Celebration held for ordinance anniversary
Gathered in the church were historians, local museum curators, and state government officials to recognize the 232nd anniversary of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, an ordinance which assigned fundamental human rights as the young United States looked to westward expansion.
“The Confederation Congress also (wrote) with great understanding and foresight, recognizing the difficult and perilous journey the new frontier would present to settlers crossing through Marietta,” described Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy as thunder clapped outside the church walls. “(The ordinance) established a placeholder law to preserve and protect the rights of orphaned children and widowed women.”
She spoke of the pivotal timing of the Northwest Ordinance, enacted just 12 years after the first shots of the American Revolution rang out in Lexington, Mass. on April 19, 1775.
“The third principal provision (of the ordinance) and perhaps the most important for our legacy was the guarantee of a bill of rights protecting religious freedom, the right to a writ of habeas corpus, the benefit of trial by jury, and other individual rights, while encouraging public education and prohibiting slavery,” explained Kennedy.
Kennedy’s remarks were followed by those of Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks, who said the ordinance recognized the humanity of every soul to set foot in the new frontier, regardless of skin tone or gender.
“This value of life and the faiths which continued those values laid the stage for the Underground Railroad,” said Marchbanks, calling the network of homes throughout Ohio and the overall movement of the railroad the first Civil Rights movement and the first act of social justice in the nation.
Marchbanks’ words hit home for Denver Norman, of Zanesville. H relative Basil Norman, a black man, had moved with his white wife–an indentured servant– with their children to Marietta to secure the freedoms promised in the ordinance.
Basil, a former slave, enlisted to serve in the American Revolution in 1777 and served through 1783.
“Marietta’s a gateway to the great migration of our nation within a nation,” said Denver Norman. “Many used this great Northwest as the passage to become or stay free.”
Norman was also honored with a presentation of 12 Grand Army of the Republic bronze grave markers for black civil war veterans with families connected to Ohio.
The markers were presented by the Washington County Veteran Service Commission.
“I’ll take these up to Wheatland, Mich. to their gravesites,” he explained to Marchbanks after the service.
“This is a celebration of citizenship,” noted Nancy Hollister, former Governor of Ohio and former Marietta mayor. “But it didn’t come easy, folks, they came here with a lot of baggage… but they established principles through the Northwest Ordinances that made such a difference. It was planned, it was a work in progress, and 232 years later it’s still a work in progress.”
At a glance:
• The 232nd anniversary of the Northwest Territory was celebrated in both East Muskingum Park in front of the Start Westward Monument and within the walls of the First Congregational Church Thursday.
• The monument is the focus of a $6 million project to restore and upgrade the park and museum district of Marietta.
• The monument commemorates the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Source: Jean Yost.