When you think of Columbus' connection to refugee and new American communities, you might think of the area's large contemporary Somali, Congolese or Nepali communities.
But Columbus' history with refugees goes back even farther — to the American Revolution.
Refugee Road runs from the South Side of Columbus through the Southwest Side and all the way out to Fairfield County before it becomes Blacklick Eastern Road. So how did Refugee Road get its name, and what does it have to do with Canadian refugees?
Refugee tract in central Ohio was set aside for Canadian refugees in American Revolution
According to Ben Baughman, curator at the Ohio History Connection, the name comes from the southern border of the original Refugee Tract of land that the U.S. Congress set aside for Canadians after the American Revolutionary War.
During the Revolutionary War, he said, the colonial government actively recruited Canadian colonists to fight in the Continental Army against the British. To repay them, Congress set aside a part of the Ohio territory to be settled by Canadians.
"It was all British land," Baughman said of the relationship between the colonies. "So it wasn't as divided as we think of it today."
While some individual Canadians enlisted to serve in the Army, the Canadian colonial governments remained loyal to the British during the war, and the Canadians who served the Continental Army could not return home, because their land was likely confiscated.
Following the flag: Ohio History Connection preserves state's rich battle flag history
However, to claim the land in Ohio, you had to prove you served in the Continental Army during the entire war and had been in what is now the United States the entire time during the war and afterward.
In total, 67 claimants were awarded land — around half of the land set aside. The unclaimed was returned to Congress before it was auctioned off.
"To make the trip out there and to Ohio, that may have been not an easy trip to do," Baughman said. "Just because you got this land doesn't mean you necessarily want it."
The 100,000-acre tract, which was nearly a rectangle, goes 40 miles west from the Scioto and Olentangy rivers as its western boundary to about the middle of Fairfield County as part of its eastern boundary. Its northern boundary is around where 5th Avenue is today, and the southern border is now Refugee Road.
The original 1801 map of the Refugee Land Grant tract, which is now backed by fabric for stability, is nearly two feet tall and over five feet long. It resides in the rare book room at the State Library of Ohio but was also digitized.
"I'm sure there's people descended from those original Canadians who did move to this area," Baughman said. "Just as there's many people who live here today because their ancestors were refugees from whatever country that moved to (Columbus)."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: How did Refugee Road get its name? Canadians settled central Ohio