Colonization of the Old Northwest Territory

On the way to Ohio

At about the year 1744, when New York was the most western settled province, some persons in England proposed the settlement of the valley of the Ohio and in 1753 Washington was engaged in making a survey of the region for a company. Ten years later an association, called the "Indiana Company," sought a grant of that section from the crown; but the acts of the mother country in her dealings with the American colonies frustrated a furtherance of the attempt.

As soon as the final act in our separation from Great Britain, at the close of the war of the Revolution, had been concluded, a plan was conceived for the formation of a new state along the Ohio River, to be known by the name of Ohio. In the latter part of March, 1783, Col. Timothy Pickering of Salem, who had served as a military officer under Washington, promulgated the plan, in which some of the principal officers in the army were interested with himself. With this act of Col. Pickering the company which afterward settled the territory originated.

The scheme included the formation of an association that should adopt a state constitution before the settlement was begun, and grants of the land should be principally for the benefit of the soldiers of the Revolution and their families.

October 14, 1784, Elbridge Gerry of Marblehead, famous as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Provincial congress, and friend and ally of Samuel Adams, when a certain committee presented a report upon western lands, moved to amend it consistently with the plan of Colonel Pickering. Congress voted that it would take control in any new state until the settlers assumed a temporary government.

The Ohio River was the great artery of the Northwest Territory, which was a fertile country, with diversified and well watered soil. Before the settlement was begun, in August, 1784, M. St. Jean De Crevecoeur, consul of France for the Middle states, sailed up the Ohio River, and in writing of his trip said: "I consider then, the settling of the lands, which are watered by this river, as one of the finest conquests that could ever be presented to man; it will be so much the more glorious, as it will be legally of the ancient proprietors, and will not exact a single drop of blood. It is destined to become the source of force, riches, and the future glory of the United States."

Rufus King of Newburyport and Elbridge Gerry, both members of the Provincial congress, were appointed, in 1785, agents of Massachusetts for fixing the terms upon which the claim of the state upon the territory would be relinquished. They seem to have made the total and irrevocable exclusion of slavery, a condition precedent.

March 1, 1786, delegates from eight counties of the state met at Boston, in the tavern called the "Bunch of Grapes," to form the articles of agreement of the company. It was voted that the association be named "The Ohio Company." Dr. Manasseh Cutler of the Hamlet parish in Ipswich (subsequently incorporated as the town of Hamilton) was one of a committee of five to prepare a plan of association or articles of agreement. The plan adopted provided that the business be conducted by a board of directors consisting of three persons; and, March 8, 1787, he was chosen one of the three.

When the ordinance of 1787 came up in congress. Doctor Cutler went to New York, and conferred with Nathan Dane Beverly, a native of the Hamlet, and at that time a member of congress. July 6 he presented his petition for the purchase of lands for the Ohio Company, proposing terms and conditions. He called on the president of congress, General St. Clair, and other members of that body. This important law had been drawn by Mr. Dane, aided by Doctor Cutler. It established a government in the Western Federal Territory, and expressly prohibited slavery therein. It was passed July 27. The terms of purchase of the land were accepted just as they were offered, and six million acres of land thus passed to the Ohio Company. Doctor Cutler signed this private contract, which was an indented parchment. He then dined with General Knox, a large number being present, all old Continental officers except himself. Baron Steuben was one of their number.

Doctor Cutler returned to Boston Aug. 29, and attended a meeting of the company making a report of the purchase of the land of congress, which was approved and confirmed.

November 23, Gen. Rufus Putnam of Rutland, of the Danvers family, was appointed superintendent of all the business relating to the commencement of the settlement of the territory, the colonists to go forward, under his direction, in companies of four surveyors, twenty-two men to attend them, six boat builders, four carpenters, one blacksmith, and nine common hands, with two wagons, etc.

The first party started from Danvers homes, at eleven o'clock, on Monday, Dec. 3, 1787, and was conducted by Maj. Haffield White. The men constituting the party, numbering twenty-five, were from the Hamlet parish and Danvers. Those from the Hamlet had sent their baggage to Danvers on the previous Saturday; and two hours before daybreak, after breakfast at Doctor Cutler's house, the Hamlet party marched to Danvers, the Doctor going with them. When ready to go the men, the Doctor's son, Jervis Cutler, John Porter, Amos Porter, Ebenezer Porter, Nathaniel Sawyer, Isaac Dodge, Oliver Dodge, Josiah Whittredge, William Knowlton, Edmund Knowlton and David Wells, paraded in front of the house, and, after a short address from the Doctor, "full of good advice and hearty wishes for their happiness and prosperity," three volleys were fired, the men being armed, The little band moved forward amid the cheers of their neighbors who had assembled to see them off to the new land of promise. At Danvers Doctor Cutler formally placed the party under the command of Major White and Capt. Ezra Putnam. The large and well-constructed wagon containing their baggage had been prepared by the Doctor, and it preceded them on the march from Danvers. The wagon was covered with black canvas, and on its sides, in white letters, the Doctor painted these words: "For the Ohio." The weather was pleasant, and the sun shone clearly.

The party arrived on the Youghiogeny, or Ohio River, at Simrall's ferry, Jan. 23, 1788. Another party had gone from Hartford, and met the Essex County party at the ferry Feb. 14. Together they descended the Ohio in a flat-bottomed boat called the "Mayflower." April 8 they arrived at the Muskingum, being somewhat hindered by the severity of winter in preparing to go down the Ohio from Pittsburg. The natives were kindly disposed: and the prospect of happy success was everywhere apparent. These pioneers proceeded at once to build and sow and plant the ground in preparation for the coming settlers. Four block houses were built of square timber, two stories high, as forts.

May 18, Isaac Dodge and Oliver Dodge of Wenham left the Muskingum for their home, for the purpose of making provisions for the erection of mills. They came on foot, being only twenty-six days from Muskingum to Wenham.

Emigration to the new country began in the early spring, and hundreds of families had gone from New England before the end of May.

After the departure of the pioneers in December, 1787, Doctor Cutler began to prepare to build wagons for the purpose of emigration. July 21, 1788, he started for the new country in a sulky he had purchased for that purpose. Ephraim Kendall of Ipswich and Maj. Peter Oliver of Salem went with him, on horseback. They passed the little Muskingum, seven hundred and fifty-one miles from Ipswich, Aug. 19, and soon were "politely" received by their friends. They gave to the place the name of "Marietta," which it still bears.

Dr. Cutler was pastor of the Hamlet church, having been ordained over it in 1 77 1. He had studied medicine before entering Yale College, from which he graduated in 1765. He began as a man of business in the whaling fleet of Martha's Vineyard; studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1769. While pastor of the Hamlet church he was chaplain in the army of the Revolution, in 1776. He was a friend and regular correspondent of Benjamin Franklin; and was given the degree of LL. D. by his alma mater in 1789. He was a member of congress from 1801 to 1805, and belonged to many learned societies. After a pastorate, more or less broken, of more than fifty years, he died in Hamilton July 28, 1823. The frontispiece shows the Hamlet Parish meeting house, the residence of Doctor Cutler, and the first wagon of the pioneers to the Northwest Territory.

Thus began the settlement of the central part of our country. Essex County men conceived the idea, obtained the authority, and carried out the scheme. Many other prominent men were engaged in the enterprise besides those mentioned, but space does not permit to tell their parts of the work.

AHGP Massachusetts

Source: The Essex Antiquarian, Volume VI, No. 4, October, 1902

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