Another Type of Reparations II
Bill Long 10/24/06
Explaining the Firelands
When the CT legislature told the Memorialists in 1788 that the only means of redress for those in the nine towns whose homes and businesses were torched by the British in 1777-81 was in the "Western Lands owned by this State reserved their-late cession to Congress," they were referring to a long and complex history, a part of which I will tell right now. It all began with the charter granted to CT in 1662 by Charles II. The boundaries of that colony were as follows:
"all that parte of our Dominions in Newe England in America bounded on the East by Norrogancett River comonly called Norrogancett Bay where the said River falleth into the Sea, and on the North by the Lyne of the Massachusetts Plantation and on the South by the Sea, and in longitude as the Lyne of the Massachusetts Colony runinge from East to West that is to say, from the said Narrogancett Bay on the East to the South Sea on the West parte with the Islands thereunto adjoyneinge."
The Western boundary is called the "South Sea," which subsequent generations of CT residents concluded was actually what we know as the Pacific Ocean. Thus, from the language of the grant, CT saw itself as owner of a narrow strip of land (about 40 miles wide) which would extend from Naragansett Bay on the East all the way West as far as land would reach. Early maps (before 1786) show dotted lines with Connecticut's claims cutting across New York, PA, OH and beyond. CT and NY settled their potentially conflicting land claims peacefully in the 18th century, but the conflict between CT and PA was much more serious. It eventuated in the Yankee-Pennamite Wars beginning in 1769, where people from CT and PA actually fought with each other to claim a slice of land in Northern PA. Eventually that land was adjudged to belong to PA. But that still left the Ohio claims for CT. Until 1786.
The Cession of the Western Lands
Ct was not the only state which had claims to the Western lands. As a matter of fact, the resentment of the land-locked colonies (NJ, MD, DE for example) for other colonies with Western claims was so significant that they delayed their approval of the Articles of Confederation until the states with Western lands ceded whatever claims they had. So, beginning with New York's cession in 1781 other states too abandoned their Western claims. CT, being a bit more ornery than other states, waited until 1786 to cede their land, and when they did so, they did it with a big caveat. CT would cede:
"all the Right, title, interest, jurisdiction and claim of the State of Connecticut to certain western lands beginning at the completion of the forty first degree of north latitude one hundred and twenty miles west of the western boundary line of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as now claimed by said Commonwealth, and from thence by a line drawn north parallel to and one hundred and twenty miles west of the said west line of Pennsylvania, and to continue north until it comes to forty two degrees and two minutes north latitude."
Note what the text says. Everything is ceded that is West of a line 120 miles West of PA. That means that a swath of land 120 miles long, and one degree and two minutes wide (about 40 miles), remains part of CT. This land that remained with CT was called the reserved land or, more formally, the "Western Reserve." So, that is the origin of the term. It came about because of CT's pique at having to give up their land. Even though CT reserved the land, the US didn't officially recognize CT's title to it, though the federal government was so weak at the time that they couldn't really do anything about it.
Assigning the Firelands
Then, in 1792, the CT Legislature did what their predecessors in 1788 had urged them to do--give the people who experienced loss in the British raids Western lands. The land was called the Sufferers' Land or the Firelands. It would consist of the 500,000 Westernmost acres of the Western Reserve, which would be apportioned to the families. Many towns in that region to this day have "Connecticut" names.
It is a mistake to think that once the CT Legislature acted in 1792 that all was taken care of. It would be another 16 years before the first survey of these lands was done, for example. In the meantime, much had to be done with incorporating land companies, having OH become a state (1803), extinguishing Indian title to the land, surveying the land and then dividing it up. The process was pretty complex, and I don't know all the details. Many families ended up selling their claims to others because they didn't have the luxury to wait 30 or so years in order to settle the new land. Many didn't want to make the difficult journey in 1810 or 1811, and the War of 1812 curtailed settlement for most of the next decade.
Thus, we have one of the first examples of reparations in the history of the United States from the early days of our nation. It was little CT recompensing their own citizens. Thus, in all the talk now about giving reparations to oppressed groups from the past, we should know that the first people that got reparations were White and Protestant and connected to their companions by birth and religions. If we can give reparations to this group, what is the big deal with reparations for those who really were oppressed?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long