The story of the Firelands of Ohio may be unique in American history, in that in no other instance were civilian victims of war compensated with land.
During the American Revolution there was very little military activity in Connecticut, but the citizens were busy manufacturing goods and shipping supplies to the Continental Army. These actions angered the British, of course, and they sent out a series of raids from New York City to destroy the supplies and cripple the shipping.
The raids got out of hand, and a good deal of civilian property such as private homes, churches, and schools were also destroyed or damaged.
The citizens had no insurance or federal disaster grants to help them rebuild. An example of the destruction is found in the story of Norwalk, Connecticut, raided July 11, 1779 with 80 of the 86 dwellings in the town burned. Two churches, 87 barns, four mills, and five vessels were also lost in the raid. The other towns raided during the war were New London, New Haven, East Haven, Greenwich, Danbury, Fairfield, Ridgefield, and Groton.
After the war, several petitions were presented to the Connecticut legislature by the citizens who lost property. They soon became known as “Sufferers.” Their 1787 appeal was referred to a legislative committee which reported back in 1792 that the Sufferers ought to be paid, but the state had only western lands for compensation in lieu of cash. This western land was the part of northeast Ohio now known as the Western Reserve.
Connecticut’s royal charter had granted land from one ocean to the other. When the western claims of various states were settled after the American Revolution, Connecticut kept only a tract 120 miles long on the south shore of Lake Erie
A half million acres at the west end of that Western Reserve was given to the Fire Sufferers in 1792.
A major problem to be overcome was paying off the Indian tribes who owned the land and then surveying it. This took until 1808 and by then most of the sufferers had died or had sold their claims to land speculators. Very few of the actual Fire Sufferers ever saw the Fire Sufferers Lands (a name soon shortened to Fire Lands or Firelands) in Ohio.
For more information about the Firelands, please see the Firelands Museum website.