American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1901


MARIETTA
THE PLYMOUTH OF THE WEST
BY MURIEL CAMPBELL DYAR


"The paths from the heights of Abraham led to Independence Hall, Independence Hall led finally to Yorktown, and Yorktown guided the footsteps of your Fathers to Marietta."-Daniels.

AT the point where the Muskingum empties into the Ohio, the River Beautiful, across whose waters the Ohio hills look tenderly away into the distances of West Virginia, there was sown, in 1788, the tiny seed for the development of the Northwest Territory. Here, on the memorable seventh of April, landed forty eight New England pioneers; here stayed the keel of the second Mayflower, bearing as her burden not only the men whose names have become immortal in American history, but, more than these, the Ordinance of 1787 with its momentous articles of compact, an ordinance ranking "next to the Declaration of Independence in the establishment of Constitutional liberty in the United States." Here was founded that other Plymouth, Marietta, the brave little gateway through which the nation's civilization journeyed onward from the Atlantic seaboard to the fallow empires of the West.

No seer was needed to foreshadow the success the Marietta colony was to have. Two years before its coming, the character of the colony was presaged when there met in Boston, at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, whose gilded sign creaked temptingly in her high salt winds, a convention called by General Rufus Putnam and General Benjamin Tupper for the formation of the Ohio Company, with the purpose of founding a new State in the territory northwest of the Ohio River. The Company was composed of high minded men, largely officers in the late war. In their petition to Congress for the purchase of western land they stipulated, for its organization, law and order, provision for education and for the maintenance of religion and the total exclusion of slavery. For these compacts, some of the greatest statesmen in the young Republic brought to bear the power of their genius; for these, the quiet Ipswich clergyman, Manasseh Cutler, as agent of the Ohio Company, pleaded with matchless eloquence in Congress; for these, Rufus Putnam, the "Father and Founder of Ohio," gave the largess of his ability and rugged force.

"An interlude in Congress," says Mr. Bancroft, "was shaping the character and destiny of the United States of America. Sublime and humane and eventful as was the result, it will not take many words to show how it was brought about. For a time wisdom and peace and justice dwelt among men, and the great Ordinance which alone could give continuance to the Union came in serenity and stillness. Every man that had a, share in it seemed to be moved by an Invisible Hand to do just what was wanted of him; all that was wrongfully undertaken fell by the wayside; whatever was needed for the happy completion of the work arrived opportunely and at the right moment moved into its place."

To the forty eight men sent into the wilderness by the Ohio Company history gives a generous and well merited praise. They were of the same race and of the same upright faith as the brave Englishmen who in 1620 landed on the bleak, gray rock of Plymouth. All that was true and forceful in the Plymouth faith was theirs; they had the same love of law and religion, the same genius for order and a firm self government, the same courage of conviction, the same independence of thought and action. They possessed, too, much of that ancient war ready temper which had shorn the English King of his divine right and had created for the English people the House of Commons. Their heroism had adorned every battlefield of the Revolution; their roll included generals, majors, colonels and captains.

"No colony in America," said Washington, with that cautious, unerring judgment of his, "was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that about to commence at 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."

"I know them all," cried the Marquis de La Fayette, his fine French voice trembling with emotion when the list of their names was read to him on his visit to Marietta. "I knew them at Brandywine, Yorktown and Rhode Island. They were the bravest of the brave." General Putnam himself was at their head, the "impress of whose character is strongly marked on the population of Marietta in their business, institutions and manners." Here were Samuel H. Parsons, the distinguished general, the able writer, the accomplished jurist; James M. Varnum, the brilliant scholar, the gallant officer; Abraham Whipple, the brave commodore, to whom belongs the glory of firing the first naval gun in the cause of American independence, an act that gave birth to the American navy. Here were Winthrop Sargent, the Secretary of the Territory, Benjamin Tupper, the hero of many battles and the devoted friend of Putnam in the forming of the Ohio Company; Return Jonathan Meigs, afterwards Governor of Ohio. Here were Nye, Buell, Cutler, Fearing, Foster, Sproat, Cushing, Goodale, Dana, True, Devol and others no less worthy and distinguished, whose names are the richest heritage of their descendants.

The story of the coming of the pioneers is a twice told tale to the student of our nation's history. In the disheartening gray dawn of a December morning, 1787, the first little band paraded before Manasseh Cutler's own church at Ipswich, and, after the firing of a salute, started "for the Ohio country," as their leading wagon proclaimed. Another joined this at Danvers, and yet another, pushing on from famous old Rutland, started from Hartford, Ct., led by the beloved and always inspiring Gen eral Putnam. The toilsome journey overland, along an old Indian trail through Connecticut and Pennsylvania, at that season of the year white with winter, ended at last at the Ohio River. Here, at Sumrill's ferry, out of timber that still sang of the forests, was built the Mayflower, her bows raking like a galley, her burthen fifty tons, a humble enough namesake of the famous Pilgrim vessel. As the pioneers went onward down the river, the snow, which at first lay heavy in the hollows of the hills, melted into thin patches here and there, until, when they reached Fort Harmar, at the fair mouth of the Muskingum, April bourgeoned into unexpected beauty about them. It was a golden augury for the little town, to which its soldier founders gave the name of Marietta, in grateful remembrance of the sympathy of Marie Antoinette for the colonies during the weary period of their Revolution, a name which still keeps her citizens lovers of that ill fated Queen of France.

Enthusiastic news of the first summer of the colony went back over the mountains to Ipswich and Rutland. "The climate is exceeding healthy," blithely carols one of the old letters, "not a man sick since we have been here. We have started twenty buffalo in a drove, deer are plenty as sheep in New England. Turkeys are innumerable. We have already planted a field of one hundred and fifty acres in corn." Another settler drips from his ecstatic, and, we trust, veracious quill, "The corn has grown nine inches in twenty four hours for two or three days past." The garrison, very soon erected for defence and called the Campus Martius in academic quaintness, is described as the "handsomest pile of buildings this side of the Alleghanies," and as presenting an appearance of almost medieval stateliness and strength, bastioned as it was with great blockhouses and surrounded by a stout double wall of palisades. The Fourth of July was celebrated by a great "banquet," eaten in a bowery set up on the banks of the Muskingum; its menu tickles even a jaded modern palate, venison barbecued, buffalo steaks, bear meat, roasted pigs, "the choicest delicacy of all," and a great pike, six feet long, the largest ever caught in the river. "We kept it up till after twelve o'clock at night," succinctly observes one of the participants, "and then went home and slept until after daylight" On the fifteenth of July, a yet more memorable occasion, General St. Clair, the first Governor of the Northwest Territory, was welcomed with great ceremonies, and the Ordinance of 1787 was read with much solemnity in the midst of profound silence. In early August a pleasant little ripple of diversion was caused by the arrival of the families of the pioneers. In the latter part of the same month, Dr. Cutler made a visit to the settlement, and delivered the first sermon ever preached at Marietta. In September was opened the first Court of Common Pleas in the Territory. It was an august spectacle. The sheriff, Colonel Ebenezer Sproat, of the Massachusetts line, preceded by a military escort, marched with his drawn sword and wand of office ahead of the governor, judges, secretary and others, to the blockhouse where the court was held. As the picturesque little procession wound its way along the river banks, the friendly Indians, loitering about the new city, admired immensely the mighty form of Colonel Sproat, who, being six feet four inches tall, towered conspicuously above his companions. Ever thereafter they called him Hetuck, or Big Buckeye, and ever since then the natives of Ohio have been dubbed "Buckeyes."

Great provisions were made for good order in the settlement; almost before the seeds of New England harvests had germinated in the virgin soil, Marietta had her pillory, whipping post and stocks for the discipline of evil doers, instruments of torture which lingered as late as 1812. Every man was ordered to "entertain emigrants, visit the sick, feed the hungry, attend funerals, cabin raisings, log rollings, huskings and to keep his latch string always out." Once during the fruitful summer the settlers assembled to attend a funeral, for the first death in the colony occurred in August, when little Nabby Cushing, daughter of Major Cushing, passed away. She was buried tenderly in the alien soil, where, in an unmarked grave, she is slumbering still. Although many years have come and gone between, a vague pity stirs today at the thought of that little pioneer baby, whose feet so soon grew weary in the vast wilderness.

The hospitality of the latch strings was put to the test two years later, when a hapless colony of Frenchmen took shelter in the town, lured nto the wilderness by the unscrupulous agent of a land company, with the promise that they should find a land where there were no taxes to pay, no military services to be performed, where frost, even in winter, was entirely unknown and where candles grew ready made on the bushes and sugar dripped spontaneously from the trees. They were a curious crew: carvers, gilders, wig makers and hair dressers from Paris, even a Viscount of broken down fortunes and a young Marquis, with a few peasants as helpless as themselves in the new conditions, hardly a mother's son of them able to plough or reap or chop for himself, and many a man without a sou in his pocket. The major part of them drifted down the river that winter to what is now Gallipolis, the City of the Gauls, where they at once began to give balls in the cabins which the Marietta settlers helped them build, and proceeded to spend what little money they had in hiring American hunters to bring them game! A few became citizens of Marietta, notably Monsieur Thiery, a Parisian baker and confectioner; who quickly adapted himself to the new life, and made toothsome little sweet cakes and bread for the settlement, there is a tradition that while Louis Philippe was whiling away his exile in the United States, he visited Marietta, where he had the pleasure of eating a fair wheaten loaf of his countryman's baking, and Monsieur Cookie, bred to no trade, very short and very stout, who wore at all times and in all seasons a very tall steeple crowned hat which once salved his life, when the Indians, catching sight of it bobbing up and down in the paw-paw bushes, fired at it in a vain attempt to hit the head within.

After the sober jollity of the first summer, the Marietta colonists experienced the hardships which every early settlement knows. They had their "sick years, their times of famine and their Indian wars." The sick years played a sad havoc in their numbers by dreadful scourges of epidemic diseases. The famous starving time came in the spring and summer of 1790. A black frost falling out of due season ruined their crops, and the Indians, already beginning their hostilities, had driven from the forest every startled wild thing within their reach. It was a period that tried the Puritan mettle, for the solace of religion may prove vain if the stomach be empty. The only food was nettle tops and the tender shoots of the pigeon berry, boiled with a little corn pounded on the hominy block. Occasionally a hunter, faring far afield, brought in a bit of bear meat or a wild turkey, which made a feast at least fitting if not full. The heroic matrons sipped spice bush tea, unsweetened, in lieu of a more stimulating beverage Many a heart turned back in homesick longing to where the blue haze curled comfortably from New England kitchens, but hope returned with the early squashes. The new corn crop was abundant, and from that day to this, whatever may have been their vicissitudes of fortune, the citizens of Marietta have never again been reduced to a starvation diet.

A much graver calamity, coming not long after, was the Indian wars, which were not to end for five long, weary years. During this time the town was strained to its generous capacity to receive under the shelter of the Campus Martius the men, women and children from remoter settlements. The settlers worked in the fields like the Israelites at the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, every man with his weapon in his hand. On the puncheon cabin floors, mothers rocked their babies in the first cradles of Ohio, while often, on some faroff hill, they could see savage warriors brandishing their blood stained hatchets in defiance at the fort.

The news of the defeat of General St. Clair's expedition caused consternation, and threatened for a time to break up the settlement. So disastrous was the defeat that when in 1793 Mad Anthony Wayne camped on the General's battlefield, his soldiers could not lie down to sleep for the bones of the unfortunate army. Humiliated by his misfortune and its implied disgrace, the Governor soon left his Marietta home. The colonists mourned with his loss that of his daughter Louisa, so brave, so lovely, so brilliant, that it seems no mere legend that the great Indian chief, Brandt, was madly in love with her.

In the grim terror of the times, an amusing incident now and then comes like a lilt of girlish laughter. Once the signal gun gave the alarm that the Indians were besieging the town. The night was dark and the confusion indescribable. Men rushed to their posts and the women and children scuttled to the central blockhouse. Colonel Sproat led the way with a box of valuable papers; next came a woman with her bed and children, and tumbling after her, old Mr. Moulton, with his leathern apron full of goldsmith's tools and tobacco. His daughter Anna carried the china teapot. Lyddy brought the great Bible. When all were in the frightened cry was raised that Mrs. Moulton was missing, that she had been scalped by the Indians. "Oh, no," said Lyddy calmly, "she 'll be here in a minute. She stopped to put things a little to rights; she said she would not leave the house looking so." And in a few moments the old lady scuttled in, bearing the looking glass - a triumph of New England housewifery!

A certain regularity of living was maintained in spite of the continuous fear. Every Sabbath morning church was held in a blockhouse where Psalms were droned with Puritan unction, and the sermon by Mr. Story, the scholarly. Massachusetts divine, was tasted with much critical acumen by the learned backwoodsmen, many of whom were graduates of Harvard and Dartmouth. On the long Sabbath afternoons the children of the settlement studied their catechisms in the simple log cabin of Mrs. Mary Lake, the earnest woman who thus started what was perhaps the first Sunday school in the United States. On week days they were gathered together for lessons, nor was the rod kept in less perpetual pickle because of the proximity of the Indians.

The war once over, a busy activity ensued. Mills were built, bridges made, and more comfortable houses erected. It was not strange that the sons of the old coast States, with the siren voice of the sea still in their ears, should become notable builders of ships. The great trees of the forest were masts ready for felling, and many a stately vessel slipped into the water from this inland shipyard, to glide down the Ohio into the Mississippi, and from thence to the shining ocean beyond. The town became a centre of industry and traffic, a position which she was not long to keep, for gradually trade drifted from her, and by and by she fell asleep commercially beside her pleasant waters, to nod and dream serenely through years to come. But not only was the early Marietta noted for her industrial prosperity; she was a centre of culture as well, and her place in this regard she has never lost. As soon as a greater wealth and leisure came to the pioneer colony, there bloomed abundantly the flowers of an intellectual refinement, which was the birth right of those heroic men and women.

It is with this gracious era, redolent of sweet old customs and stately courtesies, that there is associated the romantic, old time tragedy of the Blennerhássetts. On the lovely island lying some twelve miles below Marietta, Harman Blennerhassett, the dreamy Irish exile, built his idyllic mansion, whose grandeur was the wonder of the West.

"A shrubbery that Shenstone might have envied," wrote Wirt, "blooms around him. Music that might have charmed Calypso and her nymphs, is his. An extensive library spreads its treasures before him. A philosophical apparatus offers him all the secrets and mysteries of nature. Peace, tranquillity, and innocence shed their mingled delights about him. And to crown the enchantment of the scene, a wife, who is said to be lovely even beyond her sex, and graced with every accomplishment that can render it irresistible, has blessed him with her love."

Here he plotted a new empire with the bad and brilliant Aaron Burr, whose hands were still red with the blood of the murdered Alexander Hamilton; and from here he fled accused of treason to his country, disgraced and ruined. Memories of the "Blennerhassett days" are many, for the great man was for several years a partner of Dudley Woodbridge, the first merchant of Marietta, and both he and his accomplished wife were familiar figures in Marietta homes. Fancy, inspired by local annals, has a charming glimpse of the loving mistress of the hospitable mansion, dashing through the woods on her spirited horse, like some brilliant tropical bird, in her habit of scarlet cloth, and white hat with the long drooping plume. A pretty story is told of her wit and beauty at the famous "Burr ball" which the fashion of Marietta once gave in honor of the crafty statesman and his daughter Theodosia. Today, the site of the regal dwelling is marked only by an old well and some magnificent trees. "Blennerhassett's Island" is a point of attraction for pleasure seekers, who give little enough thought to its sad story; but sometimes there journeys to it a lover of past years who looks with blurred eyes at the spot where once was enacted one of the most pathetic little tragedies in all American history.

But Marietta is not altogether a tale of yesterdays; she has as well her today, with its rich promise for the morrow. Today, a stranger in the town has pointed out to him 'New" and 'Old" Marietta. In New Marietta, brought into existence by the discovery of vast surrounding oil fields, there are thriving factories, modern business blocks, new hotels, improved school buildings, electric cars; there are evidences of wealth and business prosperity, and signs of an increasing population. This commercial progress, from a civic standpoint, is undeniably a benefit, yet it must be admitted, for the time being, it gives Marietta a little the appearance of a kindly, old style grandmother, startled from a long afternoon nap in the chimney corner, to find her cap gone, her scanty petticoats replaced by strangely ample frills, and the caraway seeds in her limp black bag supplanted by indigestible bon bons. In Old Marietta the scene shifts. Here is the drowsy peace of a New England village; here are wide streets shaded by avenues of splendid trees, and ancient houses, generous portalled, serene. Here is the burring of bees in old fashioned gardens. And is not this lingering fragrance the smell of the lotos flower?

The glory of the old dispensation is the venerable college, whose buildings cluster picturesquely on the green lift of College Hill. Founded in the fear of God by the first scholars of Ohio, it has behind it a proud history. At its head have stood men of rich culture and ability, among whose names shines pre-eminently that of Israel Ward Andrews. In the list of its instructors have been scholars who have led it upward to all that is noblest and best. From its classes have gone out students who have taken a fitting and often distinguished place in the professions and in politics. When the call of 1861 came, the student sons of Marietta responded with a gallant patriotism and a devoted service, some among them winning the highest recognition. Today, with its able faculty, its fine library, its well equipped class rooms, it holds no mean place in the roll of American colleges. It pays to its past the precious thanks of a worthy present. And with happy confidence it looks forward to its future, under the guidance of its sixth and latest President, Alfred Tyler Perry, but recently called to its leadership from Hartford Theological Seminary.

In the old Mound Cemetery sleep an honored dead. In its center is the prehistoric mound, as well preserved today as when it was discovered by the pioneer fathers, a vast monument to the unknown fittingly encircled by the quiet dignity of this ancient Acre of God. General Putnam's grave is marked by a plain granite monument, bearing the simple inscription more touching than the loftiest eulogy:

GENERAL RUFUS PUTNAM
A Revolutionary Officer
And the leader of the
Colony which made the
First settlement in the
Territory of, the North-West.
Born April 9, 1738,
Died May 4, 1824-


Not far from him are the majority of the Revolutionary heroes who came with him from New England. It is claimed that there are buried here more officers of the Revolution than in any other burying ground in the United States. About them lie thirteen soldiers of the War of 1812, and a number of the brave men who fought in the Mexican War. Here too, are the resting places of many early citizens of Marietta, who are as a "Choir Invisible"

"Of those immortal dead, who live again In minds made better by their presence." The gates are seldom open now to the silent caravans, for the graves in the cloistral grass lie close.

Many relics of bygone days make Old Marietta interesting. The streets running north and south bear yet the names given them by the early settlers, of Washington and his generals. The 'Sacra Via" and the breezy "Capitolium" and "Tiber Way" bear witness to an old scholarship. 'The Point" recalls the picketed Point of the Indian wars. There still stands the Ohio Company's Land Office, a wee, weather beaten building, gray with time, probably the oldest structure in Ohio. Opposite this is the old homestead of Rufus Putnam, which stood within the Campus Martius. On the park, fronting the river, is the quaint Two Horn Church of the Congregationalists, erected in the wilderness in 1806 and now Ohio's oldest church building. On the same street where it stands is the stately old mansion of Governor Meigs, which was built two years earlier and which still holds an honored place among Marietta's beautiful homes. In families whose names mark their descent from the "forty eight immortals" are treasured numerous heirlooms, ancestral portraits which look from their tarnished frames pink cheeked, confident and calm; old dresses, dim and faintly odorous; and divers warming pans, candlesticks and Blennerhassett chairs, together with sundry bits of sprigged, delightful china.

"Age is a recommendation in four things," runs a Spanish proverb: "Old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, old books to read." To these might well be added a fifth, old towns to love. To those who know her, Marietta is a hallowed spot. She is a tender bosomed matron, this mother of many sons. Around her is a fair line of hills, which, whether green with the eternal promise of the spring, or wrapped in the blue smoke from autumn's invisible battlefield, or hoary with winter's snows, are changelessly beautiful. About her are broad fields, now quivering to their resurrection, now white to the harvests. Before her are the lovely, far stretching rivers, calling to her all day long with their old, sweet notes of running water. By the bonds of her historic beauty she holds her children in a very tender thrall. In all times, and in all places, their hearts yearn unto her in the far Horatian cry: "Septimius, - that angle of the earth laughs for me beyond all others"


[also see the Ohio Biographies and Cuyahoga County Biographies. ]

Historic towns of the Western States

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