In 1784 Connecticut laid claim to a territory stretching from Pennsylvania’s western border 120 miles along Lake Erie. In 1786 Congress took steps to legitimate this claim, and explicitly recognized it in 1800. The Peopling of New Connecticut presents primary documents that define Connecticut’s complex relationship with this territory, known then as the Western Reserve. Using excerpts from previously published official records, diaries, newspapers, periodical journals, pamphlets, and the occasional book that illustrates the process whereby Connecticut transplanted some of its people to a distant, western land, this Acorn Club publication illuminates not only the experience of the emigrants as they journeyed to Ohio and settled in the Western Reserve but also the effect that the emigrants’ departure had on the society they left behind. The volume comes with an introduction and commentary about the significance of these republished materials. The Peopling of New Connecticut is a vital, enlightening record of this special chapter in Connecticut’s history and provides unique insight into the early westward movement after the Revolutionary War.
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About the Author
RICHARD BUEL JR. is a professor of history emeritus at Wesleyan University. He is the editor of the Acorn Club, an organization founded in 1899 to publish books of enduring value about Connecticut history.
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The Peopling of New Connecticut
From the Land of Steady Habits to the Western Reserve
By Richard Buel Jr.
Wesleyan University PressCopyright © 2011 The Acorn Club
All rights reserved.
A People in Motion
The Seven Years War stimulated emigration by exposing males in military formations to scenes beyond the horizons they had been accustomed to since birth and paying bounties to veterans. However, the postwar expansion of settlements into hitherto unoccupied areas came to an abrupt end with the Revolution. So long as hostilities lasted, the manpower necessary to settle the wilderness was otherwise spoken for. Moreover, recently established frontier communities, like those the Susquehannah Company had sponsored in northern Pennsylvania, suffered severe losses. Peace not only quieted the frontier, but the Treaty of Paris bestowed upon the newly independent nation title to a vast western domain that was only sparsely occupied by native peoples. Europeans construed this as an invitation to move westward.
The lingering economic effects of the war, however, inhibited many from taking immediate advantage of the new opportunities that were evident for all to see. A severe postwar recession exacerbated by both private and public indebtedness curtailed the availability of capital between 1784 and 1787. Still, the insolvency of governments that had little to honor their war debts with besides title to unoccupied lands held promise for the future of the West. Sorting out which states owned what and persuading those with claims north of the Ohio River to renounce them so as to create a national domain took time. But land companies of veterans seeking payment for past services in title to these territories began to form in the mid-1780s at the same time the national government began paving the way for their orderly disposal. Congress' land ordinance of 1785, requiring systematic surveys before its western domain was alienated to individuals, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, specifying how republican government would be extended to the new regions, made western lands more attractive to settlers. Only after the new Federal government had been ratified and implemented and the burden of war indebtedness had begun to ease, however, did the explosive potential for expanding settlement to the west became fully evident.
The first excerpts reprinted below (#1) report the movement of peoples from New England into New York in the early 1790s. New York was an especially desired destination because its postwar finances were sounder than those of the other states. Many of the nation's imports entered through New York City and the state's success in taxing them enabled New York to assume and fund most of its state debt during the 1780s. In the 1790s no state was better positioned to benefit directly from Hamilton's national funding program. Those New England soldiers who had taken part in Sullivan's punitive expedition against the Iroquois in 1779 had also brought back glowing reports about the fertility of New York's western soils.
The last excerpt (#2) from John Kirke Paulding's Letter from the South (1817) gives a general, retrospective account of what motivated the migrations of the postwar period. Though not specifically linked to Connecticut's emigration, it captures the mental calculations of the generation that began emigrating westward from the original thirteen states after the Revolution, and invokes the state's experience as exemplar of what the other eastern states should expect about their future prospects.
#1 Late eighteenth-century newspaper observations about migrations from Connecticut and New England.
"Civis," from the Litchfield Monitor, September 18, 1793.
Connecticut may justly be stiled the Nursery of genius, and science. There is no part of the world, which can boast on so large a proportion of learned men, and where knowledge is so generally diffused, among the people at large, as in this state. As it is nearly filled with inhabitants, their enterprising disposition has produced an astonishing emigration, into other states, whither they have coined these enlightened, and truly republican principles, for which they are distinguished; and which are, by this means, rapidly diffusing through every part of the United States; and form one of the principal pillars, on which the federal government will be forever supported.
"Communication, Albany, March 6," from the Connecticut Journal, March 19, 1795.
On Tuesday fe'nnight [fortnight] our northern world was blest with a fine snow, which has set every thing in motion. It is estimated that upwards of 1200 sleighs, loaded with women, children and furniture, coming from the east, and following the course of the sun, have passed through this city within 3 days, as 500 were counted by a person, out of curiosity, from sun to sun, on the 28th ult. besides what passed thro' in the evening. In short, the current of emigration flows incessantly thro' this city, and estimating only an equal number to pass the Hudson, in various quarters, besides the emigration from the Jerseys and Pennsylvania, we may safely pronounce that the western counties of this state will receive an acquisition of at least 20,000 inhabitants during the present winter, and what is remarkable, the states from whence these emigrants principally flow, instead of diminishing, continue to increase in numbers. Events so interesting to our immediate prosperity cannot fail to awaken the most unthinking minds, and to enlarge the scale of our calculations accordingly.
"Whitestone, N.Y., May 20 from the Norwich Packet, June 5, 1795.
Emigrations to the westward, the present spring, have exceeded the most sanguine expectations of every individual. ... Foreigners of immense fortunes crowd on in great numbers. Land speculators are every where to be found, and the number of honest husbandmen who are moving westward exceed all calculation. It is said, that upon a moderate calculation the number of boats which have passed Old Fort-Schuyler [modern Rome, NY], with families moving to the westward, for several weeks past, average at from fifteen or twenty boats in a day. The great influx of inhabitants has greatly raised the price of Lands, those which sold for twelve shillings eight months ago, are now selling at from twenty-four to thirty shillings. Should the prospect of peace, which is now dawning upon the United States, prove auspicious, these western counties will shortly become as populous as the "Connecticut Hive;" and the State of New-York be the most numerous of the whole fifteen!
#2 James Kirke Paulding, Letters from the South, written during an excursion during the summer of 1816 ... (New York, 1817), pp. 82-87 passim.
... The Atlantic States seem to have had their day; and few of them ... will hereafter increase in a ratio corresponding with their previous growth. The more active and enterprising — the people who partake of youth, enterprise, and hardihood, and who increase the actual productions of the earth by their labours, are looking more and more to the West, "over the hills and far away." It is in that direction the tide which knows no ebb, will continue to flow, till the great vacuum is filled up. ... The prospect of exchanging a little exhausted farm, for one ten times as large, where the labours and privations of a few years are repaid by the sweets of independence to themselves and their children, will allure many of the young ones of the East, to the Land of Promise in the West.
The people of the United States partake, in no small degree, of the habits of their predecessors, the Aborigines, who, when they have exhausted one hunting-ground, pull up stakes, and incontinently march off to another, four or five hundred miles off, where game is plenty. So with honest brother Jonathan. When he has eaten up every thing around him, and worked his land to skin and bone, and when his house is just on the point of tumbling about his ears; instead of taking the trouble of restoring the one, or rebuilding the other, he abandons both; and packing up his moveables, consisting of his wife and chubby boys, in a wagon, whistles himself to the banks of the Ohio, the Illinois, or the Missouri, — all one to him. Here he builds him a log cabin, — and his axe is like the whirlwind, which levels the tallest trees of the forest in a twinkling. By and by he puts an addition to his cabin; and last of all, builds him a stately house, and becomes a judge, a general, or a member of congress, for our people are jacks of all trades, and the same man can turn his hand or his head to any thing.
It is easy to perceive the effects that will result and which in part have already resulted from this habit of emigration, for which our people are distinguished. The most hardy, active, industrious children of the elder States, who have little or no birthright at home — who have sagacity to perceive the advantages, and courage to encounter the difficulties of so long a journey, go where the land is cheap, and labour repaid with abundance. Those who remain behind, will consist of a sober, regular race, forming a very useful ingredient in our mixed population; possessing perhaps more of the elegances, but less of the solid independence of life; and who will make as good citizens, but not as good soldiers, as the hardy emigrants to the new countries. They will increase, perhaps, the manufactures of the country; but probably the produce of the land, which is the consequence of well-directed industry, will not increase in equal proportion, so long as there remains such a field for enterprise in the western world.
I think it results from this reasoning, that the sanguine calculations of the growth of our cities east of the Alleganies, are ill founded in some degree, and that consequently speculations made in the spirit of this misguided second-sight, will end at last in disappointment to somebody. ... Their [the eastern cities'] increase has been that of a young child, which grows more the first twenty years than all the rest of its life afterward. Neither our past experience, nor the example of other countries, has any material application to our future destiny. ... In countries whose limits are circumscribed on all sides, either by the ocean, or by neighboring territories, equally populous, the increasing numbers of the people are enabled to supply their wants by improving their lands, and modes of cultivation; — by the erection of manufactures, and the fostering of new incitements to industry: consequently every foot of land in the space thus occupied, increases in its products, and consequently in its value, proportionably with the increase of population. But it is quite different in the States which are the best peopled among us. The increase of numbers, when it arrives at a certain point, is always followed by emigration, rather than by any exertions to support the increase by those improvements I stated: and of course, while there still remain fertile and pleasant territories in the indefinable limits of the west to be settled, it will generally happen, that the growth of the elder States will be retarded, while that of the new is accelerated by emigrations. In Connecticut, and probably in nearly all the New-England States, I believe there has been little growth in numbers, since the western States became objects of attention, and offered safety, as well as competence. If the land, either in town or country, has risen in its nominal price, it has but little, if any, increased in value. The difference is owing, I imagine, almost entirely to speculation, and to the depreciation of money — the consequence of enormous emissions of paper in all part of the United States.CHAPTER 2
Wellsprings of Connecticut's Emigration
Though the entire country saw increased levels of physical mobility after 1790, Alexander B. Johnson (#6) was not alone in arguing that the greatest emigrations came from southern New England led by Connecticut. Many reasons were cited to explain the state's primacy. Johnson's Malthusian interpretation of the balance between population and local resource may strike modern readers as bizarre because Connecticut currently supports a population more than ten times what it was before 1800. But that is because the industrial revolution subsequently made it possible to sustain populations undreamed of before the middle of the nineteenth century. A key limitation on population encountered prior to the advent of the railroad and electricity was the availability of fuel. The "Observer" (#3) drew attention to the growing shortages of wood in the older, settled areas of New England, which again may strike modern readers as strange given the abundant woodlands outside the metropolitan areas that today greet the eye. But our current landscape is the product of extensive reforestation made possible by the availability of alternative fuels in the twentieth century.
Emigration in the first decades of the nineteenth century received an additional stimulus from two other sources. One was the weather, which was much more severe then than it is now. The impact of climate on emigration was especially noticeable after of the eruption of Timbora in April 1815 reduced the mean temperature in the northern hemisphere precipitously. During the summer of 1816 the chill began affecting crop yields. A disappointing agricultural season reinforced the financial pressures some were already experiencing, inducing many to look for greener pastures elsewhere. While there was relatively little published commentary about the weather at the time, it assumed increased importance in the memories of men, like Samuel Goodrich (#7), later in their lives.
The other factor pushing people out of Connecticut was politics. Accusations of political persecution were not confined to Connecticut as the Massachusetts piece "Causes of Emigration" (#5) makes clear. But few were as specific in their allegations as the address to James Hillhouse (#4). It complained that Connecticut's attachment law and the partisan administration of the libel laws were being used by Federalists to harass "undesireables" out of the state. Political persecution by itself would not have induced a mass emigration. But it was significant in eliminating leaders who might otherwise have rallied their fellow Democrats to resist Federalist pressures.
Excerpted from The Peopling of New Connecticut by Richard Buel Jr.. Copyright © 2011 The Acorn Club. Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Connecticut Emigration 1750-1830
A PEOPLE IN MOTION
#1 Late eighteenth-century newspaper observations about emigration
“Civis,” from the Litchfield Monitor, September 18, 1793
“Communication,” in Connecticut Journal, March 19, 1795
“Whitestown, N.Y.,” in Norwich Packet, June 5, 1795
#2 James Kirke Paulding, Letters from the South…(1817)
WELLSPRINGS OF CONNECTICUT EMIGRATION
#3 “Observer” from Connecticut Courant in New England Palladium, January 3, 1817
#4 “To James Hillhouse,” in Hartford Times, March 25, 1817
#5 “Causes of Emigration,” Boston Independent Chronicle and Patriot, September 13, 1817
#6 A.B. Johnson, “Thoughts on Population,” New-York Literary Journal, September 15, 1820
#7 Samuel Goodrich, Peter Parley’s Own Story (1864)
THE PROCESS OF TRANSPLANTING NEW ENGLAND SOCIETY
Planning a new settlement
Public authorization and its consequences:
#8 “The Querist, III,” Connecticut Courant, March 23, 1795
#9 Resolutions of the General Assembly for selling the western lands, May 30, 1795
#10“Plain Man,” in Connecticut Courant, March 31, 1797
Connecticut Land Co
#11 Letter from a Gentleman…in New Connecticut, July 5, in Connecticut Courant, August 22, 1796
#12 Milton Holley’s Journal about running the line between Pennsylvania and the Western Reserve, July 7-23, 1796
#13 Seth Pease, Journal of Seth Pease 1797
Promotional Descriptions of the Land
#14 Commodifying Land
Uriel Holmes in Carlisle [Pa] Gazette, March 1798, Lands of New-Connecticut [Evans #33565]
#15 Letter from a gentleman in Ohio, October 13, 1804 in Connecticut Courant, January 2, 1805
#16 James Tongue, A Letter…giving a short Account of the Country (1807)
#17 “New Connecticut,” in Connecticut Herald, December 5, 1815 reprinted in the Times, April 8,1817
The Experience of Removal
#18 Joseph Badger, Diary (1802)
#19Margaret Dwight, A Journey to Ohio (1810)
#20 Joel Baker, A Sermon occasioned by the Expected Removal of a number of Families (1811)
CONSEQUENCES OF EMIGRATION
#21 Analysis of Census of 1800 in Salem Register, October 24, 1803
#22 John Melish, Travels through the United States (1812), II, 294-96
#23 “Calculator” in Albany Gazette, September 30, 1803
#24 John L. Tomlinson, “Discourse on Agriculture,” Connecticut Journal, March 24, 1818
Social and Political impact
#25 The Wasp July 17, 1802
#26 “To the Republicans,” in Bridgeport Herald, April 3, 1816
#27 Oliver Wolcott, Speech to the Legislature, in Connecticut Courant, May 20, 1817
#28 David Humphreys, A Discourse on the Agriculture of the State of Connecticut (1816)
#29 Oliver Wolcott, Jr., “Taxation”, in Republican Farmer, Bridgeport, June 16, 1819
#30 “The Brief Remarker,” in Connecticut Courant, January 14, 1817
#31 “A Connecticut Farmer,” in Connecticut Journal, July 29, 1817
#32 William H. Hand, “’Tother Side of Ohio (1818)
#33 “Emigration Hard Times,” in Connecticut Mirror, July 26, 1819
Response to Anti-immigration Sentiment
#34 “Horrors of a Revolution,” in The Times, April 8,1817
#35 “Emigration” in New-York Columbian, October 13, 1819
Attempts to transmit Connecticut’s Culture
#36 Legislative acts and resolutions pertaining to Western Missions (1792, 1798, 1802)
#37 Thomas Robbins, Diary (1804)
#38 Timothy Dwight et al., An Address to the Emigrants from Connecticut (1817)
MEASURES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE
#39 John Melish, Travels through the United States (1812), II, 257-297 passim
#40 John F. Schermerhorn & Samuel J. Mills, A Correct View (1814)
#41 “Revival of Religion in Trumbull Co,” in Christian Watchman, Nov. 11, 1820
#42 Zerah Hawley, Journal of a Tour (1822)
#43 D. Griffiths, Two Years’ Residence in Ohio (1835)
Current members of the Acorn
What People are Saying About This
"Richard Buel Jr. has compiled an extraordinary collection of letters, diaries, sermons, and newspaper articles written by federalist and republican leaders, ministers, lawyers, women, promoters, and detractors concerning the promise of the state's Western Reserve. He has given us a superb narrative about a central but neglected aspect of Connecticut's history."
Howard R. Lamar, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University
Richard Buel Jr. has compiled an extraordinary collection of letters, diaries, sermons, and newspaper articles written by federalist and republican leaders, ministers, lawyers, women, promoters, and detractors concerning the promise of the state's Western Reserve. He has given us a superb narrative about a central but neglected aspect of Connecticut's history.