By Ed Runyan
In 1800, before Ohio was a state, there was a 3.3 million-acre piece of northeastern land from the Pennsylvania line to Sandusky known as Trumbull County.
The area that now comprises parts or all of 14 counties was also known as the Connecticut Western Reserve, which was given by the king of England in 1662 to the state of Connecticut, which sold most of it in 1795 to the Connecticut Land Co. for $1.2 million.
The land company sent out surveyors in 1796 and 1797 to divide it into five-mile squares. Its southern boundary followed Western Reserve Road in what would become Mahoning County — the 41st parallel of latitude — about 120 miles to the west starting at the Pennsylvania state line.
Because the Western Reserve was laid out from south to north, Poland in current-day Mahoning County was identified as Town 1, Range 1.
The Connecticut Land Co., with the blessing of Gov. Arthur St. Clair of the Northwest Territory, declared the Western Reserve to be called Trumbull County and selected Warren Township, Town 4, Range 4, to be the county seat, said Wendell Lauth, a historian from Bristolville.
Lauth says political leaders have called Warren the historic capital of the Western Reserve. In a sense, it was, “but the correct term [for Warren] is the county seat,” Lauth said.
Because Warren was the Trumbull County seat, people had a reason to come here — primarily to file legal documents such as property deeds, and it helped the town grow, Lauth said.
Warren had little population in 1800, Lauth said, and was selected for practical reasons — to serve as “the place where the government would be meeting,” Lauth said.
Warren didn’t become the industrial and commercial center that Cleveland later did, but for several years starting in 1800, Warren was the center of the Western Reserve universe.
“Cleveland was not physically practical to go that far off in the wilderness” to be the county seat, Lauth said. “To look closer to the eastern border was best.”
According to U.S. Census data, the entire Western Reserve consisted of only 1,302 people in 1800, with Cleveland having seven. In 1801, the population of Warren was 17, Youngstown 50 and Poland 45, according to an 1882 history of Trumbull and Mahoning counties by H.Z. Williams.
John Young in Youngstown put in a bid for the county seat to be in Youngstown, but he didn’t have the political clout to make it happen, Lauth said, musing that “even then” a rivalry between the two towns existed.
Within six to seven years after Trumbull County was formed, parts started being divided off with the creation of additional counties. That meant the land, estate, marriage, tax and other records were thereafter filed in the county seat of the new counties instead of Warren, Lauth said.
But because Warren was the filing location in the earliest years, it has some interesting and unique records in its possession, say Lauth and Emily Varner, the recently retired archivist for the Trumbull County Recorder’s office.
“With the great interest we have in genealogy, it’s a great resource,” Lauth said.
In addition to property records, Warren was the place where deaths, wills and marriages from throughout the Western Reserve were recorded in the early 1800s, Lauth said. They are recorded in a book called the Quarter Sessions that is maintained by the Trumbull County Probate Court.
Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, appointed John Stark Edwards of New Haven, Conn. to become the first recorder of Trumbull County.
Among the items Edwards worked with was a hand-copied book known as the Western Reserve Draft Book that listed the original 35 land-company owners, Varner said.
The book documented the draft (or lottery) that was conducted in Hartford, Conn., in 1798 to determine which investor got which parts of the Western Reserve, Lauth said.
The draft book, as well as copied and original deeds written by Edwards starting in 1800, are among the bound volumes in the archives office of the recorder’s office across from the courthouse.
In the book are names of people who first owned the land in the Western Reserve. Among them are Joseph Howland (Howland Township), Daniel Coit (Coitsville Township), James Johnston (Johnston Township), Elijah Boardman (Boardman Township), Oliver Phelps (Phelps Street), William Hart (Village of Hartville), Henry Champion (Champion Township), Ephraim Root (city of Rootstown), Nehemiah Hubbard (city of Hubbard), Moses Cleaveland (city of Cleveland) and Aaron Olmsted (city of North Olmsted).
Because most of the earliest property owners were from Connecticut, many names in the Western Reserve came from places there, such as Hartford and Bristol, Lauth noted.
The name Trumbull was taken from Jonathan Trumbull, governor of Connecticut. Warren was named for Moses Warren, who surveyed the land in the Warren area. Most of the original land speculators never came to Ohio, only buying and selling the land.
One of the speculators who did come was General Moses Cleaveland, another of the Western Reserve land surveyors, who founded Cleveland.
Though the Western Reserve was known as Trumbull County starting in 1800, it was divided into eight large civil townships for the purpose of providing government for each, with the largest one on the western edge known as Cleveland Township.
Current-day Trumbull County and part of current-day Mahoning County were in an area of four larger townships — Vernon, Middlefield, Warren and Youngstown, according to an early map in the archives. The other townships, to the north and west of Warren and Youngstown, were Painesville, Richfield and Hudson.
The Trumbull County of 1800 would not retain its status as the capital of lands of the Western Reserve for long.
By 1806, Geauga became a county of its own, followed by Portage in 1808, Cuyahoga in 1810, Ashtabula in 1811, Medina in 1818 and Lorain in 1824. Lake and Summit counties formed in 1840, and Mahoning was created in 1846.
As new counties were created by the Ohio Legislature, representatives from the new county would travel to Warren or whatever other county had its records and copy the deed books, tax books and common pleas court journals, Varner said.
Because many Ohio counties were created out of existing counties, property records for individuals who lived during the early 1800s may exist in the records of several counties, even though the individual may have never moved.
The archives office in the basement of the Stone Building on High Street Northwest has records dating from 1795 to about 1900. Later records are available at the recorder’s office in the county administration building nearby.
While touring the archives area with Varner recently, she pointed out an entry in the earliest common pleas court journal the archives have. It was an entry from November 1808, two years after Cleaveland died in Connecticut.
The entry says Esther Cleveland, among two people appointed to administer the estate of General Cleaveland, “be allowed to sell at public or private sale either in the county of Trumbull or the State of Connecticut as they shall deem most beneficial for said estate the following tracts of land situated in Trumbull County (Lot No. 8 in Coitsville containing 284.66 acres, Lot No. 9 in Ellsworth containing 633.39 acres.”
Lauth and Varner say that by understanding how to read the town-and-range indicators, it’s easy to see that some of the deed transfers in the earliest years of Trumbull were for locations throughout the Western Reserve.