Historical Society Program Will Follow 19th Century Sunset To The West

Go west, young man, go west, New York Herald Editor Horace Greeley is reported to have said during the 19th Century, and Connecticut folks took his advice, young and old. In a program called “Migrating Out of Connecticut,” by Nora Galvin will take a look at the historic westward flow.

Newtown Historical Society will host the program on Monday, March 11, at 7:30 pm, in the community room of C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street.

The westward urge affected many people in all areas of the country, but it was particularly strong in Connecticut for a variety of reasons. New England land has always presented tough challenges for farmers, but in the earliest days untapped fertility and large land holdings made up for the rocky terrain that gave the area its photogenic stone walls.

Over the generations following those days of first settlement, however, the thin soil began to give up its fertility. There were almost no occupations in which a man could make a living without having a farm to supplement his cash income, and beyond the manure of his own livestock there were little means of fertilizing until the discovery and importation of Peruvian guano toward the middle of the 19th Century.

For a time the farmer could simply rotate his fields, letting some lie fallow while refreshing them by pasturing his sheep and cows for a year or two. As generations passed, though, land was divided more and more among sons and sons of sons, and the sustaining luxury of fallow fields became less available.

The second reason why Connecticut’s farmers found it convenient to head West was simply availability. The old colonial charter had granted Connecticut land all the way to the Pacific Ocean by some readings, and the state maintained the claim until after the Revolution.

When the state relinquished the claim to sovereignty over Western lands, it reserved ownership of the land itself, the so called Western Reserve of Ohio, and the land was used to pay off Revolutionary War claims and otherwise to encourage a new start for the state’s land-strapped farmers by migration. The name persists even today in many Ohio areas, perhaps most notably in Case Western Reserve University.

Nora Galvin is a former biology teacher and laboratory scientist. She became a professional genealogist in 2005, specializing in Connecticut families, Irish research, and genetic genealogy.

Ms Galvin is active in local genealogy societies and regional professional organizations. She is a native of Ohio, and both her daughters were born in Connecticut’s Western Reserve.

Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the presentation.

For further information, call 203-426-5937.

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