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This is a paper that was written by Kasandra Fager, a graduate student in the 2021-22 cohort and recipient of The Donna M. Nieman Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence in History. Fager recently published an article featuring some of the research in this paper in the NW Ohio History Journal.

When you look around a city, what do you see? I am sure that you see buildings, factories, streets, and homes like any other city or town in America. You would also probably see parents rushing to and from work, grandparents running to the grocery store, and children playing ball in the streets. These things are normal and have been considered as such for centuries, but have you ever stopped to consider how we got here and who or what came before us? In history class, we learned how the wilderness and the Native Americans lived on this land before the Europeans came and the rest is, as we say, history. Today, I want to stop for a moment and consider how the land in Bowling Green, Ohio was affected by the battle between Native Americans and Europeans to live on and commercialize the land to better understand our nation’s environmental and economic history.

Text Box: Figure 1: Bowling Green, Ohio, and the Surrounding Area in 2021
Figure 1: Bowling Green, Ohio, and the Surrounding Area in 2021

            The landscape around Bowling Green, Ohio changed in the early nineteenth century from swampland to farmland before becoming increasingly urbanized. To understand how Bowling Green’s land has changed, we can look at Samuel Holmes and James Worthington’s 1820 land survey of the area. I used their survey of section 13, land a few miles north of Bowling Green in Plain Township, to analyze how Native Americans and European settlers utilized the area. Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the same area in the present day. Figure 3 is a map that I drew based on my observations of Holmes and Worthington’s survey.

Like the 2021 map, Figure 3 demonstrates how Section 13 was in between the northern road of West Newton Rd and North Main St. in the West. It also featured scattered oak and hickory trees and an interchange of sandy and plain environments. [1] Beginning on the western border, the surveyors found 2 white elms, 3 hickories, and a white oak scattered amongst the sandy open plains. Figure 3 shows that the surveyors also found a raised mound and the edge of Maumee Road in the southwest corner of the map. Traveling east, section 13 was uniform in appearance despite a few varied placements of the trees. A single road, some trees, and a prairie graced the land in 1820, but we need to go deeper than this image can provide. What were the economic and individual goals of the people who used the land before us?

A more personal and bigger picture of the area, the beauty, and chaos of the region were impacted by the original settlement of Northeast Ohio. The origins of Northeast Ohio in spring and winter were described in the writings of European explorers, Samuel Williams and Estwick Evans. Williams describes the abundance and beauty around him in the springtime by highlighting the rolling plains, scattered groves of trees, and fields of fragrant flowers. Through William’s writing, any reader can see that the land was prime for the taking. [2] With timber and rivers for miles and fertile soil for raising the tallest of crops, the Ohio valley was a commercial goldmine as it proved to be “a wealthy, populous, and flourishing settlement.” [3] The brightness of the land and its colors was in great contrast to Evans’ perspective in A Pedestrious Tour of Four Thousand Miles. Arriving in the middle of winter around the late 1810s, probably around 1817 to 1820 like Williams, Evans’ experience of the area was very different. Snow and ice plagued the river and land crossings, and the bushes and trees were impenetrable. [4] This “trackless wild” was unforgiving and the morality of the region was questioned as he encountered natives wielding guns and an intoxicated white man being chased. [5] Going beyond the perspectives of security versus one of lawlessness, the environment found in their stories and the 1820 survey proved that all the observations were likely true. This confirmation is promising as the lay of the land is solidified, but its usage by both the Indigenous population and the colonial settlers were vastly different.

            Settling around the edges of the Black Swamp, as this unforgiving area was known, hunters and gatherers survived off the Maumee River and other tributaries. The natives learned how to use every part of the animal so nothing would go to waste. They were guided by respect for the spiritual essence of the land. [6] They followed the natural cycles of agriculture and hunting season while capitalizing on the abundant rivers of fish, the use of sand and flowers for ceremonies and medicine, and the tall grasses for building materials and weaving goods to sell. By sharing the land through a community lifestyle between villages and domestic treaties, the natives hardly ever exhausted the land. [7] Instead, the natives played a small blip in the inner workings of nature and its hierarchy. Carolyn Merchant’s second chapter in American Environmental History supports this conclusion because natives on the east coast were usually ruled by collectivism and universal survival, tribal alliances and their utilization of a polyculture ecological system, the controlled burning of the land to attract new resources, known as “edge effect,” and the exchange commodities through a barter system for land and protection. [8] Since the woodland lands and coastal waters of New England were like the region of Northwest Ohio, the natives would likely use similar living techniques. The Indigenous peoples of the Black Swamp used the land as a unit of exchange for their survival and this was very different from the European style of living.

            Focusing on individualization and profiteering, the European settlers vowed to conquer the land for their personal use of commerce and settlement. According to William Cronon’s book, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, the European relationship to the land was robotic and commercialized. Cronon writes in chapter two that the Europeans were different because “whereas Indian villages moved from habitat to habitat to find maximum abundance through minimal work and so reduce their impact on the land, the English believed in and required permanent settlements.” [9] The order and simplicity of colonial agricultural practices were argued as strong evidence for why they deemed themselves morally superior to the natives around them. Living within a strong class system of religion and an “American exceptionalism” perspective, the private landholdings and grazing fields of livestock forced the landscape to change. A monoculture of corn exhausted the land, and the loss of timber and hunting lands pushed the settlers even farther west. Encroaching on native territory with vigor was accepted as populations grew and the commerce sectors of shipbuilding, fish, fur, and forestry, exploded as the Ohio Valley became the center of fur trading. [10]

            The New World was meant for England’s success and the colonists were going to utilize every part of the land until there was nothing left. A 1980s documentary about the Black Swamp highlighted the failed efforts of colonists to build railroads, canals, roads, and drainage systems in the area. Nature fought back and carried the plank roads away in its mud and saturated the newly drained land with water again. [11] This fight would force the settlers to live a life based around labor and capital as millwrights and expert farmers came to be the most important people in society. [12] Europeans believed natives underused the natural abundance of the land and thus, settlers felt justified that their takeover using civil ownership and indifference. [13] There was nowhere to go but through native land as expansion continued westward. Despite being taken out by starvation, slavery, disease, and warfare on both sides, the natives and Europeans continued to be at odds on how to properly use the land.

The growth of section 13 offers a unique approach to the impact of Natives and Europeans in America. The battle between land, resources, and money can be found in almost every culture and any large immigration wave throughout our history. The English in 1620, the Irish in 1820, the Japanese in the 1860s, and Latin Americans in 2000, among others. The immigrants incorporate their religion, their agriculture, and their economic systems into the inner workings of the nation. Studying section 13 opens the door for us to look at how other cultures and their immigrants change America and how we use our natural resources today. 


[1] Wood County Engineer. Original Government Surveys, Township 5 North, Range 10 East. Bowling Green, Ohio, 1819-1821.

[2] Samuel Williams, “Two Early Descriptions of the Maumee Valley,” Northwest Ohio History 80, no. 1 (2012): 48.

[3] Ibid, 56.

[4] Estwick, Evans, Evans’s Pedestrious Tour of Four Thousand Miles (Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1904), 201.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Carolyn Merchant, American Environmental History: An Introduction (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 12.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Carolyn Merchant, American Environmental History: An Introduction, 26.

[11] The Story of the Great Black Swamp. Bowling Green, Ohio: WBGU-PBS, 1982. Documentary.

[12] Ibid.

[13] William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England.


Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

Evans, Estwick. Evans’s Pedestrious Tour of Four Thousand Miles. Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1904.

Merchant, Carolyn. American Environmental History: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

The Story of the Great Black Swamp. Bowling Green, Ohio: WBGU-PBS, 1982. Documentary.

Williams, Samuel. “Two Early Descriptions of the Maumee Valley.” Northwest Ohio History 80, no. 1 (2012): 45-62.

Wood County Engineer. Original Government Surveys, Township 5 North, Range 10 East. Bowling Green, Ohio, 1819-1821.