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Marietta City

Marietta City Hall is located at 301 Putnam Street, Marietta, OH 45750; phone: 740-373-1387.

Beginnings [1]

At the point where the Muskingum River empties into the Ohio River, 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 General 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 defense 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 mediaeval 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."

  1. Lyman P. Powell, Ed., American Historic Towns: Historic Towns of the Western States, G. P. Putnam Sons, New York & London, The Knickerbocker Press, 1901.
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