THE MOST DRAMATIC ROLE on the New Connecticut frontier was played by a man whose name is unmarked there today in bronze or brass or marble. But he belongs with the Cuyahoga valley’s most select list of giants - James Hillhouse. He should also be credited by Connecticut for that state’s present outstanding school systems.
Men learned rather early that nature’s apparently haphazard sprawl of plant and rock and fish and animal actually conceals highly precise patterns of life-and-death interdependency. But the New Connecticut planners had not seen that an equally precise economic survival balance evolved in the seeming chaos of haphazard land settlement as practiced elsewhere. The Connecticut planners were going to take the chaos out of it, and spread the settlers evenly over the Reserve, allocating the land with great fairness and neatness of spacing.
Playing God that way, even over only three-million acres, brought disaster, bankruptcy, complete stagnation, and poverty.
During the depths of this despair, a giant strode upon the property. He gazed out at the frontiersmen from placid obsidian eyes sunk in a high-boned, Indian-dark face. In fact, men called him the Sachem, and he looked like a powerful Narraganset.
Lank as a crane, he walked among the New Connecticut settlers in knee buckles and powdered wig. His arrival brought fear, resentment, and personal attacks. Hillhouse was the official collector. He was sent by Connecticut to collect the money due.
How did this happen?
If you drive along both banks of the Cuyahoga and if you look at a map of the Western Reserve area just astride it, you’ll see names of towns and streets and creeks which, in most other regions, would tell a reconstructible story of natural settlement. But since the Western Reserve was settled unnaturally by a precisely plotted and platted system, revolving strangely enough around a lottery type mechanism, the usual rules for reading the land don’t apply.
For example, though five distinguished Kelleys came and settled here, and operated extensively in land, not one town is named Kelley. On the other hand, John Young’s town bears his name though he came for only a brief stay. Almost every town has a Granger Street, yet Gideon Granger’s contribution was highly localized. Not one town or county or street or creek is named Hillhouse, yet James Hillhouse, perhaps more than anyone created the Western Reserve.
Back in Hartford, Connecticut, deeds were made out to the original 35 parties for as many 1/1,200,000ths of the three-million Western Reserve acres as their investment indicated, the whole price being $1,200,000. But specific plots of ground were not assigned.
When the survey was finished and the land assessed, a ticket was made out for each specific section of land, classified as first, second or third class land. The tickets were then separated into those categories, and five separate drawings held over the next five years. A man entitled to a thousand acres, drawing tickets from the three piles, might draw land in three different townships in three different ranges. Nothing prevented him from swapping tickets with someone else to consolidate his holdings, but that was his business.
He might then elect one of the areas as his personal home-site, or he might not go to Ohio at all, merely selling the ground indicated on his tickets. Or he might elect to put the ticket in the hands of a land agent who was going west, like Stow or Kelley.
At any rate, immigrants did not usually come west and look over the ground to see where they would settle. They generally had a ticket in pocket as they sailed or wagoned to the mouth of the Cuyahoga. (A few entered from the south via Pittsburgh.) From there they inquired where to find the stake for the horizontal line to their township. They traveled upstream to that stake, then inland along the survey line until they came to their particular township, then along the township line until they found their section. Townships were five miles on a side, 16,000 acres.
Thus the pioneers of the Western Reserve did not settle in the traditional economic clusters at river mouths and trail crossings. They chose instead to live in geometric patterns - neat and impractical. Settlers chopped holes in the big woods, and put up isolated cabins surrounded on each side by hardwood loneliness.
To the thoughtful men who conceived this plan it promised certain theoretical advantages. It was eminently fair and it so dispersed settlement that the whole area could develop simultaneously rather than concentrating population around attractive land features as under the casual method. It also placed people throughout the area in order to encourage defense against the British and Indians.
Nevertheless these advantages broke up natural economic combinations which make for development. The farmer found himself arbitrarily located near fine deposits of red kidney iron ore, which was to him only a nuisance. The ironmaster, who would normally settle near the ore, drew good farmland that he did not appreciate. Under the casual method of settlement, the ironmaster would seek out the ore. The miller, the fine millsites. The gunsmith or ironwright would locate near the ironmaster, the sailor near the port. But the drawing of lots created an economic incompetence which was about to turn to disaster.
This fact only heightened the heroism and drama as this most competent body of settlers invaded a hostile geography. And ultimately it would bring forward several giants, including James Hillhouse.
Those settlers who came first, though they came in their own self-interest, necessarily broke trail for hundreds over the next three decades. Being Connecticut men, they were accustomed to cleared land already mature and crop-bearing. Despite the description from the surveying party, these immigrants were not prepared for a land completely forested with no break in the cover except at waterbodies, and no axle-width gap in the undergrowth. The trees held a piece of night all day.
John Young and a surveyor named Wolcott fought their way up the Mahoning from Fort Pitt to survey the section Young had drawn in the southeast corner of the Reserve.
Now we’ve met Nathaniel Doan, one of the few surveyors to come back as a settler. Recovered from the ague, he did establish a blacksmith shop on Superior Street in Cleveland in 1798, according to his land contract. On the frontier, this blacksmith shop became the hub of engineering at a time when the main progress was engineering. Doan helped with the myriad mechanical necessities of a frontier, and for a long time, he was the only resource for shoeing the pack horses of surveyors who now came to subdivide the small parcels held by individual stockholders in the Connecticut Land Company. A settlement grew up around his shop where Newburgh Road crossed Euclid Road. It became known as Doan’s Corners, though Doan himself moved four miles inland toward Euclid to escape the miasma from the river. Still he died young, in 1815.
Turhand Kirtland, whose money had been invested in the Connecticut Land Company through Caleb Atwater, drew his land scattered all over Kirtland, Burton, Auburn, Mecca, and Poland, Ohio. He set out from Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1798 to find his lands and to survey them into subparcels.
In addition to his personal land, Kirtland was an agent for the Connecticut Land Company. Part of his mission was to get Major Carter and Major Spafford to pay $25 for their town lots in Cleaveland. But by then, these two men had contributed so much to the area, and they had seen others awarded free lots for lesser but more specific services, and they expected generosity from the company. They requested a price of ten dollars per lot, refused to pay $25, saying they would move off the lots.
Kirtland wrote a letter back to the company recommending the company sell to these two heroes at ten dollars, “otherwise I shall never expect to see the land settled. Mr. Carter has been of essential advantage to the inhabitants here, in helping them to provision in times of danger and scarcity, has never experienced any gratuity from the company, but complains of being hardly dealt by, in sundry instances.”
He went on to say Carter and Spafford both threatened to leave unless they could buy their land cheaper.
En route to his own lands, Kirtland’s handful of cattle kept straying away. The difficulty of trying to reach his lands, survey them, and keep the animals fed and assembled was enormous, yet not enough to discourage him nor keep him from recording in his diary. In doing so, he became a major contributor to hundreds who followed, because Kirtland hacked the road into Chardon’s forest-covered canyons.
In the following year, Benjamin Tappan, Jr., left Connecticut to see to his father’s lands in Ravenna. He entered by way of the Cuyahoga’s mouth, boated his goods upstream to Boston, and began chopping a road along the survey lines into what would become Ravenna.
He went back to Boston on the Cuyahoga to sledge his stores into Ravenna, but he lost one ox, felled by clusters of enormous flies. A man stuck in the forest tied to a mountain of goods he can neither move nor live without is in trouble. Tappan had spent all his money but a dollar on the trek west. He sent back to Erie, Pennsylvania, for a loan of money while he walked across to John Young’s town to find an ox for sale. It is not clear who he sent, nor how he negotiated without money. Work cattle were scarce, but he was able to locate an animal through James Hillhouse. With the persuasive affability which would make him an important western legislator, he struck a good price.
Previously, Tappan had overtaken and come part way with another Connecticut immigrant, David Hudson of Goshen, Connecticut, en route to his Western Reserve lands, Township 4, Range 10.
Together they overtook Elias Harmon and wife who were heading for what would become Mantua. Harmon’s boat broached and smashed in Lake Erie off Ashtabula. He went on cross-country. Hudson bought and repaired the boat, shipped into Cleaveland, and sailed upstream. The water was low, requiring the boat to be towed across sand bars. The survey line leading to Hudson’s Township 4, Range 10, couldn’t be found for six days.
Hudson was a humorless, physically powerful, and pious man with a delicate responsibility to man and a poetic feel for the land. He was a direct descendant of Hendrick Hudson of the Hudson River, whose youngest son was David. In direct descent then, came six David Hudsons to this one who founded the town on Range 10 in New Connecticut. His first night on his own ground, he lay out in the open in the rain enjoying the sensation.
Hudson’s two yoke of oxen were following in the care of Mr. Meachem, who brought them due south from Lake Erie on a range line over precipitous ravines, crossing two rivers by raft. Therefore, Hudson first turned his 12 men to the job of opening an axe-width road in from the Cuyahoga. Over this road, all future settlers to the area freighted their possessions.
Hudson and his men put up a log house and cleared land for winter wheat. In the fall, he left the men there while he went back to Connecticut for his family and more settlers. When, for the second time, he reached Township 4, Range 10, now called Hudson, he assembled both groups for a Thanksgiving service in midwinter.
Of all the towns in Ohio, Hudson probably most stands for the essence of the Connecticut Western Reserve. It reproduced Connecticut so faithfully that even today you would believe yourself to be driving through a Connecticut town.
David Hudson attracted a very high caliber of settler, and the town became the birthplace of two famous Ohio colleges. Western Reserve College in Hudson was modeled in 1826 on Connecticut’s Yale, and staffed by Yale professors. The college held high standards, but it was in constant economic battle. In 1882, Amassa Stone of Cleveland offered the college $500,000 if it would remove to Cleveland. Its classical department was then named Adelbert College in memory of Stone’s lost son.
The vacated buildings at Hudson were occupied by a new institution, Western Reserve Academy, today one of the nation’s fine preparatory schools for boys.
Under Hudson’s leadership a town grew rapidly and solidly. As you’d expect of David Hudson, religious services began immediately, but a formal church - Congregational - rose in 1802, and in the same year, a log schoolhouse. By 1807, there was a tannery, run by Owen Brown, the father of the famous John Brown.
David Hudson’s daughter, Anna, was the first white child born in Summit County. The first to die in the settlement (1808) was the mother of John Brown.
The New Connecticut settlement which gained the fastest start by far was Warren; it was not originally settled by Connecticut Land Company men. Two men living in Washington County, Pennsylvania, Captain Ephraim Quinby and Richard Storer, had heard about New Connecticut and in 1798 decided to go over and have a look with a view to purchasing land. They were perhaps the most scientific of the early purchasers, except for Moses Warren who snapped up the salt lands near there.
Captain Quinby selected land in relation to himself rather than fitting himself to a square drawn out of a hat. He selected Township 6, Range l0, and bought substantially, becoming the real founder of Warren. Within a year, he had 16 white settlers in, and by 1801 the town of Warren was the biggest and most prosperous in New Connecticut. It became county seat of an enormous Trumbull County.
Gideon Granger who had gone together with Oliver Phelps, investing $80,000 in the land company (this is separate from Phelps’s $168,000), drew his acreage 16 miles southwest of Cleveland. It was called Berea. Berea has little contact with the Cuyahoga, but we will see Gideon Granger become important to the Cuyahoga valley in offsetting the stilted placement of people in arbitrary squares of land.
Nearly every town in the valley has a Granger Street. General Granger was the Reserve’s grapevine. Gaining a government mail contract, he rode from town to town, and being an enlightened and highly intelligent man he spread important news among the people: what trails wide enough for a wagon had been cut into what areas; where mills were being built to grind flour; who could shoe a horse or braze a drawbar chain; where there was a man who could make bricks.
Granger, no ordinary mail rider, later became U.S. Postmaster General.
Important among the town builders along the Cuyahoga was Joshua Stow of Middletown, Connecticut, a $6,000 investor in the Connecticut Land Company. He had come out with General Cleaveland’s surveying party in charge of commissary. He was a tough 34-year-old outdoorsman who often moved in advance of the surveying party hunting for game to preserve their regular rations. The Cuyahoga valley was rattlesnake country, and Josh Stow became expert at finding and killing snakes. To carry them, he would wrap them around his waist, six or eight per trip. In camp, he would clean, cook, and serve them.
After the survey, Stow drew 5,000 acres north of Akron, and he came back to Ohio to oversee the surveying of his acreage for resale. Establishing the town of Stow, he then went into real estate operations in the eastern part of the Reserve. Many thousands of property deeds in the Reserve today go back to an original land title signed by Stow in partnership with one of the Kelley brothers.
But beyond Stow’s individual pioneering in the Reserve, his influence becomes enormous in another way. It was Stow who brought the fabulous Kelley brothers who stayed to mold New Connecticut by selling land, establishing towns, moving rivers, building canals, laying railroads, making laws, and developing islands.
In Middletown, Connecticut, Josh Stow’s sister, Jemina, married Daniel Kelley. Her sons grew up hearing about their dramatic uncle Stow at work out in New Connecticut. It became a place of high adventure, and these boys were adventurers, Datus, Alfred, Irad, Joseph, and Thomas. But they come later when the troubles worsened.
Meanwhile, the lot-drawing system of land ownership continued to cut isolated, helpless clearings in the three-million acres of virgin oak, beech, maple, chestnut, and walnut.
Judge Austin pushed in to the northeast corner with a small party to start Austinburg. He brought 150 cattle, the first real herd on the Reserve.
Lewis Day and his boy came out of Granby, Connecticut, with two others in a wagon, and pushed 25 miles west of Youngstown in 1799. That brought the first wagon-width trail to Deerfield. Caleb Atwater then cut a township road into Deerfield from the west, hence that area had good communications.
Very few ventured west of the Cuyahoga, though a dozen from Waterbury, Connecticut, pushed across into Ridgeville, Amherst, and Eaton. David Abbott purchased 1,800 acres astride the Huron River and settled there in 1809. Vermilion was occupied in 1808.
Jemina Kelley and her husband were much less than enchanted with Josh Stow. But the magic had happened, and one by one their sons went west. Alfred Kelley, the most distinguished, rode west beside Joshua Stow at age 21 with lawbooks in hand. Arriving in Cleveland in June 1810, he was almost immediately made County Prosecutor. In 1811, Datus Kelley arrived in Cleveland. In 1812, young Irad Kelley bought his way out of a militia assignment and came to join his brothers.
The sheer capability of the Kelley brothers drafted them into many frontier jobs of public service, and their own imaginative initiative got them into a dozen commercial activities. Irad Kelley, fresh out of the militia, enlisted in the service of Samuel Huntington, former Ohio governor and now paymaster of the Northwestern Army under General William Henry Harrison. One of his first assignments was to ride west with Harrison to Fort Meigs on a supply mission. There, the gallant young Major George Crogan sent Irad Kelley back to Cleveland to purchase $1,000 worth of materiel.
To find the goods, young Kelley went into Carter’s warehouse and to every resource at the mouth of the Cuyahoga. He still came up short on the supplies. What it showed Irad Kelley was that the place needed a real merchant. Irad again got loose from the army. He headed back to New York State where he bought a wagonload of trade goods. In the winter, he freighted it west and stowed it in Carter’s warehouse while he and his brothers started construction of a store, made of brick, at Superior and Sixth.
Meanwhile Irad Kelley was sailing Lake Erie, hauling powder and arms into frontier outposts. He made another trip to New York City for trade goods, and on the return picked up his mother and father and brought them west under strong protests from Jemina.
Cleveland was incorporated in 1815 and held elections. Alfred Kelley was elected president of Cleveland Village.
In 1816 the Kelley brothers commercial pier was built at the mouth of the Cuyahoga by the brothers and Alfred opened the Commercial Bank of Lake Erie; Alfred Kelley, president, Leonard Case, cashier.
In 1817, the father succeeded the son as president of the village, Irad Kelley became postmaster and Alfred became the youngest state legislator in Ohio. And about this time, Datus had his eye on Island Number Six in the Firelands Survey - about to become Kelley’s Island from which would soon come a steady tonnage of limestone for building Ohio.
As the years passed, the Cuyahoga River polity required enormous public service of the extremely competent Kelley brothers and the Cuyahoga River commercial complex blossomed under their long-sighted shrewdness and daring. Their public services were delivered for salaries increasingly beneath their notice and their worth. And even as they grew wealthy from their commercial activities, their projects all had a basic worth to the valley far beyond what they took out of it.
Alfred Kelley was almost singly responsible for lifting the state out of financial crisis in the 1820s at a salary of three dollars a day; and later, in the panic of 1837, his financial acumen and reputation kept the state from repudiating its debts; and he organized the state banking system to stabilize currency and credit.
Where these activities border the river, we’ll see them in other chapters of this volume. But beyond the large works they wrought, they also gave rise to the Kelley Legends.
A favorite is the irascibility of Irad Kelley as he grew older. By 1860, he was still a healthy and vigorous old man, and he could be counted on to be a very effective and eccentric minority opposition to every question, public or private.
Sitting on the jury in a certain trial, he kept the jury out two days, refusing to agree with the 11 others. Afterwards he was chided about his stubbornness. “Oh, I agreed immediately,” Irad said. “It was those other ’leven fellows that were stubborn as mules.”
At another time his family became worried, in view of his eccentricities, about how he would distribute his very considerable estate. At an advanced age, he was about to enter into a negotiation that his family, especially his son, thought imprudent.
They took the old man to court asking that Irad be judged insane. At the trial the judge asked the old man who would represent him in court. Irad Kelley wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and pulled it off slowly, “Well,” he said, “guess I’ll be my own lawyer.”
On the witness stand, the son testified to many examples of his father’s eccentric behavior. When he finished, the old man walked over to cross-examine his own son.
“Whose son are you?”
“How much did I give you when you were twenty-one, fourteen years ago?”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“How much of it have you now?” the father asked.
“Not much, sir.”
“Have you any of it at all?”
“How much was I worth when I gave you that money?”
“You were supposed to be worth about one hundred thousand.”
“How much am I now supposed to be worth?”
“Three hundred thousand.”
At this point, Irad Kelley addressed the bench. “May it please your honor, I have no further questions of this witness, and no further witnesses to call.
“The evidence seems to warrant the belief that there is insanity in the Kelley family, either father or son. I leave it to you, Judge, to determine which.”
In 1809, a tall, commanding young man rode into Cleveland with a dollar in his pocket and a set of tools in his saddlebag. His name was Levi Johnson. He sold the horse, used the capital to start the area’s first contract construction business.
In 1810, he built for John Walworth, the postmaster, a frame house on the Cuyahoga. In 1811 he built Buckeye House; in 1812 he built a log structure for the first courthouse and jail.
In 1813 he built a vessel, The Pilot; in ’17 the schooner Neptune; in ’24 The Enterprise, first steam vessel built in Cleveland.
In 1830, he built the lighthouse for $8,000; and then he put in the government pier at the mouth of the Cuyahoga, 900 feet long, built of stone.
He built the skyline of Cleveland until 1871 when he died, leaving $1,000,000.
Attorney Samuel Huntington, short, dapper, and courtly, had ridden out of Coventry, Connecticut, into the Ohio Country. He rode over the whole state then settled at the mouth of the Cuyahoga. The frontier didn’t have work for such a sophisticated lawyer that early. So Huntington enjoyed himself and made himself agreeable for many months. Then suddenly the frontier problems grew up to his size, and they elected him justice of quorum on the County Court of Quarter Sessions and to the state constitutional convention in 1802, and senator from Trumbull County. In 1802, he became president of the legislature and judge of the Ohio Supreme Court. In 1807 he became governor. He moved to Painesville and retired to his farm.
Luther King, Martin Sheldon and Fidelia King of Suffield, Connecticut, were wholesale merchants in indigo, feathers, and fur. They came out to Township 5, Range 9, and opened up Aurora.
After the Indian title was extinguished, Seth Pease, brother-in-law of Gideon Granger and brother of Calvin Pease of Warren, was brought back in 1806 to survey the rest of the Reserve west of the Cuyahoga, but settlement wouldn’t move readily across the river.
With people thus spread evenly across the Reserve in small isolated clusters, there were not enough people in any one place really to improve the area nor to build any major commercial enterprise, nor was there any substantial market for produce. Hence there was no way to accumulate working capital.
New Connecticut then was the anomalous spectacle of a superior population rapidly heading for financial disaster. The stockholders in the Connecticut Land Company were naturally men of great accomplishment and stature back in Connecticut. But out in New Connecticut, they were living like animals. Poverty and an absolute absence of cash was the climate. Withal, the people were working themselves to the bone for survival.
Despite the misery, New England character showed through in the uphill struggle. Young Joshua R. Giddings of Jefferson was walking 40 miles through the woods to Canfield to read law under the distinguished and impoverished Elisha Whittlesey, who would later become the great lawyer-statesman who founded the national Whig party, and became first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury.
Young Giddings studied hard and well, and would return to Jefferson to join in a two-man office with the future Senator Ben Wade, both of them to become giants in the U.S. Senate.
But meanwhile, distinguished Connecticut men walked barefoot in the Reserve. Some wore a semi-leathern apron ending in half leggings, covering the front of the legs and lashed behind with leather thongs. Sheep were scarce, so women were forced to try to make cloth of poor substitutes for wool.
And this was the low estate of what began as a business venture. The poverty in the Reserve in no way released the settlers from their obligations. The Connecticut Land Company was committed to complete its payments to the State of Connecticut. They now also owed taxes on the unsold lands to the State of Ohio. To pay these commitments, they had nothing. The members of the Excess Company had lost all their money. The Land Company treasury received no money from the six townships it reserved for itself to furnish operating income. And the town lots in Cleveland that it had reserved to itself would not sell.
The Land Company stockholders who had sold land to other settlers on credit and mortgages could not collect. Meanwhile, the State of Connecticut was ready to start the school system which was the object of its sale of the Reserve to Connecticut Land Company:
... the principal sum which shall be received from the sale of the lands belonging to this State, laying west of Pennsylvania shall be and remain a perpetual fund ... and the interest arising therefrom shall be, and is hereby appropriated to the support of schools ... within this State.
The Connecticut Land Company had made a down payment, but quickly fell into arrears. In the first 13 years, only half the commitment was paid. Interest due on the balance had, by 1809, risen nearly to equal the balance of principal. Since the settlers of the land were without funds, the Connecticut legislature could see that, though it put hundreds of people in jail, it would still not realize any cash. In a desperate move, they relieved the fund board of managers and sought out one man to try to save this fast disintegrating venture.
A mysterious Connecticut giant at the time was James Hillhouse of New Haven. An intimidating intelligence smoldered from dark eyes in that craggy Indian-like face, which calmly recognized no opponent as superior. As a young captain, he had marched out of New Haven commanding 30 young men to meet the British invasion on July 5, 1779.
A Yale graduate and a lawyer, he had a good grasp of economics. Yale made him its treasurer in 1782. At 26, Connecticut sent him to the Second Congress, then re-elected him to the Third and Fourth.
From 1797 through 1803, he was re-elected three times to the Senate, and he undertook the personal mission of limiting the powers of Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.
When he returned from the capital to Connecticut in May 1810, the state asked him to accept the job of Commissioner of the School Fund, the first requirement being to get the money. He resigned the Senate to take on the job.
When word of his acceptance reached the stockholders of the Connecticut Land Company both in Connecticut and on the Reserve, alarm spread.
It would be logical for Hillhouse to begin to jail debtors to see if the threat would spur them to uncover assets which he could seize for the School Fund, or to try to frighten the debtors into borrowing to pay their debts to the State of Connecticut. People felt this was exactly how he would proceed.
James Hillhouse began by studying every debtor. What he found was a hopeless roster of poverty and bankruptcy caused by the Land Company, sometimes wiping out two generations of the same family where stock in the Land Company had been passed on by inheritance, along with its backbreaking obligations.
It was difficult to locate or even trace many of the people, but Hillhouse was relentlessly persistent and thorough. He found there wasn’t enough seizable property among all the debtors to begin to matter.
Then he recognized what his real job was, and it is perhaps unique in all history. James Hillhouse could see that what he had to do was force all the debtors involved to make money. His real job was to make them prosperous, or at least solvent.
First Hillhouse called on the debtors still living in Connecticut. In addition to what he had been able to learn of their financial situation, he now probed for more facts. When the whole story was finally in front of him, he applied his financial acumen to each individual case. He became a personal business counselor to each debtor family. He told them what to sell, what to retain, in many cases how to run their own businesses, to get the money to pay their debts to the State of Connecticut.
In many cases the original stockholder was now dead and Hillhouse was dealing with heirs. Such was the case as he approached the tangled financial affairs of the heirs of Oliver Phelps. Oliver Phelps we’ve already seen was the imaginative high-flying land developer who was the largest investor in the Land Company - $186,185, not including some he had invested in concert with Gideon Granger.
Phelps was spread very thin, because beyond this development he had other large ones in work. Receiving no substantial returns on his Connecticut Western Reserve investment, Phelps could not pay his debts. His creditors swept in on him. And when he could not sell off his Western Reserve lands fast enough to get cash, they put him in jail.
He died there. His family was impoverished, and his complex legacy of debt was so involved that it seemed impossible to straighten it out.
But James Hillhouse now headed west to see the Phelps properties on the Reserve with his own eyes. He traveled alone.
Arriving on the Reserve, he was initially a cause of alarm and some malice. He had a singleness of conduct, which was the same on an Ohio Survey line as on the Senate floor. And he steadily went about the business of viewing each Phelps property, slowly and relentlessly untangling the snarl.
Finally the only debt remaining was to the State of Connecticut. Having seen the lands and what they could be used for, he was able now to return to Connecticut and sell them to logical buyers. From these monies, he was able to pay the debt to Connecticut from the Phelps estate, and with money left over for the Phelps family.
The family was overjoyed, and they generously agreed to let Hillhouse compute the Phelps debt to Connecticut with compound interest so that his payment to Connecticut was actually $14,500 higher than required. The family was so grateful for the service Hillhouse rendered them that they gave him $6,000. Without demurring, Hillhouse solemnly accepted the money, and put it into the School Fund.
Moving then to the debtor who was the next best potential, Hillhouse kept steadily at it. Each year, he hitched up the mare and went to the Reserve to see the actual piece of land involved in the debt, and to coach the debtor on how best to handle his affairs. For 15 years he labored at this work. The stockholders of the Connecticut Land Company had now multiplied to 500 as stock was subdivided, largely through inheritance. Hillhouse had not only recovered all monies owing to Connecticut, but a half million besides. He never once resorted to litigation.
Hillhouse brought solvency to the Cuyahoga valley and the entire Western Reserve by 1825. In that year another towering individual would almost single-handedly move the valley forward into actual prosperity.
There is no marker on the Western Reserve as memorial to Hillhouse.
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