The MAN WHO LED THE FIRST PERMANENT SETTLERS TO OHIO
In 1775 General Washington decided that he must fortify Dorchester Heights, Boston, if he was to force the British to leave the country. But how was he to do this? The ground was frozen to a depth of eighteen inches, and the enemy’s cannon commanded the coveted position. Lieutenant Colonel Putnam told the General that the seemingly impossible task could be performed.
Washington was dubious, but he had learned that Colonel Putnam was to be counted on. One night, after dark, the work was begun, and before daylight it was so far completed that the surprised enemy were compelled to retire.
In recognition of services like this, Colonel Putnam was made a brigadier general. A reward even greater was his; he won the lasting friendship of Washington.
Eight years after the fortification of Dorchester Heights, two hundred and eighty-three officers asked Congress for a grant of land in the western, country. General Putnam forwarded the petition to Washington, and urged that it be granted, in order that ” the country between Lake Erie and the Ohio might be filled with in-habitants, and the faithful subjects of the United States so established on the waters of the Ohio and on the lakes as to banish forever the idea of our western territory falling under the dominion of any European power.”
Action by Congress was delayed. On June 2, 1784, Washington wrote to Putnam :
” I wish it was in my power to give you a more favorable account of the officers’ petition for lands on the Ohio and its water, than I am about to do. . . . For surely if justice and gratitude to the army, and general policy of the Union were to govern in the case, there would not be the smallest interruption in granting the request.”
Putnam did not lose heart. His next step, taken in January, 1786, was to call a meeting of officers and soldiers and others to form an Ohio Company. The meeting was held at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, in Boston, March 1, 1786, and the Ohio Company of Associates was duly formed. It was agreed to raise a fund to purchase from Congress, for purposes of settlement, the western lands which Congress had been asked to give them.
On July 27, 1787, a tract of 1,500,000 acres on the Ohio River, between the Scioto and the Muskingum rivers; was sold to the Company at sixty-six and two-thirds cents per acre. Half the amount was paid down. When, later, it became impossible to pay the remainder, Congress gave a measure of relief.
The first emigrants to go to the new lands set out from Danvers, Massachusetts, December 1, 1787, under the guidance of General Rufus Putnam, while a second party started from Hartford, Connectcut, January 1, 1788. The first party of twenty-two men followed the Indian trail over the Allegheny Mountains and reached the Youghiogheny River, on January 23, 1788, while the second party of twenty-eight men, making better time, joined them on February 14. Then a barge, called the Mayflower, was built, forty-six feet long ‘and twelve feet wide. A cabin was provided for the women of the party, and an awning was stretched. The men propelled the boat with ten oars.
On April 1 the voyage to the Ohio was begun, and on April 7 the party reached the mouth of the Muskingum. The barge was moored to the bank, opposite Fort Harmar. Thus came the Massachusetts pioneers to the town of which Washington wrote later : ” No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at Muskingum. In-formation, 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.”
Here the pioneers laid out the town of Marietta among the famous Indian mounds, naming it in honor of Marie Antoinette of France. The greatest mound of all was made the central feature of Marie Antoinette Square. This mound is thirty feet high, while the circular base is 375 feet in circumference. It is surrounded by a moat fifteen feet wide and five feet deep. Beyond the moat is a parapet twenty feet thick and 385 feet in circumference. This square was leased to General Putnam for twelve years, on condition that he ” surround the whole square with mulberry trees with an elm at each corner.” The base of the mound was to be encircled with weeping willows, and evergreens were to be placed on the mound. The parapet was to be surrounded with trees, the square was to be seeded down to grass, and the whole was to be enclosed with a post and rail fence. This effort to create a park at the very beginning was an unusual feature of this pioneer experience.
An enclosure of logs, with a log fort at each corner, was built for protection against the Indians. Between the corner forts were the cabins occupied by the various families. The forts and the enclosure were named the Campus Martins. One of the early houses built within this stockade became the home of General Putnam.
Marie Antoinette Square soon became known as Mound Square. General Putnam turned over his lease to the town, which set the property aside as a cemetery. Many of the settlers had died during two epidemics of smallpox, and there was need of a cemetery nearer the town than the ground set aside at the beginning.
It is claimed that more officers of the Revolution have been buried in the Mound Cemetery than in any other cemetery in the country. There were twelve colonels, twelve majors, and twenty-two captains among the Marietta pioneers. When General Lafayette was in Marietta in 1825, the list was read to him, and he said : ” I knew them all. I saw them at Brandywine, York-town, and Rhode Island. They were the bravest of the brave.”
Over Putnam’s grave is the following inscription :
Gen. Rufus Putnam A Revolutionary Officer And the leader of the Colony which made the First settlement in the Territory of the Northwest. Born April 9, 1738 Died May 4, 1824.
The house occupied by ” the Father of Ohio,” as he has been called, is preserved as a historical monument. In 1917 the Daughters of the American Revolution and Marietta succeeded in persuading the Ohio Legislature to pass a bill making provision for its repair and care.