Conquest of the Old Northwest - James Baldwin

Settlers on the Ohio

I. The First Colony

Ten days after the passage of the great Ordinance, Congress made its first important sale of public lands in the Northwest. The buyers were a company of New England speculators calling themselves the Ohio Company (very different from the first "Ohio Company" of which Washington was a member), and their leader was a Massachusetts clergyman named Manasseh Cutler. The land which they had selected fronted upon the north bank of the Ohio, and lay chiefly between the mouth of the Muskingum and that of the Scioto. It was supposed to contain one million five hundred thousand acres, and the amount to be paid for it was one million dollars in soldiers certificates.

Already a great tide of immigration into the newly opened region had set in from the East. While some of the first people to come were honest hunters, who loved the woods and felt a pure delight in facing the dangers of pioneer life, others were merely the refuse of the older settlements, restless vagabonds such as are always found moving along in the van of civilization. Many were ruffians of the worst sort, criminals escaped from justice, half-savages, who came into the wilderness in order to indulge their wicked instincts. These built their cabins and squatted here and there, wherever their fancy led them. They never stopped to ask about the ownership of the land, but were regardless alike of the rights of the Indians and of the laws of their own government.

River boats on the Ohio


Following this scum of the earth came the real settlers—men who were attracted thither by the cheapness of the land and its amazing fertility, and who hoped to build in the new country permanent homes for themselves and their children. They crossed the mountains in wagons, carrying all their earthly goods with them. When they reached the Youghiogheny, or the Monongahela, flatboats were built to carry them to Pittsburg, and thence down the Ohio to such places as they deemed most inviting for new settlements. These flatboats were rude affairs, hastily put together, and built neither for speed nor for comfort. They carried an average of about twenty persons each, besides livestock, household goods, and farming implements. On the decks of the larger boats rough shelters of canvas or of boards were built for the protection of the women and children during the tedious voyage. It is said that within the first four months of the year 1788 more than two hundred of these rude craft passed down the river to various points along its shores.

As soon as the Ohio Company had secured a title to its great tract in the Muskingum Valley, efforts were made to induce people of the better sort, and especially old soldiers whom the war had made poor, to go west and settle upon its lands. Early in the spring, a large party of New Englanders, with General Rufus Putnam as their leader, set out for the country of promise. A long barge, bullet-proof and stanch, had been built for them on the Youghiogheny, and named the Mayflower in memory of the historic vessel which had borne the Pilgrim Fathers to the shores of the New World.

On the second day of April, the pioneers with their families and their household effects were safely embarked, and the Mayflower was swiftly propelled down the stream, now swollen and turbulent with the rains of spring. The voyage was marked by few adventures. The boat glided into the broader stream of the Monongahela, and holding steadily on its way, was soon floating past the heights where stood Fort Pitt, the key to the Ohio Valley. Once on the beautiful river, the progress of the voyagers was quite rapid; and on the seventh of the month, they saw through the fog of the spring morning the dim outlines of a stockade—Fort Harmar—below the mouth of the Muskingum. Here they brought the Mayflower to a halt; with great labor they pushed her against the current, and guided her into the smaller stream where the water flowed with less turbulence.

Fourth of July


The peninsula on their right was covered with a growth of forest trees among which could be seen strange mounds and earth-works, built ages before by an unknown race. It was a lovely spot, and there the pioneers decided to make their homes. The Mayflower was moored to the eastern bank of the Muskingum, and the little company disembarked. Log cabins were hastily built; plots of ground were cleared; grain was planted; and a stockade, called Campus Martius, was erected for security against the Indians. Such was the beginning of the first American colony planted within the limits of the Old Northwest. "No colony in America," said Washington, "was ever settled under such favorable circumstances." In the course of the first year, a hundred and thirty-two men, with fifteen families, arrived, and the new city of Marietta so named in honor of the French queen, Marie Antoinette was laid out.

The Fourth of July was celebrated with great speech-making, and a banquet at which the colonists and their visitors were regaled with "venison barbecued, buffalo steaks, bear meat, wild fowl, and a little pork, as the choicest luxury of all." Five days later, General St. Clair, the newly appointed governor of the Northwest Territory, arrived at the settlement; and on the fifteenth, he made his grand public entrance into the little city, where he was received by General Putnam and the citizens "with the most sincere and universal congratulations."

Before the summer was ended the governor had organized a great tract of territory, including the eastern half of the present state of Ohio, into a county, which he named Washington County. Judges and other officers were appointed, and a county court was opened in one of the blockhouses of the Campus Martius. It was a great day in the annals of the Old Northwest, for it marked the beginning of a new order of things the—American order. The sheriff, from the doorstep of the rude little courthouse, made proclamation:— "Oyez! Oyez! a court is open for the administration of even-handed justice, to the poor and the rich, to the guilty and the innocent, without respect of persons; none to be punished without trial by their peers, and then in pursuance of the laws and evidence in the case." Then the Rev. Manasseh Cutler offered up a prayer in the presence of the governor and of the judges seated on their high benches of justice, the officers were called up and duly sworn, and the business of the day was begun.

Oyez! Oyez!


Thus was the first county organized, thus was the first court of justice opened, and thus was the American idea of civil government first introduced into the Old Northwest.

II. Losantiville

It was not long until other settlements were begun at widely separated points in the newly opened country. Judge John Cleves Symmes of New Jersey purchased a large tract of land fronting on the Ohio and lying between the Great Miami and Little Miami rivers. The tract was supposed to comprise a million acres, but when it was surveyed, it proved to contain not quite one third of that amount.

A little more than five months after the arrival of the New England settlers at Marietta, several well-loaded barges, bearing sixty colonists from New Jersey, floated down the river. These people were well supplied with household necessities and farming tools, and carried with them fourteen large wagons and fifty-six horses. Late in September they landed near the mouth of the Little Miami, and at a point opposite the place where the Licking pours its Kentucky waters into the Ohio they marked out a plan for a town. But there were Indians in the neighborhood, and the settlers feared to remain. They therefore returned to their barges and rowed back to Maysville, a new settlement on the Kentucky side of the river. Before Christmas, however, many of them descended again to the Little Miami, a blockhouse was built, land was cleared, and the colony was established in its new home.

"What name shall we give to our settlement?" asked the colonists.

Fort Washington


The leaders of the enterprise suggested calling it Cincinnati, in honor of the patriotic society that had been organized at the close of the Revolution. But John Filson, a schoolmaster who was surveying the town and laying off its streets, insisted that it should have a name that meant something.

"Call it Losantiville," said he.

"But what does Losantiville mean?"

"It is a word made up from four languages. Translating it backward, as we must often do in Latin, it means ville (French) the town, anti (Greek) opposite, os (Latin) the mouth, L (an English abbreviation) the Licking—the town opposite the mouth of the Licking:"

The ingenuity of the schoolmaster pleased the settlers, and the name Losantiville was adopted; but when Governor St. Clair paid a visit to the place a year later, he declared that the town should be called Cincinnati. A palisaded fort was soon built for its protection, and named Fort Washington; and three hundred soldiers were sent to occupy it and overawe the Indian tribes who were already becoming alarmed at the rapid incoming of settlers.