Moses Cleaveland Founded Cleveland, But Who Was This Guy?

Ralph DiMatteo

Moses Cleaveland Portrait

I suppose the first question anyone might have when discussing or researching Moses Cleaveland is, "Why is the city that he founded spelled without the additional 'a' in its name?”

Well, I wish I could say it was something really interesting, but the truth is no one seems to know for sure. The most widely referenced thought is simply that a local newspaperman ran out of space and dropped the “a” to make it fit in a headline.

Take heart, though, as there is much to tell about the man who literally surveyed and laid out what is Cleveland and the surrounding area we know today.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Cleaveland studied law at Yale and served under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, rising all the way to the rank of brigadier general.

Cleaveland became a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company, which had purchased land in the Western Reserve, or New Connecticut. Cleaveland was dispatched to survey the land as well as handle the delicate, and at times contentious, process of negotiating with the Native Americans already living in the area who didn’t immediately recognize the group’s claim to the land.

So, after landing on the banks of the Cuyahoga River on July 22nd, 1796 and before leaving the area in October of that same year, Cleaveland and his surveyors laid out whole towns and plots of land east of the Cuyahoga River. Cleaveland himself never returned to the area, staying in Connecticut to practice law and passing away in 1806.

The two things I found most interesting about Cleaveland were about the bronze statue erected in his honor in 1888, and the project started in 1946 to find trees in the area that would have been around when Cleaveland arrived.

On the very Public Square he and his group of surveyors staked out, a bronze statue that still stands today was erected in 1888 in his honor at a cost of $4,000.  Cleaveland is depicted holding a staff and compass, and as you look at it your mind cannot help but wander back to that time and wonder what he and his team may have thought when seeing this new territory for the first time.

Second, in 1946, as part of commemorating the 150th anniversary of Cleaveland’s arrival, Arthur B. Williams and the Cleveland Natural History Museum were tasked with finding, identifying and tagging trees that would have been around when the group arrived that very first time.

Trees had to be nominated, and from 23 species, 242 were identified and then had to have their age verified. Of this group, 150 made the list of trees that were eventually identified with metal plaques and easily accessible to those who would want to explore and see the trees for themselves.

Additional trees have been added and others have died out since the project began in 1946, but those that remain are truly a live connection to Cleveland’s founding and an ongoing tribute to the man responsible for it, one Moses Cleaveland.

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