The cabin hosted the first wedding in the colony on July 4, 1797 when Mrs. Carter’s household worker was married. In 1801, the cabin held the first formal dance that would take place in the colony in celebration of July 4. There were more than 30 in attendance and a mixture of maple sugar, water and whisky was served to the revelers who danced to the squeal of a fiddle.

Contemporary accounts of Carter describe him as a man of principle, but not without prejudice. He made no secret of his dislike of black people, although he could not abide slavery. One account of the time illustrates the complexity of the man.

A black man named Ben had survived a shipwreck nearby on Lake Erie and in 1806. The man, nearly frozen to death, was taken to Carter’s tavern where he was fed and treated for frost bitten toes. Carter and his wife nursed the man back to health.

That fall, two armed men from Kentucky arrived, claiming that the man was an escaped slave. Carter told the two that he would only consent to the black man’s departure if the slave made the decision to return on his own volition.

What took place at this point is not clear, but accounts say the slave departed with the two Kentuckians only to be stopped a gun point a few miles away by two of Carter’s men who held the two at bay while the black man made his escape. He later found freedom in Canada.

Carter’s achievements in the early years of the community were remarkable. Seeking to create regular commerce toward the east, he built a 30-ton vessel called the Zephyr that travelled the lake coast trading furs and transporting grindstones. Historians credit him with officially opening the port of Cleveland and beginning a ship building trade that in 50 years would be the largest in the nation.

The vessel enabled the struggling frontier town to receive much needed staples like salt, iron, tools, leather, groceries and clothing. Again, Carter’s intrepid ingenuity served the community as a whole.

A craftsman seemingly of infinite ability, he built the first two- story frame house on Superior only to see it burn down when children began to play with fire amidst the wood chips. Carter would also suffered the tragedy of having his son, Henry,10, drown in the Cuyahoga River. In all, he sired nine children.

In 1802, after obtaining a license for four dollars to run a tavern, Carter built yet another structure. He had purchased 23-½ acres of land, 12 of which fronted on what is now West 9th Street. Here he built a block house that would gain fame as the Carter Tavern and it served as the first hotel in Cleveland.

Carter complained of the land company prices which seemed continually to decline, dropping from $50 an acre to $25 at one point.

Carter was elected as a captain in the militia in May of 1804, but the election was contested by those who claimed that he was ineligible for the office because he gave liquor to the voters and threatened to turn the savages on the community if not elected. Apparently, nothing became of the charges, but the challenge served to show the disaffection between the pioneers and the newcomers. In August, Carter was elected major, a title he carried for the rest of his life.

            The clashes between Carter and the increasing number of easterners who had invested in the Connecticut Land Company were frequent. The newcomers resented Carter’s influence, position and prestige.

            Carter had such a reputation as a fighter that strangers hearing of his prowess, would travel here, perhaps to best him in a brawl. Those who knew him said that he was never known to lose a street fight.

The first indictment recorded in the Western Reserve was in 1803 and was noted as being against “Mr. Carter, the pioneer, for an assault upon James Hamilton.” Friends attested that Carter was not a quarrelsome person and would only fight if he was insulted. One can only guess what the dispute was regarding Hamilton.

He also had a reputation in contemporary histories of being a man who helped the unfortunate and obliged neighbors and strangers. A drink could always be had at his tavern.

Liquor was a commodity that played an important role on the frontier. It was not only to drink, it could be bartered as currency. Sadly, one of its more important uses was to quell the natives who had a taste for spirits, but could not manage its excesses. Carter was a practiced producer of alcohol and equally adept at manipulating the Indians with it.

In 1798, when a Seneca medicine man was accused of malpractice in the death of the wife of an Indian from another tribe, the husband stabbed him to death, causing the potential for tribal warfare.

Already the Chippewas had donned black war paint and were off in the forest issuing blood curdling oaths and behaving in the most fearsome manner.

Carter recognizing that any fighting could get out of control and the violence spill over into the white community, ameliorated the dispute by having a neighbor brew two gallons of whiskey. Since the capacity of the still was only two quarts daily, it took some time to yield the liquor.   The danger was so dire that Carter did not sleep for two nights, according to his son Alonzo.

The Chippewas and Ottawas traditionally celebrated in the spring and one year they traded furs with Carter for whisky. When they drank the first lot, they traded for more, and so on until the band of natives became drunk. A calculating Carter decided to cut the whisky with water while continuing to barter with the braves.

Upon coming to their senses, the Indians realized that the spirits had been diluted and became enraged. Nine of them attacked the Major’s cabin. He fought them off with a fire poker, driving them to the river and their canoes. Later, a party of Indian women came to make peace with Carter. Thankfully, the women had disarmed the braves before the drinking bout had begun.

By 1810, following the purchase of land on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River from the Indians, Carter and his son bought a piece of land near the river’s mouth. There they built the Red House Tavern and established a farm.

Carter had his vision of justice and administered it in the colony in a manner that brought him acclaim by his fellow citizens. In 1812, When an Indian brave, an acquaintance of Carter’s, was found guilty of murder, it was Lorenzo who escorted him to the gallows on what is now Public Square. He gave the condemned man whisky to numb his fear and saw to it that he was properly dispatched. Such was justice on the frontier.

That year, Carter discovered he was suffering from a form of cancer on his face. The indomitable Major travelled to Virginia where physicians told him his disease was untreatable. He returned and unable to accept his fate, secluded himself in his room at the tavern, crying out in pain and refusing the ministrations of his wife who remained outside his door throughout the ordeal. It was a humbling end for a man so robust and heroic.

After his death Carter’s half brother, John A. Ackley, would write:

“Many stories are told of Major Carter, some are true, and many that are not true. He was the man for a pioneer, with strength of body and mind, but not cultivated. His maxim was not to give an insult, nor receive one, without resenting it, and the insulter generally paid dear for his temerity. With all his faults, his heart was in the right place and was as ready to avenge a wrong done to the weak as one done to himself.”

Carter died on February 14, 1814 at the age of 47, and is buried in Erieview Cemetery just left of the gate on East 9th Street. Everyday, hundreds of cars pass a few yards from his grave, oblivious of this remarkable man and what he did in that dark and dangerous beginning. But for him, there may never have been a great city on the spot it is.

To read more about Lorenzo Carter, click here