The Northwest Territory was wild, pristine, and home to thousands of Native American Indians. The land was covered with gigantic trees, exotic animals, and countless birds.
Retired Revolutionary War officers created The Ohio Company to buy western lands and begin America’s western expansion. The Ordinance of 1787 was pushed through Congress by company men to provide a legal framework for government. Article 6 outlawed slavery in the Northwest, marking the first such move in America.
In 1785, Fort Harmar was built to “protect the Indians from the settlers.” Soldiers evicted squatters from the river’s north side so the federal government could sell the land. Thus, Marietta became the first legal American settlement in the Northwest Territory.
Moving from the long-settled east to the Ohio frontier was not just an adventure—it was also dangerous business. Rufus Putnam and the Ohio Company men used careful organization and planning to bring security and community to the wilderness.
The Ohio Company’s civilian fort was simply a temporary building, but Campus Martius was a spectacular sight in the frontier wilderness. Built of four-inch-thick sawn planks, it was likely the country’s first prefabricated condominium.
The village at “The Point” became the settlement’s commercial center and grew into the city of Marietta. The first year at the settlement brought hard work, celebrations, and a treaty with the Indians.
The Company hired experienced frontiersmen to protect the settlements. While they understood the challenges of the frontier well, they hated Indians and sometimes were responsible for more problems than they solved.
The second year saw the settlement expand to Waterford up the Muskingum River and Belle Prairie (Belpre) 12 miles down the Ohio. Beyond the surveyors, builders, millers, and rangers, the king of occupations was farming.
Hardship and deprivation characterized the third year. Just as they were recovering from disease, famine, and flood, they were visited by another plague of ironic proportions.
The massacre of 12 Ohio Company settlers begins five years of bloody warfare on the frontier. The US Army would suffer one of the worst defeats in its history, and the Native Americans would stop settlement dead in its tracks, leading to devastating effects on the Ohio Company.
The federal government finally comes to the rescue. The Greenville Treaty brings stability to the Ohio Lands, yet it dashes the hopes of the Ohio Company men.