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What it means to be the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory

April 8, 2013
Marietta Times
It’s always good to be number one.

Bragging rights and all. How many times have visitors to Marietta been “treated” to an extended lesson in history by locals when all they wanted to know is how to get to the Best Western?

For historian and author Louise Zimmer, of Marietta, the Ordinance of the Northwest Territory, is the heart of it.

“If we had to choose what had the greatest influence on our pioneer past — and our present, too, for that matter — we’d have to say “The Ordinance of the Northwest Territory, dated July 14, 1787.”

In her book, “True Stories of Pioneer Times (Northwest Territory 1787-1812),” Zimmer explains that what first appears as an “overwhelming” bit of rhetoric, is sprinkled with hidden bits of fascinating history.

“It’s all about the land: who should own it, how it should be inherited, and how the inhabitants ought to behave themselves after they settle it,” Zimmer writes. “So while it was plain to see that laws were needed, it was equally plain to see that these laws were going to have to represent a new order: government for the man, rather than man for the government.”

Marietta was the start of it all.

Myths and truths The region was absolutely “trackless wilderness” with nobody in it. Wrong. There were many people living and trading in the region. As pioneers came down the Ohio River, they stopped and purchased food and other items from both the Indians and trappers. There are accounts of meeting individuals, including settlers, along the way.

There were 48 pioneers on The Adventure Galley when it landed at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers April 7, 1788. Wrong. There were actually 47 men aboard. Col. R.J. Meigs Sr., (Return Jonathan), a member of the original party, arrived April 12, 1788, over land with stock.

Every settler who went west, always went through Marietta. Wrong. There were many settlers in the region long before Marietta was founded and other settlements where they could re-supply before the long trip west. However, Marietta was considered one of the main points of embarkment west and was a popular settlement.

Martins Ferry is actually the first settlement in Ohio. Wrong. Marietta is the first “permanent” settlement in the Northwest Territory under legal “auspices” of the Land Ordinance of 1787, familiarly known as the Northwest Ordinance. Martins Ferry was settled by several groups of “squatters” in 1785 but were run out by troops sent from Pittsburgh. Abslom Martin is considered the first “legal” settler, arriving in 1787, but later moving on to Wheeling (Virginia) to marry. He brought his family back in 1791.

The Adventure Galley, the flatboat that carried the group of Ohio Company settlers from Ipswich, Mass. to the Ohio Valley, first landed on the east bank of the Muskingum River, where the group disembarked and started a settlement. Wrong. The boat first landed on the west side of the river near Fort Harmar (now site of Harmar Village or west Marietta) and was later tugged and towed, with the help of soldiers from Fort Harmar, across the Muskingum.

Sources: Historians John Briley and Louise Zimmer.



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