Wagon train leaving from Rev. Cutler's church in Ipswich, bound for Marietta

Ipswich to Marietta, December 1787

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.

The states and their land claims at the end of the American Revolution

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.

Tercentenary sign commemorating the journey to marietta in front of the Hamilton Congregational Church

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.

Route of the Pioneer Caravan  reenactment, Ipswich MA to Marietta Georgia
Map from the 1937 reinactment

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.

Dr. Cutler's church and parsonage at Ipswich Hamlet, 1787.
Dr. Cutler’s church and parsonage at Ipswich Hamlet, 1787. The rendezvous from which the first company started for the Ohio, December 3, 1787

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.

Ipswich to Marietta
Arrival of :Rufus Putnam and American pioneers to the Northwest Territory at the mouth of the Muskingum River at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, on April 7, 1788. Image source: John T. Faris, On the Trail of the Pioneers, published in 1920.
The Hamilton Congregational Church is at the intersection of Rt. 1A and Cutler Rd.

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.

1937 Reenactment

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.

Northwest Territory Caravan, Marietta April 1938
Northwest Territory Caravan, Marietta April 1938
Ipswich to Marietta 1937
Reenactment of the Ipswich to Marietta journey in 1937
Departure from the Hamilton Church, 1937 reenactment
Ipswich to Marietta postcard
Thanks to Bonnie Hurd Smith for sharing this postcard

Further reading:

Photos of the 1937 Ipswich Marietta reenactment are online at Digital Commonwealth, courtesy of the Hamilton Historical Society. .

1937 reenactment of trek to Ohio 1937 reenactment of trek to Ohio Manasseh Cutler Congregational Church, departure ceremonies for trek enactment, 1937

Reenactment Ohio Trek 1937 Trek to Ohio re-enactment, 1937, people at the Congregational Church for departure.

Parade route, first reenactment of Ohio Trek, 1937 Ohio Trek Reenactment 1937 1937 reenactment of trek to Ohio 1st reenactment of Ohio Trek, First Congregational Church, Bay and Cutler Roads, 1937, at time of departure Cov. wag. dep., on to Ohio, Jim Danforth leading colors of Post 194 pass 540 Bay Road.

Cov. wag. dep., on to Ohio, oxen and wagon passing 610 Bay Road Cov. wagon departure, after church while movies were taken.

Covered wagon departure ball, December 1937, Hamilton Town Hall Reenactment of trek to west to Ohio, Bay Road, 1937

Covered wagon departure celebration, 1 Dec. 1937 Covered wagon departure ceremonies, Dec. 1937, Soldiers Green and monument Covered wagon departure, detail from post 194 A.L. leading the way past 610 Bay Road.

Pond hill by Wenham Lake, covered wagon trek Covered wagon, oxen near 610 Bay Road, on to Ohio Hamilton to Ohio, Dec. 1937 recreation

Down the river to Marietta, April 1938 Going down the river to Ohio, April 1938