After the Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution in 1783, the United States won independence not only for the thirteen colonies, but all of the land up to the Mississippi River as well. The American government faced many problems with the land west of the Appalachian Mountains: how to cooperate with the Native American tribes in these areas and how to govern and integrate the land into the United States were two of the most pressing.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 attempted to solve these problems. The Northwest Territory would be surveyed and divided into townships that were six miles by six miles square. These were divided into one mile square sections which were 640 acres. To generate income (the government was desperate to pay off debts caused by the Revolution), each 640 acre section would be sold for $1 an acre, or $640 per section. In the 1780s, this was an incredible amount of money. The average farm laborer earned between $0.35-0.50 per day. Because this amount of money was out of reach for most Americans, groups of wealthy men called land speculators purchased large tracts of land and sold smaller sections to farmers. The Ohio Company was one of these types of groups.
Image from "On the Trail of the Pioneers" by John T. Faris (1920).
So why come to the Ohio Territory? Not only were the early settlers were leaving safe, stable communities, more importantly, they left their friends and families behind, never to see them again. They then had to travel hundreds of miles to quite literally hack a living out of the wilderness, fending off attacks by hostile Native Americans while attempting to eke out a meager existence for their families. Their motives were simple: they had nothing to stay in the East for. Most were former soldiers who, after leaving everything to serve in the Continental Army, found themselves without money or employment. Others could not afford to purchase land in the eastern states (with prices ranging from $20-50 an acre in New England), but the far lower land prices, sometimes even as low as $1 an acre, meant to lure settlers to the Ohio Territory proved too tempting to resist. Manasseh Cutler and Rufus Putnam, founders of the Ohio Company, left behind their reasons for wanting to come to the wilds of Ohio.
“I had suffered exceedingly in ye war [American Revolution]; and after it was over, by paper money and ye high price of articles of living. My salary small and family large, for several years I thought ye people had not done me justice, and I meditated leaving them. Purchasing lands in a new country appeared to be ye only thing I could do to secure a living for myself and family in that unsettled state of affairs.” -Manasseh Cutler
Excerpt from a letter from Rufus Putnam to George Washington
Rutland, April the 5th, 1784
“The settlement of the Ohio country, Sir, engrosses many of my thoughts; and much of my time, since I left camp, has been employed in informing myself and others with respect to the nature, situation, and circumstances of that country and the probability of removing ourselves there, and if I am to form an opinion on what I have seen and heard of this subject there are thousands in this quarter will emigrate to that country as soon as the honorable Congress makes provisions for granting land there, and location and settlement can be made with safety, unless such provision is too long delayed, I mean till [a] majority turn their views another way, which is the case with many more.
You are sensible of the necessity as well as the propriety of both officers and soldiers fixing themselves in business somewhere as soon as possible, as many of them are unable to lie longer on their oars waiting the decision of Congress on our petition, and therefore must unavoidably fix themselves in some other quarter, which when done, the idea of removing to the Ohio country will probably be at an end with respect to most of them.”
According to Senator William Woodbridge, who lived in Marietta from 1799-1814:
“The colony consisted almost entirely of a remnant of the armies of the Revolution- of officers and soldiers, who, at the close of that seven years’ term…found themselves let loose upon the world with their private fortunes, in general ruined, estranged almost from their own early homes, and with occupations gone… and such of their pay as they may have been enabled to preserve, being old continental certificates, had become almost worthless… They had warrants which entitled them to public lands; many of them had continental certificates and other evidences of claim, which would go far to enable them to make their purchase.”
By 1788, settlers were already flooding into the west. Major John Doughty, who was stationed at Fort Harmar, recorded "181 boats, 406 souls [people], 1,588 horses, 314 horned cattle, 223 sheep, and 92 wagons" passing by the fort from April 6th to May 16th, 1788.
The following are transcripts of three letters from the Marietta College Library’s Special Collections between Henry Knox, the Secretary of War (predecessor of the Defense Department) and Rufus Putnam, director of the Ohio Company, discussing the escalating violence between the local Native American tribes and the settlers.
On January 2nd, 1791, two dozen Delaware and Wyandot Indians attacked the stockade at Big Bottom, a new settlement near present-day Stockport. Twelve settlers were killed, and several more were taken prisoner. Rufus Putnam wrote to Henry Knox and George Washington informing them of the event and asking for additional soldiers to be sent to the area to protect the settlers. Putnam and the other leaders in Marietta and the surrounding settlements were growing increasingly fearful that the attack at Big Bottom had not been an isolated incident, and that the local tribes were preparing for an all-out war on the settlers. His first letter was sent January 8th (and can be found among the “Coexistence and Conflict” activities).
These letters are part of Knox’s response to Putnam informing him of the Big Bottom Massacre, and Putnam’s continued requests for assistance. The transcripts follow all of the spelling and capitalization used by Knox and Putnam. Rufus Putnam had virtually no formal education whatsoever, and was almost entirely self-taught. As a result, his spelling and grammar can be difficult to understand (he spells “were” as “ware”).
When looking at the original letters, notice some of the changes in handwriting between the late 18th century and now. During that time period the letter “s” and “f” were interchangeable or very similar. The ampersand symbol (&) was a very common replacement for the word “and” (for example: I appreciate you last letter & thank you for your kind attention). Capitalizing words in the middle of sentences was also very common, regardless of education level.
Scan of Henry Knox's letter to Rufus Putnam, dated January 27, 1791
Scan of Rufus Putnam's letter to Henry Knox, dated March 14, 1791
Scan of Henry Knox's reply to Rufus Putnam, dated April 7, 1791
Portrait of Henry Knox by Charles Willson Peale (1784)
Students can use Fakebook to create profiles of members of the Ohio Company. Fakebook is an educational tool that is used to create mini-biographies of fictional characters or historical figures.
Read Write Think has a Trading Card Creator that allows student to make trading cards of real and fictional individuals.
Some ideas of Ohio Company members, or other prominent individuals in early Ohio history include:
Rufus Putnam Winthrop Sargent
Mannasseh Cutler Samuel Holden Parsons
Benjamin Tupper Colonel William Stacy
Ephraim Cutler Samuel Prescott Hildreth
Little Turtle Arthur St. Clair
Anthony Wayne Blue Jacket
Marquis de Lafayette John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed)
Other Information Sources:
Or, students can use Samuel Hildreth's Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio for source information. Hildreth published the book in 1852, and he was also an early settler himself, having arrive in Marietta in 1806. His book provides in depth biographies of several of the Ohio Company members and other early pioneers. A digital copy of the book is available on the Internet Archive's website. Julia Cutler Perkins, daughter of Ephraim Cutler, published a collection of short biographical sketches of some of the founders of Marietta, The Founders of Ohio, also on the Internet Archive.
A lesson about Ohio's early pioneers, group decision making, and what impacts our choices.
Students will read about the early settlers' travels to the Northwest Territory and imagine they are traveling to the new settlement in Marietta. They will decide what supplies they want to take with them and determine what is important enough to take with them.
Students can also play the 1990 version of the Oregon Trail Game found on the Internet Archive's website. It will give them a basic idea of what traveling to settle in a new area was like.
Advertising Ohio Activity
You are a member of the Ohio Company in 1790. You have been asked to create a flyer to recruit more
settlers to come to the Northwest Territory to help Ohio become a state. You need to highlight all of the positive aspects of living in the area around Marietta, while downplaying the negatives.
For ideas on some positive selling points, here is an advertisement written by George Washington for land on the Virginia (now West Virginia) side of the Ohio River in 1784 (keep in mind that in the 1700s, the letters f and s looked the same. For example, “said” was written as “faid”).
Excerpts from Washington’s Advertisement (with f/s removed for readability):
…After having said this much of the land, it is almost superfluous to add that the whole of it is river low grounds, of the first quality- but it is essential to remark that a great deal of it may be converted into the finest mowing ground imaginable, with little or no labour, nature, and the water-stops which have been made by the bever [beaver], having done more to effect this, than years of hard labour in most other rich soils; Image from "The United States of America, Part 1" by Edwin Earle Sparks (1904).
and that the land back of these bottoms, must for ever render the latter uncommonly profitable for stock [livestock],
on account of the extensiveness of the range, as it is of a nature, being extremely broken, not to be seated [seeded?] or cultivated…
… The situation of these lands are not only pleasant, but in any point of view, in which they can be considered, must be exceedingly advantageous; for if the produce of the country…should go down the Mississippi, they are nearly as convenient for that transportation, having the stream without any obstruction in it to descend [like rapids or waterfalls]…”
With some words modified for ease of reading
…After having said this much of the land, it is almost [unnecessary] to add that the whole of it is river low grounds, of the [best] quality- but it is [important] to [say] that a great deal of it may be [changed] into the [best] [farm land] [thinkable], with little or no [work], nature, and the water-stops which have been made by the [beaver], having done more to effect this, than years of hard [work] in most other rich soils; and that the land back of these bottoms, must [forever] [make] the [land] [very] profitable for [livestock], on account of the large size of the [land area], as it is of a nature, being extremely broken, not to be seated [seeded?] or cultivated…
… The [location] of these lands are not only pleasant, but in any point of view, in which they can be [thought of], must be [very useful]; for if the [farm products] of the [area]…should go down the Mississippi, they are nearly as [useful] for that transportation, having the stream without any obstruction in it to descend [like rapids or waterfalls]…”
Things to think about:
Most of the members of the Ohio Company of Associates traveled nearly 700 miles from New England to settle in the Ohio Country. They traveled over land until Pittsburgh, where they took a flatboat down the Ohio River. In the board game For the Ohio, players will travel the same path taken by Rufus Putnam on his first trip to found Marietta in the spring of 1788. A printable game board and instructions are provided below.
Image from "History of Marietta" by Thomas Summers (1903).