Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 1

Handout #1. What Moses Saw

The Indians called the river Cuyahoga, or crooked. It wound its way north from its point of origin near what is now Burton, Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. For centuries, the Indians of the area, the Huron, the Erie and the Miami, hunted the banks of the twisting river. They took salt from the salt licks in the area and sometimes used the natural gas wells to melt ore to make cutting tools. For many years, the Indians lived in peace in the area.

In July of 1796, a group of men from New England arrived at the mouth of the Cuyahoga. Sent to survey a new area to open settlement, these men had come many miles using only a crudely and inaccurately drawn map to guide them. Head the surveying party was General Moses Cleaveland, former officer in George Washingtonís Continental Army and a respected citizen back in Connecticut. Cleaveland was charged with finding a suitable site for a capital city of the soon to be established territory of New Connecticut. The sandy, reed-clogged mouth of the Cuyahoga did not look a likely site for a capital city. When the party landed and moved out onto the banks, they found that their first impressions were false. The banks of the river and the land beyond, farther than the eye could see, were covered with good forest land. The sheltered lowland areas at the mouth of the river would serve well as a harbor for the trade ships which would come once the city was established. So it was on the banks of the crooked river that Moses Cleaveland chose to locate the city which would later bear his name.

The Indians in the area were not completely without contact with the Europeans. French and English traders had been coming to the area for years to trade cloth, beads, guns, and whiskey for the rich pelts of the beaver and muskrat trapped by the Indians. Priests had come in their long canoes to bring Christianity to the Indians about the same time that the traders began to arrive regularly. There were some attempts at establishing small, permanent settlements by the Moravians, such as Pilgerruh.

When Moses Cleveland left his boat and stepped out onto the shore, he began the establishment of a city we today call after him. The city itself wasnít much in the beginning, just a few small huts huddled in the protection of the river bank. But Moses Cleaveland, when he returned to Connecticut carried with him surveyorís plans which established the city along the lines of a New England Township. The city itself was laid out with a public square at its center. Set aside for public use, if the lands had been purchased at the price set by the company, it would have cost two dollars. All the land parcels to be sold by the company, in the first few years, surrounded the square. Within months, people in the coastal areas began to buy land from the Connecticut Land Company. Some bought the land to sell to others, but many purchased the land with the intention of going west and settling in the land that became the Western Reserve. In a short time, a small but thriving community was established on the banks of the crooked river called the Cuyahoga. A city was born.

from Ohio History: A Resource Guide for Teachers, Cleveland City Schools, 1983.

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