American Consequences - June 2019

fashion to give new towns grand monikers and in Ohio Versailles, Troy, and Athens were already taken. It could have been worse. (Austerlitz.) As speculative bubbles go, the frontier land bubble was almost sensible. It wasn’t a monopolistic foreign trade fantasy like the 1711-1720 South Sea Bubble in Great Britain. And it wasn’t a lunatic scheme like the 1719-1720 Mississippi Bubble, an attempt to fund the budget of France with utterly non-existent revenue from nearly non- existent New World colonies. And it wasn’t silly like the 1636-1637 Dutch Tulip Mania. For poor Americans in the early 19th century, land was the only way up the economic ladder that they could comprehend. Everyone lived on or near a farm, everyone understood farming, and most people knew how to do it. And northwestern Ohio does have some of the nation’s most fertile land – if you’re willing to dig the ditches necessary to dry out the muck. Better – and less back-breaking – routes to prosperity were available. But to be a merchant, even in a small way, meant raising more than $320 in capital, and to be a craftsman meant learning a craft in an era when education was scarce and ignorance was rife. “Blacksmith? I’m not black and my name is Jones.” The westward pioneers weren’t fools... Although they could have used some wisdom about the economic direction America was already taking. Benjamin Franklin – typesetter, tinkerer, printer, publisher, author,

After the War of 1812, the U.S. government was eager to sell federal land in Ohio. Northwest Ohio had been the site of repeated fighting with pro-British Indian tribes, and then several major battles with the British themselves. When the war was over, northwest Ohio was the place with federal land left to sell. An auction was held in 1817 and speculators, in the manner of the legendary Great Black Swamp cougar, pounced. Federal law guaranteed there’d be pouncing speculators. The Land Act of 1804 required settlers to buy at least 160 acres at a minimum price of $2 per acre. The $320 needed is $6,150 in modern money, a lot more than most pioneers had.

For poor Americans in the early 19th century, land was the only way up the economic ladder that they could comprehend.

Thus speculators speculated, with plans to subdivide the land they bought. At least 15 unpopulated “paper towns” were plated in the region – “Utah,” “Vistula,” “Orleans,” “Mendota,” “Marengo,” “East Marengo,” “Austerlitz.” Eventually these would be amalgamated into “Toledo.” It’s an absurd name for a place in the muddy middle of nowhere and very unlikely to be painted by El Greco. Local historians have never determined who chose the name or why – except that it was then the


June 2019

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