Then & Now | Joseph Black Joe Hodge

The Western Reserve is considered that portion of land in northeast Ohio extending from the Pennsylvania border in the east 120 miles westward and 80 miles southward. Its northern border is Lake Erie and the southern border is the parallel of the 41st degree North Latitude. The Western Reserve comprises 12 counties (Ashtabula, Lake, Medina, Geauga, Trumbull, Lorain, Erie, Huron, Portage, parts of Summit, and Mahoning) including Cuyahoga County and the city of Cleveland. The state of Connecticut obtained the Western Reserve of the Northwest Territory and sold it to a group of investors called the Connecticut Land Company in 1795. In 1796, The Connecticut Land Company sent a survey expedition to the Reserve, headed by Moses Cleaveland, an American Revolutionary War veteran.

African American history in the Western Reserve can be documented as early as 1796. Joseph Black Joe Hodge, a freeman of color, trapper by trade, was hired by the Connecticut Western Reserve Surveying Party in 1796 to act as a guide and Native American language interpreter. Hodge lead the party from his home in Buffalo Creek in Western New York state to the Conneaut Creek area of the Reserve, just east of modern day Cleveland. From that time on, a small trickle of people of African decent moved through or settled in the area. The first permanent African descendant settlers were George Peake and his family who migrated from Pennsylvania, to the western shores of the Cuyahoga River, in 1809. Peake purchased 101 acres of land in Rockport in 1811 and settled with his family, into a life of farming. George Peake was a veteran of the French and Indian War of 1759, serving under General James Wolfe in the Battle of Abraham Plains at Quebec. Following Peake, the African American population was a slow growth in Cleveland. African Americans came to the Western Reserve as free men and women, newly emancipated or as runaways and fugitives from bondage.