April 7, 1788: Pioneers reach Ohio, start first settlement in Northwest Territory

·Christy Karras

The Northwest Territory was the first American push westward outside the original 13 colonies. The Revolutionary war was over and the Constitution was on its way to being ratified, so enterprising Americans turned their thoughts westward, thinking of the potential for settling new lands and making new lives for themselves in the process.

Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler personally and carefully selected their Ohio Company of Associates, the first group to buy a land grant from the federal government. The 48 men setting out from Massachusetts and Connecticut that winter included former Revolutionary War soldiers as well as surveyors and administrators.

If they’d known what was ahead, they might have waited until spring: an unusually severe winter would test the skills and endurance of what George Washington called “the bravest of the brave.” (Later, they would have to deal with the native people who had already called the area home for generations.)

The men built two flatboats (the 45-ton Adventure Galley and the three-ton Adelphia) and a handful of canoes and rode to their final destination via rivers: They took the Youghiogheny River to the Monongahela River, and from there they found the Ohio River, which they floated into territory outside U.S. boundaries and across from an old American fort. On April 7, they arrived at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers and declared this the site of their first permanent settlement. They named it Marietta, Ohio (for Marie Antoinette, a U.S. ally during the Revolutionary War), and it would become the first American town in the Northwest Territory.

By June of 1788, the first woman settler arrived in Ohio, and soon, more families followed. Within 50 years, the state of Ohio would have 1.5 million settlers. The “first forty-eight” have been lauded ever since for their bravery during an expedition that started a movement to add vast swaths of territory to the United States.