Settling Marietta

“Marietta” chapter heading used in the Ohio Guide, via Ohio Memory.
“Marietta” chapter heading used in the Ohio Guide, via Ohio Memory.

Many readers may be familiar with the town of Marietta, but did you know that this community was first settled by members of the Ohio Company of Associates 228 years ago, on April 7, 1788? It was the first organized American community in the Northwest Territory (so named because it was north and west of the Ohio River), and served as a gateway into further westward expansion throughout the United States.

Map illustrating the first tract of Ohio land to be sold by the Continental Congress to the Ohio Company of Associates, ca. 1787. Via Ohio Memory.
Map illustrating the first tract of Ohio land to be sold by the Continental Congress to the Ohio Company of Associates, ca. 1787. Via Ohio Memory.

The 48 men who comprised the Ohio Company left New England in the winter of 1787-88, making their way to their destination at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers over several cold and treacherous months. These pioneers included notable Ohio names like Rufus Putnam (co-founder of the Company) and Colonel Return J. Meigs (surveyor and father of a future Ohio governor), along with men who had served in the Revolutionary War and were selected by Putnam and his co-founder, Manasseh Cutler, to help settle this new territory. Investors in the Ohio Company elected to rename the site from Adelphia, its earlier name, to Marietta, after Queen Marie Antoinette of France, honoring that nation’s contributions to the U.S. victory in the American Revolution.

Marietta was laid out as the men were accustomed to back in New England, with settlers receiving a lot in town and a lot outside of town for agricultural purposes. There were four common areas established throughout the community, as well as a fortification known as Campus Martius meant to defend the town from American Indians in the region. Just a few months later, on July 9, 1788, the Northwest Territory’s first governor, Arthur St. Clair, came to Marietta. A formal ceremony was held to establish the territory, as well as Washington County with Marietta as the county seat.

Marietta as it grew up along the Ohio River, via Ohio Memory.
Marietta as it grew up along the Ohio River, via Ohio Memory.

Because of its location along the Ohio River, Marietta grew quickly, becoming a major trading center in the Northwest Territory and later in the state of Ohio. In addition to a productive agriculture industry and trade with the East, Marietta was also known for its shipbuilding industry: ships, barges and flatboats moved from Marietta down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River and then to New Orleans and to ports east. But despite its early growth, the development of canals, the National Road, and railroads soon made all parts of the state accessible, and allowed Ohio’s other towns and cities to surpass Marietta as the state grew.

Still Washington County’s county seat and largest community, Marietta remains a political and cultural center in the region. The city has a growing tourist trade thanks to its critical role in Ohio’s early history, and you can learn more about it through a great selection of resources available on Ohio Memory!


Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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