The Life of Rufus Putnam


Part II, Chapter III

THUS, after much effort and many delays, Dr. Cutler succeeded in securing the terms he desired and had so ably contended for, though, as has been seen, he deviated from his original purpose of making a purchase merely for the Ohio company. He bought, in all, about five million acres, a million and a half for the Ohio company and three and a half millions for private speculators.

The Ohio company paid half the purchase money at the time of making the contract; the land was to be conveyed upon the receipt of the remainder. But some of the shareholders failed to meet their engagements, and the Indian war breaking out in less than two years after the colonists reached their new home, greatly crippled them, and the two causes combined effectually prevented the company from meeting its engagements. In 1792, the directors met in Philadelphia and sent a memorial to congress asking for relief. After some discussion and difficulty, a bill was passed authorizing the conveyance of the half of the land already paid for —seven hundred and fifty thousand acres—to be made out, also another conveyance of seven hundred and fourteen thousand, two hundred and eighty-five acres, to be paid for within six months by warrants issued for bounty rights, and yet another conveyance of one hundred thousand acres, to be conveyed in tracts of one hundred acres, "as a bounty to each male person of eighteen years of age, being an actual settler." The bill was approved and the patents issued to Rufus Putnam, Manasseh Cutler, Robert Oliver, Griffin Green in trust for the Ohio Company of Associates. The patents were signed by George Washington, President, and Thomas Jefferson, secretary of state. These three patents and also the original contract of October 2, 1787, are in the library of Marietta college.

Much has been said in regard to the unwise choice made by the directors of the Ohio company in locating their lands. It has been stated, and perhaps with truth, that with the whole northwest territory before them from which to choose, they selected a tract that included within it more poor, rough, broken land than could be found in a body anywhere else in the whole territory. Lying, as a part of it does, among the foot hills of the Alleghanies, it is hilly and sterile compared with other portions of the west. There were certain considerations which seem to have influenced the company in locating their lands. The first and most potent was the advice of Mr. Hutchins, the "government geographer." Dr. Cutler had repeated conversations with him while in New York negotiating the purchase, and Mr. Hutchins very emphatically advised him to make the location along the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, in the region where the two united. He claimed to have a thorough knowledge of the whole western territory then under the control of the government, and asserted that there could not he found so desirable a tract as the one proposed. Another influential reason for the choice was that there were but few Indians located on the said tract of land. The celebrated Iroquois or Six Nations had been in the habit of coming down the Ohio in their canoes and attacking the Indians that lived along the banks, taking them unawares. This unpleasant experience was repeated so often that to escape it the natives retreated farther and farther from the banks of the river, until there was a tract of country extending thirty or forty miles back from the river in which there were few unimportant villages and scarcely any regular inhabitants. This whole region was regarded as a common hunting ground, and used as such. There would not, therefore, be the necessity for removing Indians in order to take possession. A third and very potential reason was the immediate vicinage of Fort Harmar. The principal personages of the colony were men of war, too shrewd in matters generally, and too well acquainted with Indian character to trust to present appearances or any treaties or promises of peace. Soldiers and instruments of war were better safeguards than treaties, how well soever guaranteed. The result justified their opinion. It was only the presence of soldiers and their own wisdom, courage and acquaintance with war that saved the colonists from extermination in the bloody conflict with the Indians that continued from 1791 to 1795. That those who located the purchase judged wisely from a commercial point of view, is shown clearly in the address of Hon. W. P. Cutler in the appendix.

As soon as the purchase was completed, General Putnam and his associates made preparations to go at once and possess the land. The company had previously ordered "that four surveyors should be employed and twenty-two men to attend them; that there should be added to this number twenty men, including six boat-builders, four house-carpenters, one blacksmith and nine common workmen." These men were to be subsisted at the expense of the company, and allowed wages, at the rate of four dollars each per month till discharged.

The surveyors employed were Colonel Ebenezer Sproat, Mr. Anselm Tupper and Mr. John Mathews from Massachusetts, and Colonel Putnam and Jonathan Meigs from Connecticut. The boat-builders and mechanics, in all twenty men, started, under the command of Major Haffield White, from Danvers, Massachusetts in December, 1787, and reached Simerill's ferry on the Youghiogheny river, thirty miles above Pittsburgh, late in January. The surveyors and their attendants, to the number of twenty-six, met at Hartford, Connecticut, early in January and began their wearisome journey, under the command of General Putnam, assisted by Colonel Ebenezer Sproat. General Putnam having business in New York, soon left the company and did not rejoin them until January.

When the party reached the mountains, they found them covered to such a depth with snow that it was impossible to go on with their wagons. "Our only resource," General Putnam says, "was to build sleds and harness tandem, and in this manner with four sleds, and men marching in front, we set forward and reached the "Yoh" the fourteenth of February.

The march was slow and toilsome. To men less strong and courageous the difficulties would have seemed insurmountable. The men had to break a way through the snow for the weary horses to follow with their sleds. They could accomplish the journey of but a few miles each day and at night bivouacked around large fires which they kindled in the woods. They were two weary weeks in reaching the "Yoh" where the other detachment awaited them.

Upon arriving, another disappointment was in store for them. They found that but little progress had been made in the building of the boats in which they were to perform the remainder of their journey. But, with the additional force of men, and under the eye of the master, the work progressed more rapidly. Captain Jonathan Devol was the architect and superintendent of the boat building. The remainder of February and all the month of March was spent in getting the boats ready. The flotilla consisted of a galley, which had an estimated capacity of fifty tons, a flat boat of about three tons burthen and three canoes. The galley was forty five feet long, twelve broad and was stoutly built; it had a covered deck, which was high enough for a man to walk under without stooping, and the sides were strong enough to resist the force of a bullet in case of an attack.

In the afternoon of April 1, the galley, to which they had given the name of Mayflower, with the accompanying boats, left their moorings and now after weary months of travel and work and waiting, the emigrants were launched upon waters that would carry them, without toil or anxiety, to their future home in the yet unknown forest. They soon passed down the tributary and entered the tranquil Ohio, the la belle riviere of its former claimants. The trees were already putting on their spring clothing, and the birds sang their songs of greetings in their branches. Greenness was creeping over the sides of the hills that bordered the river. To the greater part of the eyes of those that looked upon them, it was a new thing to see trees so ambitiously lifting up their branches toward the heavens, while their wonderful magnitude gave evidence of depth and richness of soil, that was both strange and encouraging to the beholders. To men accustomed to the sterile soil of New England, we can well believe that the glory and the grandeur of the scenes through which they were passing as they descended the river, seemed like glimpses of fairy land. At any rate, whether any sentiment was waked up or not, each day brought them nearer to that long-talked-of and much-desired country, "the Ohio," where they were to make homes for themselves and their children. On the morning of Monday, the seventh of April, clouds obscured the sun and rain fell during a considerable part of the day. All were on the qui vive, for they felt that they drew near the promised land. As they floated past Ren's island, Captain Devol said to General Putnam, "I think it is time to take an observation; we must be near the mouth of the Muskingum." And yet, notwithstanding their watchfulness, they passed the mouth of the river without seeing it, and found themselves abreast of Fort Harmar. The trees on the banks of the Muskingum so reached out their branches, that with the help of the fog, they concealed the mouth of the river. It was found difficult to turn back their boats, so they landed at Fort Harmar, and Major Doughty, the commandant of the garrison, sent men to help them tow the boats to the east side of the river. The sun had reached the meridian when they landed on the site of the new town that was soon to be.

The seventh of April, 1788, was a memorable day in the annals of Ohio. The corner stone of the great Buckeye state was laid at Marietta on that day, a state that in less than a century has become the third in the Union for wealth and population, and has freely furnished men to till the high places in the national councils and in the army. On that seventh of April General Putnam and his fellow workers lost no time in dallying. The boards, brought for the purpose, were at once landed, and the erection of temporary habitations begun. A large marquee was set up for General Putnam, under which he lived and transacted business until the fort was built. The day after their arrival the surveyors began to lay out the town. The axes of the woodmen awoke the echoes that had slept so long, and the mighty trees began to fall before the ax of the chopper. As it would take more time than they could spare to fell so many trees, many of them were girdled and left standing. Although the season was so far advanced when they reached there, they managed to plant one hundred and thirty acres of corn that first season. The river furnished an abundance of fish, and in the forests were found buffalo, bears and deer in profusion, and turkeys innumerable; so that their larders were cheaply and abundantly supplied. Contentment seems to have settled down upon the little pioneer company, and though, doubtless, among the forty-seven men there were those who hankered after what they had left behind them in their New England homes, upon the whole they were well pleased with what they saw, and still better pleased with what they hoped for.

In May, General Putnam wrote to Dr. Cutler: "The men are generally in good health, and, I believe, much pleased with the country; that I am so, myself, you may rest assured. I can only add the situation of the city plat is the most delightful of any I ever saw." Another colonist wrote: "This country, for fertility of soil and pleasantness of situation, not only exceeds my expectation, but exceeds any part of Europe or America I ever was in."

Six thousand acres were set apart for the new city. The surveyors laid out the streets, the more important ones parallel with the Muskingum river, the others cutting them at right angles. The lots were ninety by one hundred and eighty feet. Dr. Cutler had suggested Adelphia as a name suitable for the new town; but at a meeting of the directors, held on the second of July, 1788, the first meeting held west of the mountains, the following resolution was passed:

Resolved, that the city, at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, be called Marietta; that the directors write to his excellency, the French ambassador, informing him of the motives for naming the city, and request his opinion whether it will be advisable to present her majesty of France a public square.

Alas! the beautiful queen was too near the beginning of her fearful suffering to interest herself in a public square in a far off city in the distant heart of the new world.

General Putnam was wise to forsee danger and efficient in preparing to meet it. He had not much confidence in the power of existing treaties to keep the Indians at peace with those who, in their view of the case, were invading hunting grounds that of right belonged to themselves. At once, therefore, he began the erection of a fort which should prove a place of refuge to the colonists in time of danger, or in case the Indians showed any signs of hostility. On the day of their first landing, there were seventy Indians, men, women and children, with Captain Pipe at their head, in the neighborhood of Fort Harmar. They had come to agree upon a treaty and to trade their peltries with the soldiers in the garrison. They had given noisy assurance of welcome to General Putnam and his associates, but he knew them too well to trust them. 

A stockade fort was erected a short distance from the Muskingum river, and nearly a mile from the Ohio. The sides formed a regular parallelogram, and were one hundred and eighty feet in length. At each corner there was a strong block-house surmounted by a watch tower. These houses were twenty feet square below and twenty-four above. The dwelling houses were in the curtains. They were builded of hewn logs and were two stories high. The front was toward the Muskingum, and in the center was a belfry, underneath which was the office of the Hon. Winthrop Sargent, secretary of the company. There were loopholes for artillery and also for musketry. General St. Clair occupied the southwest block-house; the northwest was used for public worship and holding court. Individuals were allowed to fit up dwellings in the curtains, according to their inclination or ability. There was room in them for the accommodation of forty or fifty families. During the war they were made to accommodate between two and three hundred persons. This fort was called Campus Martius, showing that there were classical scholars among the pioneers, who preserved their academic taste. One of the actors in these scenes wrote of it: "Campus Martius is the handsomest pile of buildings on the west side of the Allegheny mountains, and in a few day will be the strongest fortification in the territory of the United States. It stands on the margin of the elevated plain on which are the remains of the ancient works." In the open court within the square, which the building occupied, a well eighty feet deep was dug. The cool and refreshing water from this well is still a comfort and convenience to many families that live in the vicinity. The block-house in the southeast corner is still standing, forming a part of the residence of the late Judge Anus Nye. To the mechanical and engineering skill of General Putnam, and the practical knowledge of some of his associates, was due the thorough workmanship shown in building this fort, which was undoubtedly the means of salvation to the infant colony in the Indian war, which soon followed./p>

The fourth of July, after the arrival of the colonists was celebrated with all "the pomp and circumstance" possible in their situation, the officers from Fort Harmar were invited over and a sumptuous repast was spread under a magnificent tree on the bank of the Muskingum. Many deer and countless turkeys bled freely for the occasion, and a giant fish, a pike, caught in the Muskingum, helped to fill the bill of fare. James Mitchell Varnum, one of the judges and also a director, was the orator for the occasion. The speech is on record, and is flowery enough to suit the most poetic taste. In addressing his "fair auditors," after complimenting them upon their courage in "exploring the Paradise of America," he says, "Gentle zephyrs, fanning breezes, wafting through the air ambrosial odors, receive you here. Hope no longer flutters on the wings of uncertainty."

Governor St. Clair had not yet arrived, and there was no organized government, so that every man could be a law unto himself if he chose. But that did not suit these law-abiding descendants of the Puritans. Therefore, as the closing ceremony in the celebration of Independence day, they drew up a code of laws, which were written out on paper and suspended, not as were the ten tables of the Romans, in a temple, but on the trunk of a tree that stood on the bank of the river. By these laws they were governed during the little time that intervened till the arrival of the governor and the organization of a government. Well might General Washington say of the pioneers: "No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced on the Muskingum. Information, property and strength will be its characteristics. I know many of the settlers personally, and there never were men better calculated to promote the welfare of such a community."

After the stockaded fort was finished, a good timber wharf was made directly in front of it on the Muskingum, where the Mayflowerwas moved together with the smaller crafts and canoes, when not in use in going to and fro to Fort Harmar and "the point." Twenty-five dwellings were erected the same season, the greater part of them at "the point."

Meanwhile emigrants were arriving and increasing the strength and courage of the settlers. General Samuel Holden Parsons came in May, and in the same month there arrived Captain William Dana, Major Jonathan Haskell, Ebenezer Battelle, Colonel Israel Putnam, Aaron Waldo Putnam, Major Robert Bradford, Jonathan Stone, Major Winthrop Sargent, Colonel John May and Colonel William Stacey. In June there were more arrivals. Hon. James M. Varnum came in that month, one of the judges of the territory, "with about forty souls in company." Judge Varnum was an invalid when he started. His wife could not accompany him. James Owen and his wife were among the "forty souls" that came with him. To Mr. Owen he was much indebted for the care that he needed while on the toilsome journey. To Miss Owen belongs the distinction of having been the first woman that settled on the Ohio company's Purchase. For this reason, and in the additional one that she rendered humane and needed service in the cases of small-pox in the colony, the company gave her a deed of one of the donation lots of one hundred acres.

In August more families arrived. Six families came on the nineteenth. They were those of General Benjamin Tupper, Colonel Ichabod Nye, son-in-law of the former, Major Nathaniel Cushing, Major Nathan Goodale, Major Asa Coburn, Sr., and his son-in-law, Andrew Webster. Before the close of the year there were nineteen families in Marietta; so that, according to the testimony of Colonel Ichabod Nye, "the winter began with a hundred or more in the settlement." 

General Arthur St. Clair, the governor of the Northwest territory, arrived on the ninth of July. He had received his commission as governor from congress October 16, 1787, but it was not to take effect until February 1, 1788. As has been stated, he was president of congress when Dr. Cutler went to New York to make the purchase for the Ohio company. He had at first manifested but a lukewarm interest in the matter, but a change came over him when it was proposed to make him governor of the territory, and his warmest interest and endeavors were enlisted. His arrival at the new settlement was an event of importance. He was received with a salute of thirteen guns from Fort Harmar. After a few days' rest he was escorted with considerable parade to the east side of the Muskingum and received by General Putnam under his marquee. The judges of the territory and principal men of the colony were present. The secretary, Hon. Winthrop Sargent, read the ordinance of 1787, the governor's commission and his own. The ceremonies closed with congratulations to the governor and assurances of welcome.

The government thereafter established was quite anomalous. There were no precedents by which to be influenced, for it was the first territorial government established under Federal authority. The people had no part nor lot in the matter. There were no elective offices. The governor and judges received their appointments first from congress, and after 1789, when the constitution was adopted, from the President. The general government bore a part of the expense of the territorial government, but by far the larger share was obtained by heavily taxing the people. This government continued in form for ten years.

On the second day of the following September the first civil court ever held in the Northwest Territory was opened. A procession was formed near the Ohio river and the men marched up through a path cut in the forest to Campus Martius. First went the high sheriff with a drawn sword, following whom came the citizens, then came the officers from Fort Harmar, next the members of the bar, after them the supreme judges, following whom were the governor and clergymen, the newly appointed judges of the court of common pleas, Generals Putnam and Tupper bringing up the rear. The court was held in the southeast block-house and opened with prayer by the Rev. Dr. Cutler, to whom the colony was so greatly indebted. He was there on a visit and did not remain long. To the honor of the forty-eight men who made up the colony, it can be told that there was not a single case on the docket!

Any account of these first settlers in Ohio, that left out of view their efforts in behalf of religion and education, would be incomplete. The wise men of the east well knew that a successful commonwealth must rest upon the basis of morality and intelligence. They, therefore, early looked after and provided for the interests of religion and education. At a meeting at Ree's tavern, Providence, Rhode Island, March 5, 1787, a committee of the company reported: "that the directors be requested to pay early attention to the education of youth and the promotion of public worship among the settlers, etc. . That they, if practicable, secure an instructor, eminent in literary accomplishments and the virtue of his character, who shall superintend the first scholastic institutions.

The proprietors and others of "benevolent and liberal mind," were invited to make up a fund by voluntary contribution, to carry out these resolutions. In furtherance of this object, Dr. Cutler, who was appointed for the purpose, engaged the Rev. Daniel Story to go out to the colony. He was to have his board and four dollars in silver per week, for his services. Mr. Story was a native of Boston and a graduate of Dartmouth college. He reached Marietta in the spring of 1789, and preached not only in Marietta, but in the other settlements in rotation. There were no roads, and his visits were made in canoes with oarsmen provided for the occasion. During the Indian War a guard, well armed, accompanied him when he went to fill his appointments.

The interests of education were well looked after from the beginning. In the contract for the purchase of land, it was stipulated on the part of the purchaser, that two "complete townships should be given perpetually to the use of a university, to be laid off by the purchaser or purchasers as near the centre of the purchase as the case may be, so that the same shall be good land to be applied to that object by the legislature. Also the sixteenth section in every township was set apart for the use of schools and the twenty-ninth for the support of religion. The townships set apart for the university were located and surveyed in 1795. The act incorporating the institution passed the legislature in 1802. The town of Athens was laid out on the land thus set apart, and the college called the Ohio university.

Dr. Cutler was greatly instrumental in establishing the college, and strenuous in his efforts in behalf of common schools. As a matter of fact, a school was opened the first year of the settlement, and an academy established before a decade of years had passed away.