In December 1787, a group of Revolutionary War veterans and adventurers set out from Ipswich on an 800-mile journey through the wilderness by horseback and rafts to establish the first settlement in the Ohio Territory.
Early in the 18th Century, seven of the 13 colonies had made claims on vast areas of the West, with hopes of enriching their coffers through sales of land. Employing a literal interpretation of their interpretation of their original “sea-to-sea” grants from Britain, Massachusetts and Virginia both laid claim to wide swaths of land on either side of Lake Michigan.
After the Revolutionary War, the Congress perceived that these disputes threatened the sovereignty of the new Federal government, and persuaded the states to surrender their claims. Massachusetts ceded to the Federal government areas that are now part of Michigan, Wisconsin, New York and Vermont. A promise by the Federal government to assist states with their Revolutionary War debts was an incentive for relinquishing the claims. However, the country was financially exhausted and needed a means to raise funds.Congress passed the “Ordinance of 1787” for the settlement and government of the territory northwest of the Ohio River, including what are now the states of Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Land grants were made to officers of the Revolutionary War with the intention that others would purchase land. The Rev. Dr. Manasseh Cutler of the Hamlet parish of Ipswich (now Hamilton) was instrumental in encouraging Congress to open the Northwest Territories and authored Article 6 of the Ordinance of 1787, which excluded slavery from the Northwest Territory.
Gen. Benjamin Tupper explored the country, deemed it highly suitable for a settlement and returned to Massachusetts with enthusiasm. He and General Rufus Putnam created the Ohio Company and invited any officers and soldiers of the War who were citizens of Massachusetts to join them in creating a new settlement. He joined Tupper and Putnam in organizing the Ohio Company.
Delegates from eight counties met in Boston and adopted a plan to raise one million dollars, to be divided into a thousand shares for the purchase and settlement of land in the Western territory. Subscriptions surpassed all expectations.
Mr. Cutler was sent before Congress to arrange details of the purchase, only to discover that members were holding up the matter in the interest of private speculators. He promised key congressmen offers of land while feigning discouragement to the others. The ruse succeeded, Congress being unwilling to lose an opportunity to expand settlements into the territories. Nearly five million acres of land was granted at two-thirds of a dollar an acre in United States certificates of debt, which were worth only twelve cents on a dollar, therefore making the actual price about eight cents an acre. Cutler returned to Ipswich with the good news and the Ohio Company bought 1.5 million acres.
Carpenters, surveyors, boat builders, blacksmiths, farmers and laborers enlisted. A large wagon was built with large lettering on the side that read “Ohio, for Marietta on the Muskingum.” On a December morning in 1787, the first group of settlers gathered at Dr. Cutler’s house, fired a volley as a salute and began the journey. The winter was spent on the banks of the Ohio River near Pittsburgh.
When the ice broke up they proceeded by boat down the Ohio to the Muskingum River where they began building the town of Marietta, establishing the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.
A second company set out with Mr. Cutler and arrived on August 19. The new town prospered and the Northwest Territory became the popular movement of its day. The great Westward Migration was thus begun.
Dr. Cutler returned to Ipswich and decided that moving his family to Marietta would require great sacrifices. He was elected to two terms in the US Congress, declined a third, and spent the rest of his life in ministry to his congregation at the church, located at the intersection of Rt. 1A and Cutler Road in Hamilton.
In 1934, residents of Marietta, Ohio, began discussing plans for a formal acknowledgment of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Northwest Territory, to be commemorated in 1937. The movement captured the attention of the United States government, which formally established a 14-person Northwest Territory Celebration Commission in August 1935. The commission, whose members included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, organized commemorative activities and publications.
From December 3, 1937-April 7, 1938, a group of 36 men traveled by ox-driven Conestoga wagon and flatboat from Ipswich, Massachusetts, to Marietta, Ohio. Twenty-eight men made the entire trek, using the journals of Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler to approximate the pioneers’ equipment, route, and experiences in the late 18th century. From late January to early March 1938, the party stayed in West Newton, Pennsylvania, where they constructed several boats for their travels down the Youghiogheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. At many stops, the travelers performed a historical pageant for local residents and visitors.
- The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough
- Manasseh Cutler and the Settlement of Ohio, 1788
- Ohio History Central: Manasseh Cutler\
- Visions of America, 1787–1788: The Ohio of Reverend Manasseh Cutler, by Louis W. Potts
- Nathan Dane
- Peregrine Foster
- Captain William Burnham
- 1937 Reinactment photos, provided by the Hamilton Historical Society
- Northwest Ordinance Sesquicentennial
- Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, L.L.D.
- 2013 Reenactment on bicycles and kayaks
The following photos of the 1937 Ipswich Marietta reenactment are online at Digital Commonwealth, courtesy of the Hamilton Historical Society. Click on any image to view in full size.