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Monday, December 28, 2015

Marietta's First Christmas

The first Christmas in Marietta featured a 2 for 1 deal. No, it was not a "buy one get one" retail promotion. It was two holidays that were celebrated on the same day: Thanksgiving and Christmas were to be celebrated on December 25, 1788. 

A proclamation dated December 17, 1788 was issued by "His Excellency Arthur St. Clair, Esquire, Governor and Commander in Chief," stating that "For as much as it is encumbent on all men to acknowledge with gratitude their infinite obligations to Almighty God for benefits hereby ordain that Thursday the 25th of December be observed as a day of solemn Thanksgiving and Praise..., and I do probihit all servile labor on that day."

It is unclear why Thanksgiving was not observed at the usual time. The Governors Chart of Laws, published by Rufus Putnam on April 9,1788, included both Thanksgiving and Christmas, among other holidays: "Be it ordained that all members of the colony must celebrate 22d February, 7th April, 4th July,  annually. Also in a proper manner observe the 28th November, 25th December, and 1st day January, annually."

Christmas then was not the mega-event that it has become today. Moreover, the New England settlers in Marietta were probably not used to celebrating Christmas. Their puritan ancestors had actually banned Christmas celebrations in 1659. They believed that Christmas was not biblical, had pagan origins, and in practice was more drunken revelry than pious observance. Christmas had been reinstated but was still only loosely observed by the bah-humbug New Englanders in the late 1700's.

1788 had been an historic yet challenging year. Marietta was a new (and the first!) settlement in the newly established Northwest Territory of the United States, the first such territory outside the original 13 states. The town was being laid out, a few houses were built, a fortified community elegantly named Campus Martius (Latin, meaning "Field of Mars") was started, and Indian treaty negotiations were well underway at nearby Fort Harmar. The surrounding lands were being surveyed, and 30 families had recently moved into town. It was a "crazy busy" place.

Yet there were stresses. Food was short at times since the first harvest was limited. Indians seemed friendly, but the peace seemed tenuous to many. There was discord among leaders and citizens. The weather that winter was severe; the rivers froze. Ice and snow made travel - and survival - a challenge. But, life went on. 

It was an event filled December, 1788 in Marietta. The diary of James Backus - a young Ohio Company shareholder, businessman, and civic official - supplies much of the commentary. Quotes are from his journal unless otherwise noted. 

On December 13 nearly 200 Indians were reportedly present for treaty negotiations; the following day there was a parade and military inspection. On December 15, there was a ball. It was the talk of the town, "All of the conversation of the Settlers centered in the Ball." Backus himself "Went to the Ball....drank good wine & came home groggy." He reported the next day: "Tuesday, 16. Fine morning but felt no better for the Ball." Judge Parsons, in a letter to his friend, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, mentioned the ball in glowing terms - with no mention of a hangover: "We had the first Ball in our Country at which were present fifteen ladies as well accomplished in the manners of polite circles as any I have seen in the old states."

The ball was a pleasant distraction from the rigors of frontier living. However, Governor St. Clair viewed the revelry - and the frequent drunkenness of the Indians - with concern. The Indian negotiations were too sensitive and the threat to public safety too great to risk an alcohol fueled incident - from Indians or settlers. 

St. Clair issued a warrant on December 16 for the confiscation of all "spirituous liquors" until treaty negotiations were finalized. The same James Backus, as a recently commissioned deputy sheriff, was responsible for seizing the liquor. He does not mention this in his diary. He kept detailed records and issued receipts for the later return of the liquor. 

Community activity was henceforth more sedate and, well, sober. Dr Solomon Drown arrived in Marietta on December 19 and reported "more decorum (was) observed than in the British Parliament when I was there."

On Christmas/Thanksgiving morning, locals were jolted alert by a three gun salute from Fort Harmar answered by a three shot cannon blast from Campus Martius. Later there was a church service. Judge Parsons gave a sermon from Psalm 103, verse 2. 

Dr. Drown gave an account of the day to his family in Providence, "It being Christmas, public worship was introduced by the Church Prayer Book. Gen'l Parsons read a sermon adapted to the occasion. Good singing. I dined at General Goodale's and as this is such a new country, perhaps you will like to know our bill of fare. A boiled dish, Turkey, beef and bacon, cabbage, turnips and potatoes, butter, etc., A roast turkey 17 pounds. A turkey pie, custards, wheat bread, etc." There was no mention about those disruptive spirituous liquors.

Christmas Day at Fort Harmar may have been similar to that reported by soldier Joseph Buell's journal in 1787: "This being Christmas Day, the sergeants celebrated it by a dinner to which was added a plentiful supply of wine." Backus' journal notes that on December 26 there was "another ball." New Years Eve and New Years Day were also occasions for merriment and "musick." 

The new year of 1789 began with events of note. The Indian peace treaty was signed January 9. There was a gathering of Indian chiefs, a dinner, and parade. On that same day, General James Mitchell Varnum passed away quietly of tuberculosis. An elaborate funeral including citizens, leaders, military honors, and masonic rites followed. Later in January, a son was born to the family of Nathaniel Cushing; he was named James Varnum Cushing. The cycle of life moved on in the new settlement and surrounding territory.

Phillips, Josephine E.,  "The Tide of Time, the Old Northwest Territory's First Christmas," The Tallow Light, Vol.1, No. 3, January, 1967.
Journal of James Backus, various entries, as reported in the Josephine Phillips article above.
Backus, William W., Geneological Memoir of the Backus Family, The Press of the Bulletin Co., Norwich CT, 1889, pages 37-42, accesssed at
The Week Staff, The Week, December 20, 2011, accessed at
Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, an Encyclopedia of the State, Volume II, C. J. Krehbiel, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1907, page 803, viewed at

Note: Special thanks to Campus Martius Museum Education Specialist Glenna Hoff for sending your author The Tallow Light article after a casual conversation and to Charlotte Keim for providing The Week article about Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

FDR Visits Marietta

At 10:30 pm in Washington D.C. on July 7, 1938, the President of the United States boarded the "Presidential Special" train bound for Marietta, Ohio. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would speak in Marietta on July 8 to dedicate the "Memorial to the Start Westward of the Nation" marking the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Northwest Territory and settlement of Marietta, Ohio. Wow. It was a big deal for a small town.

The Sesquicentennial Celebration, as it was called, had been years in the planning. FDR's visit would be the pinnacle of a series of events from July 8-16, 1938. Those included a reenactment of the voyage of the original settlers from Ipswich, MA to Marietta in 1788, an outdoor drama presentation "Stars in the Flag," an air show at the Marietta Municipal Airport (located then where Walmart is now), monuments in Muskingum Park and on Front Street, parades, speeches, and more. 

Roosevelt's visit was brought to mind by a comment from my uncle, Dan F. Baker, who was there for the FDR speech. The President's train arrived on time at 8:45 am, having traveled to Parkersburg WV, through Harmar, across the Muskingum River on the railroad bridge, and then into Union Station along Second Street. The ten car train included about 20 of the President's aides, his personal physician, and friends. There were 27 reporters and 9 photographers. There were also 6 staffers from NBC and CBS plus 3 telegraph operators. Most of the press party represented print media. The network staffers were radio broadcasters; there was no TV or internet yet.

Just before 9:00 am, FDR emerged on to the rear platform of the coach. A cheer went up from the large crowd gathered there. Roosevelt, who suffered from polio and had braces on legs, was assisted into the Presidential car, a Lincoln V-12 touring car brought to Marietta earlier. The entourage wound its way up Second Street to Washington Street, then to Front Street and finally to Muskingum Park for the speech.

Uncle Dan's narrative gives us the setting:

I was 15, a junior high student at Marietta High School. Students were excused from class that day. FDR's son in military uniform helped his father up a ramp to the lectern. I was very close to the ramp (and)... could see that FDR had metal braces on his legs.  I heard them "clank" as he passed near me. I think my friend Jack Lowe was with me.  (When) FDR dedicated the Gutzon Borglum (he also sculpted the figures on Mount Rushmore) monument, "Memorial to the Start Westward of the Nation",....we all moved down the park near the river to see it more closely.  The speech platform was nearer Front street, as I remember.

                                   President Roosevelt speaks in Muskingum Park, Marietta OH
                                                                                          Photo from

It was a pretty memorable day for him and thousands of others.

The President spoke for about 20 minutes. "Two old friends of mine, Bob (Senator Robert) Bulkley and Bob (Congressman Robert) Secrest invited me to come to Marietta in 1938. It seemed a long way off. I told them I'd come if I possibly could. So here I am." FDR's speech honored the pioneer spirit of the original settlers. He also noted the significance of the Northwest Territory expansion of the nation's borders and its forward-looking governance provisions.

               Sesquicentennial reenactors invite President Roosevelt to Marietta; caption below from Library of                                        Congress. Digital file from original negative 


The President used the metaphor of "cooperative self help" to describe the early efforts of self government in the frontier settlement at Marietta. "Under such conditions there was so much to get done, that men could not get done alone, that the frontiersmen naturally reached out - to government - as their greatest instrument of cooperative self get things done.....They looked on government a power over our people but a power of the people."

His speech compared the frontier faced by Marietta's pioneers in 1788 to a "frontier of social problems" that challenged early 20th century America. He also framed the activist New Deal government role of the 1930s as a benevolent version of pioneer cooperative self help. He then recited some of the New Deal programs that he had championed to combat effects the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

The connection of frontier Marietta to the New Deal was a tenuous one, in your author's opinion. However, it was a artful mix of frontier spirit and political spin. It worked because of the occasion and his praise of Marietta's courageous settlers. 

Other observations about the visit:
  • Notable quotes from FDR's presidency included this from his Marietta speech:"Let us not be afraid to help each other - let us never forget that the government is ourselves, not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials but the voters of this country."
  • Nearly 80 people suffered "heat prostration" because of the extreme hot weather. One man collapsed in front of the speaker's platform. FDR expressed concern about those affected.
  • He complimented the Mayor P. W. Griffith on the crowd control and remarked he had "never had seen it surpassed." The crowd was estimated at 75-100,000 people.
  • FDR complimented the Marietta Garden Club floral decorations on the speaker's platform. "Well, that's beautiful," he noted upon seeing it, "I've never seen anything like that before." 
  • Author James MacGregor Burns tells of "a little old woman" in Marietta who "symbolized much of the popular feeling (about Roosevelt) when she knelt down and reverently patted the dust where he left a footprint." This illustrated often ambivalent feelings towards FDR; many reviled him; others almost worshiped him.
  • The President left Marietta on the train bound for Covington, KY for a speech at 3:30 that day. His trip continued on to the west coast. It included speech-making stops in several states to promote his programs and endorse liberal democrats.
  • After visiting San Francisco, naval installations, and Yosemite National Park, he boarded the cruiser USS Houston for nearly a month of recreation, traveling down the Mexican coast fishing and sightseeing. I found that curious. It seems unlikely that a President today could enjoy a leisurely vacation on a naval vessel. Highlights of the trip for Roosevelt were landing a 240 pound shark and (FDR's scientist friend) Dr. Waldo Schmitt's discovery of a new palm on Cocos Island, which he named Rooseveltia frankliniana. 
FDR's visit remains a highlight in Marietta's history and a vivid memory to all who were there.

"Start Westward" Monument under construction, circa 1938
Photo from
Courtesy of  Marietta College Legacy Library Special Collections

Marietta Daily Times, July 7 and 8, 1938 editions, via microfilm at the Washington County OH Local History and Genealogical Library
Personal recollections of Dan F. Baker, formerly of Marietta, now living in Surprise, AZ
Davis, Kenneth Sydney, FDR Into the Storm 1937-1940, Random House, 1993, pages 260-264, accessed through
The American Presidency Project, Address at Marietta, Ohio, accessed through
NotableQuotes website, Franklin D. Roosevelt quotes, accessed at
Black, Conrad, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Champion of Freedom, Public Affairs, New York, 2003, pp 455-57, accessed at
Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day, A Project of the Pare Lorentz at the FDR Presidential Library, July 7 and 8, 1938, accessed at

Thursday, November 12, 2015

David Putnam, Jr., Conductor on the UGRR. All Aboard!

"The alarm was given through Harmar that a mob had assembled at (David, Jr.) Putnam's house and had threatened to destroy it ; that a large number of men were there from Wood County (then Virgina) and more ware coming..." So the Marietta Intelligencer of February 11, 1847 reported when David Putnam, Jr., a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, harbored two escaping slaves, one named Steven belonging to George Henderson. 

The account went on to report that the pro-slavery mob from Virginia was "vexed to learn that the negroes were dressed up in cloaks, marched unnoticed through the crowd, furnished with horses, and started post haste for Queen Victoria's dominions (Canada)." Clever. This episode sparked a lawsuit against Putnam by Virginia plantation owner George Henderson. More on that later.

David Putnam, Jr. becomes an abolitionist
David Putnam, Jr. was one of seven children of the distinguished David Putnam. David Sr. was a Yale-educated local civic leader and instructor at Muskingum Academy - the first institute of higher learning in the Northwest Territory.

Photo from Henry Burke blog Article "In Memory of Abolitionist David Putnam, Jr, 1808-1892, at

David, Jr. inherited the Putnam family's disdain for slavery. His father was opposed to slavery. Nancy Putnam Hollister, Marietta civic leader and a descendant of David's brother Douglas, observed that  "All of the (Putnam) family members were really abolitionists." David had seen slaves in neighboring Virginia "sold down the river" into the deep south, often separated from their families. He became a zealous abolitionist.

In 1835 William Weld, distinguished anti-slavery lecturer visited Marietta. He wanted to speak at Marietta College. That was considered unsafe because of the risk of violence from pro-slavery interests. He lectured instead at the local library. Weld was an eloquent, persuasive speaker. A local anti-slavery society was formed in 1835. David Putnam, Jr. was active in the movement which also attracted other area leaders.

Emotions ran high on both sides of the slavery issue. In the two decades leading up to the Civil War, many slaves escaped to freedom by crossing the Ohio River. Slaves called it the River Jordan. They were harbored by sympathetic people on the Ohio side where slavery was illegal. The fugitive slaves were placed into a network of secret routes and safe houses on a route to Canada on what became known as the Underground Railroad (UGRR).

Underground Railroad route map. Image from Map compiled from The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom by Wilbur H. Siebert. 

Putnam operated a mercantile business in Harmar and was involved in local civic organizations. But his most notable passion was helping fugitive slaves escape. He formed a network with area anti-slavery sympathizers. Those included Col. John Stone in Belpre, Judge Ephraim Cutler in Constitution, and many others.

Fearless fighter
David Putnam, Jr. was fearless in his anti-slavery efforts. He sheltered runaway slaves in his own home, often at risk to him and his family. His home was built in 1831 -  part frame and part brick, located on Maple Street. It was torn down in 1953 for a highway improvement. Reports suggest that a smoke house located at the rear of his home had a false ceiling which was used to hide slaves. Another account refers to a secret tunnel in the cellar. Putnam boasted that he kept slaves in the parlor, though that seems unlikely.

David Putnam, Jr. homePhoto from Henry Burke blog Article "In Memory of Abolitionist David Putnam, Jr, 1808-1892, at

Putnam was quite willing to fight for the cause, literally. Late local historian Henry Burke described Putnam as "being willing to settle disputes either by diplomacy or with his bare knuckles." He often confronted slave bounty hunters. A contemporary of his, General Israel Putnam, described him as "in his prime a huge man towering several inches above six feet in height, with a voice and heart as big as his frame. 

Slave owners in western Virginia reviled him. Historian Wilbur H. Siebert stated in The Mysteries of Ohio’s Underground Railroads: “... he (Putnam) was hated across the Ohio (River) and was attacked by roughs when he stepped from a steamboat on to the Parkersburg (VA, now WV) wharf. Being a man of braun and courage, he fought them vigorously till he fell back into the river.” A steamboat deckhand kept him from drowning. Another version dates this story in 1839 and says Putnam was confronted by a man with a revolver at the Wood County Courthouse. A mob formed, throwing stones and shouting insults. Putnam was forced into the river where he was rescued.

Home and family were in the middle of sometimes dangerous action
Putnam's children knew about their father's efforts but were often unaware when fugitives were present. One rainy day, Putnam's young daughter Hannah was playing inside the house with a friend. They opened a closet to find a slave crouched inside. Apparently unfazed, Hannah closed the door and continued playing in another room. On another occasion, a visitor to the house named Miss Stone saw a slave who had run upstairs from the basement when a search party burst into the Putnam home. She beckoned him to the bedroom closet, then laid down in the bed, pretending to be sick. Pursuers withdrew when they saw her.

Hannah was born several years earlier in the home following a frightening slave incident. A pro-slavery mob threatened to storm the Putnam home to free a slave(s) sheltered there. Putnam's wife, Hannah, was about to give birth to a daughter. Dr. Joseph Cotton arrived at the home late in the evening to deliver the baby. He realized that Mrs. Putnam's life could be at risk if the mob was not restrained. He called for help. 

Some prominent citizens from Marietta came to the home, including Dr. John McCoy. McCoy was a tall man, who wore a large cape and wide-brimmed hat. At 1:00 am, a tall man with the same cape and wide-brimmed hat pulled down over his face walked nonchalantly down the front walk and disappeared into the night. No one noticed that it was the fugitive slave. The next morning, Mrs. Putnam, greatly relieved that a crisis was averted, gave birth to Hannah.

Risky work, often at night, with coded messages required full commitment
Coded messages and auditory signals were used to arrange transfers of the slaves across the river to safehouses in Ohio. Aunt Jenny, a slave in Parkersburg who helped others escape, used a horn. David Putnam, Jr. and others used a hoot owl call. Putnam's daughter Martha recalled hearing her father make the hoot owl call "hundreds of times." 

David Putnam received a handwritten message from John Stone in Belpre about an UGRR transfer in August, 1843. It is shown below as recited in Wilbert H. Siebert's book, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom. Note the deliberately vague wording. Spelling and punctuation is as written:

                                                                 Belpre Friday Morning
David Putnam
    Business is arranged for Saturday night be on the lookout
and if practicable let a cariage come and meet the Carawan.
J. S.

Helping escaping slaves required almost 24/7 involvement, an additional sacrifice to the helper's personal life. Movements most often took place at night. General Rufus Dawes recalls visiting his grandfather Judge Ephraim Cutler's home (and UGRR station) at Constitution, about halfway between Marietta and Belpre. He was eight years old at the time. "Somehow in the night, I was wakened up, and a wagon came down over the hill to the river. Then a call was given, a hoot owl call, and this was answered by similar one from the other side; then a boat went out and brought over the crowd. My mother got out of bed and kneeled down and prayed for them, and had me kneel with her."

A document of David Putnam, Jr. shows his UGRR activity in late August, 1843, copied below from Siebert's book mentioned above. 

Aug                  13/43   Sunday Morn.           2      o'clock         arrived
                                     Sunday Eve.             8 1/2      "            departed for B.    
                            16     Wednesday Morn.    2            "            arrived    
                            20     Sunday eve.              10          "            arrived from B.
                                         "     eve.                10          "            left for Mr. H
                           22      Tuesday  "                11          "            left for W.
A.L. & S.J.         28      Monday morn.         1           "             arrived left 2 o'clock.

Siebert notes that this log "is plainly a schedule of arriving and departing 'trains' on the Underground Railroad." It also indicates by the arrival and departure times how long the "passengers" were sheltered before moving on. Some left the same day. In one case, the party stayed more than 4 days before departing. The log suggests the amount of effort, personal sacrifice, and risk faced by Putnam and others working on the UGRR.

David Putnam, Jr. also faced legal action for his actions in harboring slaves, some of whom belonged to George Henderson, a local plantation and slaveowner. His plantation, called "The Briars," was on land where Henderson Hall is located today. Henderson brought two actions against Putnam in U.S. District Court in Columbus on June 25, 1849, one for the loss of the slaves allegedly harbored by Putnam and another for damages. The total amount sought totaled $15,500. In today's dollars, that amount could approach $500,000. Putnam was defended by Salmon Chase, nationally known abolitionist lawyer and future governor of Ohio. The cases dragged on with little action and were eventually dismissed, the loss case in 1852 and the damages case in 1853 - mainly because the applicable laws had changed in the interim.

Putnam and countless others helping on the Underground Railroad were true heroes, often unrecognized for their efforts because of the UGRR's secretive nature. Their efforts were vindicated when slaves were emancipated by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Even in later years, Putnam's daughter Martha said her father became "exceedingly excited and worked up" when talking about his slavery activities. He died in 1892 and is buried in Harmar Cemetery near his former home.

Andrews, Martin R., Editor, History of Marietta and Washington County Ohio and Representative   Citizens, Biographical Publishing Company, Chicago, 1902, pages 121-22, 131-33.
Burke, Henry, Mason Dixon Line, the Underground Railroad Along the Ohio River, self published, p 56-59
Burke, Henry, “In Memory of Abolitionist David Putnam, Jr, 1808-1892,” at website of Henry Burke at
Calarco, Tom and Vogel, Cynthia, Places of the Underground Railroad, a Geographical GuideTom   Calarco et al, publishers, 2011, pages 52-54
Marietta Intelligencer article, Feb 11, 1847, Marietta College Library Special Collections, as quoted in a Parkersburg News article by Geraldine Muscari – date unknown.
Muscari, Geraldine, “Runaway Slave Crouched in Closet”, Parkersburg News article, date unknown
Shawver, Sam, “Businessman/Abolitionist died 122 years ago this week,” Marietta Times, January 10, 2014
Siebert, Wilbur H., The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1899, pages 54-58.
Summers, William B., “Insuperable Barriors, A Case Study of the Henderson v. Putnam Fugitive Slave Case,” as published in The Tallow Light, Winter 1995.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Little Steamboat That Could

We know Rufus Putnam as the distinguished leader of the settlement of Marietta. Rufus Putnam was also a steamboat. She (sorry, guys, but boats are referred to by the female pronoun) plied the Ohio River and later the Mississippi River starting about 1823. The Putnam was a sidewheeler steamboat, built for the Ohio River trade at Marietta by Caleb Barstow for Captain John Green and Oliver Dodge. She was small by later standards, just 75 ft by 18 ft in size.

Engine room bell from Rufus Putnam, now on display at the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, OH

Her Captain, John Green, decided to invite some friends to attempt a trip up the Muskingum River from Marietta to near Zanesville. Why not? It would be fun and historic - but risky. The Muskingum was not really navigable then. Such a trip by a steamboat had never been attempted. Capt Green chose a time of high water to assure clearance through shallow areas. But the resulting swift current could easily overwhelm the Rufus Putnam. The current also makes navigating a boat much more difficult. Some worried that the steam required to ascend the rapids could blow up the boat. Then there were snags (trees and other debris in the river) which could puncture the hull. 

No problem;  passengers seemed willing to overlook safety risks, including possible loss of life. Capt. Green's announcement of the trip attracted a crowd of passengers "quite beyond her accommodations." The Rufus Putnam pulled away from Marietta at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, January 9, 1824. General Rufus Putnam, the boat's namesake and the founder of Marietta, saw the boat off and waved "Godspeed" from his home near the Muskingum River.

The Putnam took on a few more passengers at Waterford, then had to tie up for a while at Luke Chute due to the current. There were stops along the way for wood, the vital fuel of that era for riverboats. Presumably, passengers or locals in the area procured the wood. People gathered along the way, fascinated - or even fearful - of this new sight.

The adventurous cruise reached it's destination at Putnam, Ohio, then a settlement across the Muskingum River from Zanesville. It was 10 p.m. on a dark and rainy Saturday night. One report said that the boat anchored in midstream, fearful that a large crowd would rush on board and capsize the vessel.

Capt. Green and his cruisers created a flamboyant scene. The boat was brightly lit with torches. Ladies on board paraded on the top deck in bright scotch plaid cloaks, the fashion of the day. A cannon on board fired. Area residents, unaware of the Rufus Putnam's presence, feared that Indians - or even the British - were attacking.

Torch baskets (from Ohio River Museum) of the kind that may have illuminated the Rufus Putnam. The baskets were tilted outward from the boat and pine knots or similar fuel was set ablaze.

The Putnam remained in port. Crowds flocked to see her. Captain Green made two unscheduled excursion trips to Duncan Falls. Putnam (the town) residents entertained the visitors with an oyster supper, characterized as "the acme of hospitality as oysters were 'hard to come by' in inland Ohio at the time."

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. the Putnam began the return trip to Marietta, where she tied up just seven hours later, achieving an average speed of over 10 m.p.h. That was the fastest recorded time ever recorded for that trip, due to the current and not having to transit the lock system later built on the river. 

The Rufus Putnam continued to work beyond the Muskingum River on the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and Louisville. She was purchased by Captain David Bates in 1825, who took the Putnam to the Upper Mississippi River where she was only the third steamboat to ascend the rapids to reach Prairie du Chien. The Putnam's river life ended when she snagged and sank in 1825 at Point Chicot in Lousiana, without loss of life.

Captain Green's pioneering trip encouraged further commerce along the Muskingum (an Indian name meaning "Elk Eye") River. In 1840 a lock and dam system was completed from Dresden to Marietta, the first such system on an inland river in the country. That opened the river to robust commerce and river traffic. Since the Rufus Putnam,  more than 175 steamboats reportedly plied the Muskingum until the early 20th century, when trains, trucks, and automobiles made the steamboats obsolete. Most of lock system remains operational today, though almost exclusively for recreational use.

George Washington knew of the Muskingum's navigation potential into the lands north and west of the Ohio River when he made an exploratory trip down the Ohio River in 1770. On October 25, his journal records "...we came to the Mouth of Muskingham...This river is abt 150 yds wide at the Mouth; a gentle currant and clear stream runs out of it, and is navigable a great way into the Country (italics by blog author)...."  The river was mentioned in Washington's endorsement in 1788 of the new settlement at Marietta: "No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that (Marietta) which has just commenced at the Muskingum..."

Rufus Putnam was the pioneering leader of the historic settlement at Marietta. The Steamer Rufus Putnam was likewise a bold pioneer of steamboating on the Muskingum River.

Quotes unless otherwise noted are from an account of A. T. Nye, Esq., a passenger on the Putnam trip, excerpts of which are reported in various of the publications listed below.
Gamble, J. Mack, Steamboats on the Muskingum, The Steamship Historical Society of America, 1971, Chapter 1, pp 1-6
The Ohio Guide, a Compilation of the Workers of the Writers Program of the Works Progress Administration, The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1940, page 544
Cleland, Hugh, George Washington in the Ohio Valley, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1955, page 257
Johnson, Winnie Smith, That's Where It All Began, Marietta, Ohio, River Press, 1988, seen as an excerpt appearing on web page, accessed 9/28/15.
Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County, Ohio, pages 368-80, H.Z. Williams and Bros., 1880, viewed on, accessed 9/28/15
Riverboat Dave's web site:, reference: Rufus Putnam (source data provided by Ernie Thode, Washington County Local Historical and Genealogy Library), accessed 9/28/15

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lewis Wetzel Frontier Hero...the Legend and the Dark Side

The campfire faded as the evening wore on, casting flickering shadows on the trees around the Indians' camp. Two braves guarded the young boys captured from their home two days earlier. Lewis, the oldest at just 13 years of age, comforted his frightened younger brother Jacob while pretending to be asleep himself.  He was barely at teenager, yet Lewis was frontier savvy, alert, and incredibly patient. Though wounded by a gunshot during their capture, he refused to let the Indians see his pain.  He was livid at the Indians' harsh treatment and taunts. They had to escape that night, he reckoned, to avoid death or torture.

For hours he waited, quietly muttering "Courage, courage." At last their guards nodded off into deep slumber, and they slipped out of the camp. Lewis brazenly sneaked back to the camp twice to retrieve moccasins for them to wear and to take back his father's musket and powder horn. They made it back to their family near Wheeling WV after several harrowing days. 

The year was 1777. The oldest boy was Lewis Wetzel, who became a remarkable frontier fighter and scout.  His frontier training began at an early age. Indians were a constant threat to the Lewis settlement on Wheeling Creek. Lewis's father John Wetzel taught frontier skills to all of his seven children - sons and daughters. Lewis became proficient in shooting, use of knife and tomahawk, agility, endurance, and tracking.

The Wetzel legend - Indian killer, larger-than-life frontier fighter
He began a life-long campaign to hunt down and kill Indians. Pioneer families considered him a hero as their defenders against the Indian threat. Others regarded him as a sociopathic killer whose tactics amounted to atrocities against the Indians he hunted. 

Dozens of books and treatises have been written about Lewis Wetzel. He appears as a character (or fictional characters inspired by him) in several books by writers such as Zane Grey, James Fennimore Cooper, and Allan Eckert. Anne Jennings Paris, a descendent of Wetzel, was inspired to write a series of poems about him in Killing George Washington: the American West in Five Voices.

The Zane Grey Frontier Trilogy: Betty Zane, The Last Trail, The Spirit Of The Border[Zane Grey] on ... They are a virtual narrative history of the Zane family,Lewis Wetzel, and frontier life and indian warfare in the Ohio river valley  ..

Several places are named for Wetzel, including nearby Wetzel County WV. Yet despite the many accounts of his life going back to the mid-1800s, some truths about him remain elusive. Differing story versions, legend, and fictional depictions mingle with the actual facts to create the fascinating Lewis Wetzel historical figure. 

Lewis Wetzel exploits
Stories of his exploits abound. The year after his escape from Indians he helped Forest Frazier rescue his wife Rose who was abducted by Indians. Lewis had skillfully tracked the Indians, found their camp, and waited all night to attack them as they awoke. They returned with Rose and four Indian scalps. The incident was the basis for the novel Forest Rose by Emerson Bennett published in the mid-1800s. 

He was renowned for the ability to reload, prime, and shoot his musket while running at full speed. At age 16, he joined a group of settlers who were chasing Indians who had stolen their horses. The Indians initially fled, allowing the settlers to recover the horses. But the Indians soon reappeared. The settlers promptly abandoned the chase, leaving Lewis on his own. He faked being shot and when the Indians came to get his scalp, he shot one of them. He killed another while being chased and reloading on the run. Lewis returned to Wheeling Creek with two scalps, bragging to all who would listen. 

In 1782, he and Thomas Mills were attacked by Indians while trying to retrieve Mills' horse. Mills was mortally wounded by a volley of Indians' gunfire. Lewis instantly fled at full speed, soon outrunning all but four Indians. One by one, he shot three of them after reloading on the run. One of those Indians had been close enough to grab the end of Lewis's rifle as he tried to fire and pulled him down to the ground. The Indian taunted Lewis: "White man die....hurry up, chiefs, see Wetzel die." This enraged Lewis who managed to thrust the rifle to the Indian's neck and kill him. The fourth gave up the chase, exclaiming "no catch dat man, gun always loaded." 

Illustration of the three Indian chase described above. From; content reprinted from History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of West Virginia (DeHass), 1851.

Wetzel's personality: eccentric, friendly to some, a dark side.  
He was a loner, living for long periods alone in the woods, often staying in hideouts such as rock outcroppings. One such location is in present day Lancaster, Ohio. Another was near Moss Run in Washington County, Ohio. When not in the woods he played the fiddle in taverns and excelled in shooting competitions. Wetzel was described as being friendly to dogs and children, but often aloof with adults. He never had a home, married, owned land, or held an ordinary job. 

His appearance was distinctive. He is described as about six feet tall, raw boned, with a swarthy appearance, jet black eyes, pock-marked face from small pox, braided hair which reached to his calves when combed out, and pierced ears from which he wore silk tassels. Some said he had the skin color of Indians. 

Imagined portrait of Wetzel from, based on historical descriptions and appearance of descendents.

His dark side was the obsession with hunting and killing Indians, "often for sport", "stalking them like prey", some said. He often tracked small hunting parties for long periods, then attacked - killing them, taking scalps, and fighting his way out if there were survivors. Lewis claimed that he had scalps of 27 Indians that he killed between 1777 and 1788. Other sources put the figure at 100 or more.

Indians called him "Deathwind." He seemed fearless. He and scout Samuel Brady even walked into Indian camps along the Sandusky River disguised as Indians to ascertain their strength. Twice he killed Indian chiefs who were part of peace negotiations. Some historians have described him as "remorseless," "a terrorist," and a "cultural embarrassment."

Marietta area connections
Lewis Wetzel had connections to the Marietta area. He often hunted wild game - and Indians - in the area. According to local lore, he frequented a rock outcropping near Moss Run in Washington County identified as "Wetzel's Cave." 

Lewis was friends with Hamilton Kerr, later a scout and hunter for the Marietta settlement, when he lived in the Wheeling area. They often hunted and trapped together, though Kerr did not share Wetzel’s fanaticism in killing Indians. A Hamilton Kerr decendent was told that Hamilton later avoided the Wetzels because though brave, “they were rash men who subjected themselves and their companions to danger.”

One particular hunting trip brought Kerr, Lewis, and other members of Lewis's family downriver near the Muskingum River in 1784. They camped on the island that would later be Hamilton Kerr's home. They set traps for beaver, posted watches for Indians, and went to sleep. The next morning, the traps were gone. Indians! Sensing danger, they began paddling up the Ohio River to get away. Indians appeared and opened fire near Duck Creek. Lewis's brother George Wetzel and Kerr's dog died. Hamilton Kerr was wounded. One account states that Lewis's father John was also in the party and died. 

Lewis was not wounded (this was typical; his luck or knack for avoiding capture or injury was legendary) and paddled furiously out of danger and stopped near Long Reach. They buried the dead, apparently using only their paddles. Upon returning to Wheeling, Hamilton was nursed back to health by Rebecca Williams, known for her frontier medical skills. Isaac and Rebecca Williams would move to the Virginia shore opposite the Muskingum River, site of the current Williamstown, in 1787.

Lewis Wetzel was in the Marietta area in 1788. Reportedly he served as a hunter to supply wild game for the new settlement and was a part time scout at Fort Harmar. In 1789 (some accounts date the event in 1791) he shot a Seneca Chief named Tegunteh, nicknamed George Washington because of his exemplary character, as he approached Fort Harmar for treaty negotiations being overseen by General Josiah Harmar. 

Fort Harmar near Marietta by Joseph Gilman. Note Treaty house for Indian negotiations at bottom left of image.

Harmar was outraged at this wanton killing and issued a warrant to arrest Wetzel for the murder of Tegunteh. Harmar later wrote to Secretary of War Henry Knox:

This George Washington (Tegunteh) is a trusty confidential Indian…. He is well known to Governor St. Clair, and I believe there is not a better Indian to be found. The villain who wounded him I am informed is one Lewis Whitzell. I am in hopes to be able to apprehend him and deliver him to Judge Parsons to be delt with; but would much rather have it in my power to order such vagabonds hanged up immediately without trial.

The first effort to capture Wetzel at Mingo Bottom was thwarted by armed locals who considered Wetzel a hero as their protector against Indians. The outnumbered soldiers wisely backed off. He was later captured at the home of Hamilton Kerr on Kerr's Island and imprisoned at Fort Harmar.

He brazenly escaped from Fort Harmar by cajoling his guards to give him more freedom to move around inside the Fort. While darting around "for exercise", he leaped over the wall of the Fort before his surprised guards could react. His pursuers assumed he would run as far away as possible. Lewis stymied them by hiding in plain sight - under a log, right along a trail, not far from the Fort. Soldiers and Indians, each hunting for him, moved back and forth over his log, even standing at one point atop the log. After three days, he emerged from the log and crossed the Ohio River, still shackled, to a friend's place in Virginia. A friendly blacksmith removed the shackles, and he was a free spirit once more - for a while.

He was captured a second time after a soldier spotted him in a tavern at present day Maysville, KY. He was taken to Fort Washington near Cincinnati. Once again, armed supporters came to his rescue. More than 200 settlers threatened to free Lewis by force if he was not released. Territorial Judge John Symmes finally released Lewis on a writ of habeas corpus - and never recalled him for trial.

Later years
He left the Ohio Valley area in the 1790s. The Treaty of Greenville in 1795 ended the menace of Indian attacks in the Ohio area. Wetzel's star as an Indian fighting hero faded. Less is known of his later activities. His name is recorded as a resident in Spanish New Orleans. It is reported that he did jail time for counterfeiting, romanced a Spanish official's wife, and joined the Louis and Clark expedition. The latter two activities are not documented. Historian Ray Swick reported a surprising recent discovery about Wetzel in an article authored with Brian D. Hardison. Hardison obtained a document at auction in 2007 which lists Lewis Wetzel as a participant in the ill-fated Aaron Burr expedition. There are no details on his role.

He died in 1808 and was buried near a cousin's home in Mississippi. A researcher found and relocated his remains in 1942. He is now buried next to his older brother Martin Wetzel in McCreary Cemetery near Moundsville, WV, just two miles from the Wetzel family homestead. Though long departed, his reputation lives on.    
"NewVrindaban-Lewis-Wetzel" by Bryan K. French - From the Author. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -


Wills De Hass, History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of Western Virginia (Wheeling: H. Hoblitzell, 1851), 357Ÿ58.
"Hope" (a user), "Lewis Wetzel," 2007, All Empires On Line History Community, viewed at
Meyers, R.C.V., Life and Adventures of Lewis Wetzel, John E. Potter and Company, 1882, viewed at
Pierce, James P., "Lewis Wetzel, Dark Hero of the Ohio," The Early America Review,, 2007
Carroll, George, "Lewis Wetzel: Warfare Tactics on the Frontier," West Virginia History Vol 50, pp 79-90
"Lewis Wetzel," Wikipedia, the Online Community
Haught, James A., "'Deathwind' is Part of Our History," Charleston Gazette, October 6, 2003, viewed at
Zimmer, Louise, True Stories of Pioneer Times (Northwest Territory 1787-1812), Broughton Foods Company, 1987, pp 7-13, 36-43
Hardison, Brian D., and Ray Swick, "A Recruit for Aaron Burr, Lewis Wetzel and the Burr 'Conspiracy'," West Virginia History, Fall 2009, pp 75-86.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Battle Hymn: Hero, Hollywood, and Controversy

Movie premieres are glitzy, spectacular events usually held in large cities. That's why the designation of Marietta, Ohio, as the location for the Battle Hymn world movie premiere in February 1957 was so improbable - and such a historic event for the community.

Battle Hymn tells the inspiring story of Marietta native Colonel Dean Hess's World War II and Korean War service. The latter included Col. Hess's role in rescuing and caring for hundreds of orphans in Korea. Col. Hess died this year at the age of 97.

I was in grade school at the time and recall much of the hoopla. It was brought to mind when tennis buddy Stev Pitchford sent me some of his photos of the parade. He was covering the events for WTAP in Parkersburg.

One unexpected twist occurred in my research: I learned that Dean Hess's version of the orphan "Kiddie Car" airlift - the event which brought Hess the greatest acclaim - was vigorously disputed by Dr. George F. Drake. In a 2004 publication, he claimed Hess exaggerated his role; see "Hess: Fraudulent Hero" by George F. Drake, Ph.D. at this link: More on Drake's claim below.

I had always wondered how Marietta was selected for the premiere. The Battle Hymn souvenir program gave me the answer. When Universal-International (U-I) announced the filming of Dean Hess's story, the Marietta community launched a campaign to convince U-I to premiere the film in Marietta. The "campaign" was not very organized, yet it "went viral" as a grass roots effort using 1950's communication modes.

Thousands of letters and telegrams poured into the office of David Lipton, U-I Vice President - from school kids, civic groups, community leaders, and ordinary citizens. Marietta College trustees proposed the college's Founders Day in 1957 for the premiere. Former Mariettans living in Southern California bombarded Mr. Lipton with calls promoting Marietta. "Never in all my years in show business have I seen such a civic push," Mr Lipton told reporters. "We were just overwhelmed." Marietta won the premiere.

Battle Hymn parade, photo courtesy of Stev Pitchford

There was a three day celebration in Marietta which began February 12, 1957, when the leading actors in the movie arrived in a motorcade from the Wood County Airport. The movie stars included the then wildly popular Rock Hudson as Dean Hess, along with other established actors of that time: Martha Hyer, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, Anna Kashfi, and Jock Mahoney.

Rock Hudson was a big name leading actor with rock star popularity. He was well liked by all age groups and had earned a solid reputation as a dramatic actor. The Battle Hymn Souvenir Program said he...."was chosen for the role because the quiet sincerity of his manner which so closely resembled that of Col. Hess."

Rock Hudson on premier night, photo courtesy of Stev Pitchford

Martha Hyer played in numerous movies in the 1950's and 60's, and acted in guest roles into the 1970's. She was not in Marietta for the premiere. Don DeFore likewise was an established actor with many movies to his credit, along with TV sitcom roles in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett and Hazel.  Anna Kashfi had a brief acting career and was probably best known for being married briefly to Marlon Brando.

Movie poster from

Local festivities included public appearances of Col. Hess and the actors, a parade, vintage aircraft fly-overs, reception given by Ohio Governor (and Marietta native) C. William O'Neill, awarding of an honorary degree to Rock Hudson on Marietta College's Founders Day, a queen contest, and the movie premier itself. The movie was shown at the Colony Theater (the former Hippodrome, now named Peoples Bank Theatre, which is currently being restored), Putnam Theater (now Mid-Ohio Valley Players Theater), and Ohio Theater which is now a store front on Second Street.

Recollections of premiere events in Marietta, some from Dan Benson's Memories of Marietta Facebook page, of those living in Marietta at the time:
  • Charlie Kremer recalls standing on Putnam Street with his mother - who screamed like crazy when Rock Hudson's car passed in the parade. His father was not pleased with her reaction.
  • Libby Devol Murphy recalled "My sister and her friends jumped on Rock's vehicle as it crossed the Williamstown bridge and rode it all the way to the Lafayette... (Dean Hess) was (my mother's) cousin."
  • Rhoda Triplett laughed as she remembered that one of her friends was infatuated with actor Dan Duryea. As his car went by in the parade the friend leaped on the man standing in front of her for a better view. Whether from excitement or waiting too long, the friend wet herself and the unlucky guy she was holding on to.
  • I remember flinching at the deafening noise of the P-51 fighter plane (the type plane that Hess piloted) that flew over the parade on Putnam Street. It was so impressive that I urgently scraped together enough money (probably $1.98) to buy a P-51 airplane model which became Exhibit #1 in my room.
  • Judy Palmer Turtletaub McCahon said "Rock Hudson starred in the movie...He shook hands with me at the side door of the theater - me a kid !!"
  • Some locals were recruited to accompany the celebrities to local watering holes. Several remembered seeing them at Murphy's Supper Club. Apparently the partying was intense; some actors were reportedly kicked out. One photo of Rock Hudson in the parade, in which he appeared sullen, prompted the comment: "He was probably hung over."
Dean Hess was a remarkable individual. A Life Magazine reporter said Dean had three passions: children, flying, and faith. He began flying while still at Marietta College. Later he became a flying preacher, flying from one town to another to preach. He flew P-47s in World War II. Later he returned to the U.S. Air Force and was asked to teach South Koreans to fly and start an air force. Resources for his project were limited, forcing him to scrounge food and supplies for his fledgling unit. Col. Hess utilized on-the-job training and flew live missions with his cadets, showing them how and where to fly, drop bombs, and attack targets. He flew a total of 250 missions in Korea.

Book cover image from

In between missions, he made time to help Korean orphans and children displaced by the fighting. He is credited with (a claim disputed by some) arranging an airlift dubbed "Operation Kiddie Car" to move hundreds of orphans from the mainland to a nearby island as enemy troops approached Seoul in December of 1950. He and his men also helped to provide food, clothing, and funds to support them. After the war, he wrote a memoir titled "Battle Hymn" about his experiences. Proceeds from the book and movie were used to build a new orphanage.

Rock Hudson pictured with actual Korean orphans who were brought from Korea for the movie.

Dean Hess was directly involved as an adviser to the Battle Hymn movie production. He vetoed Robert Mitchem, originally chosen to portray Hess, because Mitchem had done prison time. Life Magazine reported that Hess flew in some movie scenes and recreated actual battle events himself. Whenever the P-51 plane bearing the number 18 (the number on the plane he flew in the war) appears in the movie, Hess is piloting the plane.

Hess's plane with By Faith I Fly insignia from

Also on that plane, the inscription "By Faith I Fly" appears - in Korean symbols. His motto became the inspirational icon of Hess's heroic role in Korea. Hess's nephew Bill Hess of Marietta explained that the phrase became the motto of  the Republic of Korea (ROK) Air Force Academy. Thousands of ROK Air Force trainees over many decades have learned the motto and the story behind it.

George Drake disputed Hess's role in the orphan airlift nearly 50 years after it occurred. Drake gave Air Force Chaplain LTC Russell L. Blaisdell and Staff Sergeant Merle Y. Strang the credit for arranging the rescue. Drake says they stayed with the children in an abandoned school building waiting for a boat evacuation. When the boat failed to appear, Blaisdell improvised a new plan. He talked the Air Force into providing 16 C-54 transports to fly the 850 children and 80 staff to the island of Cheju-do. He also commandeered trucks need to transport the group to the airport.

Drake says these plans and the airlift were made without involvement of Dean Hess. He terms Hess's claim about organizing the airlift  as "fraudulent," and the many media stories about Hess's reportedly heroic role as outrageously inaccurate. Drake does credit Hess with donating book and movie proceeds to charity for the orphans. He also noted that Hess and his men worked tirelessly to support the children once they were relocated to Cheju-do. 

I have not seen other reports to refute or support Drake's claims. Bill Hess, Dean's nephew, says the claims made by Drake angered Dean and his family, but they chose not to respond. It doesn't matter, anyway. Dean Hess's war service and aid efforts to Korean orphans - before and after the war - are exemplary. And the Hollywood premiere extravaganza was a remarkable event for Marietta. 

Additional details about the Korean children and orphans helped during and after the war can be seen at the Korean War Childrens Memorial website:

If readers have Battle Hymn memories of their own, please respond to this blogpost or let me know.

Wikipedia - Battle Hymn movie and selected actors listed there
Battle Hymn Souvenir Program
Discussions with local persons
Memories of Marietta (OH) Facebook page
Dille, John, Life Magazine, "The Movie's Real Hero Flies by Faith," February 25, 1957 issue, Google Books
IMDb website,, Battle Hymn movie
Marietta Times, Dean Hess Obituary, March 6, 2015
LA Times, Dean Hess obituary, March 6, 2015 at
Korean War Childrens Memorial website:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Liquor on the Frontier

Survival was a basic goal of early settlers in Marietta and the Ohio country. The area was a wilderness. Priorities were food, shelter, protection from the elements, eking out a living wage, and....alcohol. Yes, booze in colonial times was considered a basic necessity.

Alcohol was an integral part of life in early America, a fact omitted from our conventional history lessons. You probably did not know that George Washington enjoyed his spirits; his war time expense account for liquor from September 1775 to June 1776 exceeded $6,000, and he was a major distiller of whiskey at Mount Vernon. Or that John Adams started the day with a hard cider eye opener. And that Thomas Jefferson was a wine connoisseur who with guests consumed 1,203 bottles of wine at his Monticello estate in just over two years. 

Attitudes towards alcohol were liberal then by today's standards. There were no prohibitions on the purchase, consumption, or production of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol was part of the diet and tradition from England. Spirits were believed to have health benefits, be safer than often unsanitary water, and be a welcome morale booster in often difficult life situations. 

In the 1790s it was estimated that the average American over fifteen years old each year drank 34 gallons of beer and cider, 5 gallons of distilled spirits, and 1 gallon of wine. All that is reported to be the equivalent of 7 ounces of distilled liquor a day. Even children drank “small beer” with a low alcohol content. But people were not partying and tipsy all the time. Author Corin Hirsch points out that "life expectancy was lower then and life was pretty hard so you can’t judge anyone.”

Scholars of "spiritual" history point out fascinating aspects of drinking and attitudes about it, sometimes in amusing terms:
  • "...most of the founding fathers were buzzed, if not flat-out hammered, when they formulated the ideals....for their new country."  Ethan De Siefe, 2014.
  • "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy." Ben Franklin.
  •  “Americans drank beer, and cider with breakfast; rum and wine with dinner; claret, ratafias, creams, punches and other concoctions in the evening.” Robinson, 2001, as quoted in Tom Jewett's 2007 article.
  •  “Alcohol lubricated such social events as christenings, weddings, funerals, trails, and election-day gatherings, where aspiring candidates tempted voters with free drinks. Craftsmen drank at work, as did hired hands in the fields, shoppers in stores, sailors at sea and soldiers in camp. Then, as now, college students enjoyed malted beverages, which explains why Harvard had its own brewery. In 1639, when the school did not supply sufficient beer, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job.” Henry Howe, Historical Collections of Ohio Vol II, 1908.
Alcohol was also a staple of life in early Marietta and the Northwest Territory:
  • Liquor rations for the soldiers at Fort Harmar included a gill (4 ounces) of rum daily. Surveyors in the initial group hired by the Ohio Company had a similar ration. Imagine having a job that provides 4 ounces of booze each day.  Nice benefit, eh?
  • Drunkenness was the leading offense of the day - both at Fort Harmar and in the general public. Punishment at Fort Harmar was 100 or more lashes. In Marietta, there was a fine of "5 dimes for the first offense and $1.00 for each offense thereafter."
  • Peach brandy was reportedly made from peaches grown at Fort Harmar and elsewhere. Campus Martius Historian Bill Reynolds observed with a grin that “peaches were not just grown for eating, you know.”
  • Portable liquor cabinets from that period are on display at Campus Martius Museum, one belonging to Rufus Putnam, another to Israel Putnam, Rufus' half brother. It held several bottles in a small wooden box that could be easily transported. These were fairly common during that time.
  • Joseph Buell, a soldier at Fort Harmar, kept a journal which records incidents of liquor consumption.
    • July 4, 1786, "The great day of independence was commemorated by the discharge of 13 guns, after which the soldiers were served with extra rations of liquor and allowed to get as drunk as they pleased." 
    • May 1, 1786: May Day is celebrated with a maypole, dancing, "curious antics, drinking, carousing, and firing guns." 
    • December 3, 1786: provisions were delivered including 20 kegs of flour and 10 kegs of whiskey.
    • September 9, 1787. A group of Indians visited the fort and entertained the locals - and themselves. On this day they..."danced in the hot sun, drinking whisky at the same time, until they were as drunk as they could be and stand on their feet."
  • Colonel John May also kept a journal of his time in Marietta. 
    • Tuesday, May 6, 1788: Near Simmrill's Ferry, Pennsylvania, on his way to Marietta, he procured 4 barrels of finest flour and a barrel (30 gallons) of "whisky." The contents were placed on a ferry, which nearly sank under the weight.
    • May 27, 1788. He reported dining with General Josiah Harmar. The elegant dinner included beef, boiled fish, bear-steaks, roast venison, etc.,.and "wine and grog." Even on the frontier, high ranking military officers ate and drank well.
    • June 8, 1788. Another fabulous dinner with Generals Harmar, Putnam, and Varnum plus others. Libations included spirits, excellent wine, brandy, and beer.
  • The first July 4th celebration at Marietta was quite an event, including a sumptuous feast, an oration by Judge Varnum, and a 14 gun salute. There was celebratory drinking, too, with "a bowl of punch, also wine, grog, etc." May reported that the celebration continued until past midnight after which they "went home and to bed, and slept sound until morning." During the event there were toasts - many toasts. No one, it seems, was left out. They drank to:
  1. United States
  2. Congress
  3. His Most King of Majesty The King of France
  4. The United Netherlands
  5. The Friendly Powers Throughout the World
  6. The New Federal Constitution
  7. George Washington and the Society of Cincinnati
  8. His Excellency Governor St. Clair and the Western Territory
  9. The Memory of Heroes
  10. Patriots
  11. Captain Pipes and a Successful Treaty
  12. Amiable Partners of our Lives
  13. All Mankind
Our early ancestors drank a wide variety of beverages - some conventional, others quite unusual - in content and name. Here are some of the more conventional ones:
  • Beer and cider - these were easy to make using apples for cider and grains for beer.
  • Rum - a staple of the colonies.  In 1770, there were 140 Rum stills in the northeastern colonies producing 4.8 Million gallons of rum.
  • Grog – generally, any drink mixed with water. Originally it was water mixed with rum and lime or lemon juice. The concoction was introduced into the Royal Navy in 1740 by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, who was nicknamed “Old Grog” after the Grogham cloth coat he wore.
  • Shrub – a fruit liqueur made with rum or brandy mixed with sugar and juice or rinds of citrus fruits.
  • Wine was always popular but more expensive and mostly imported from Europe.
  • Whiskey became more popular in the late 1700's as molasses used for rum became more expensive.
Then there are the mixed drinks, many quite unknown to us today. The quirky names are as interesting as the recipes:
  • Stone Fence. A bracing blend of rum and cider. Ethan Allen and the legendary Green Mountain Boys are reported to have imbibed this for liquid courage before raiding Fort Ticonderoga. 
  • Flip. A blend of beer, rum, molasses, and eggs or cream mixed in a pitcher and whipped into a froth by plunging a hot fire poker (called a flip dog) into the mixture.
  • Syllabub. A mix of wine, cream, and lemon topped with whipped egg whites. Eggs and cream were supposed to make the drink more nutritious. Really, that was the belief.
  • Rattleskull is named after the English slang for a chatty person, and probably for its effect on the drinker. It is a potent blend of 3-4 oz of a rum/brandy mix poured into a pint of stout porter (an ale) tarted up with lime and topped with nutmeg. One colonial drink expert says this "bad-ass drink is a dangerously smooth and stultifying concoction."
  • Calibogus. A mix of dark rum and spruce beer (beer made with the needles or new shoots of a spruce tree). Since spruce shoots have vitamin C, the drink was popular among sailors to ward off scurvy from lack of vitamin C in their diet at sea.
  • Sangaree was a mix of madeira or port wine with lemon juice, sugar, and nutmeg. It was the precursor to the more modern Sangria.
Alcoholic beverages were part of the culture, though some spoke out against the social and health damage from excessive drinking. Few listened. Benjamin Rush was a Philadelphia physician who studied mental illness. He wrote a fascinating paper titled Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, published in 1785. He presciently classified alcoholism as a disease and addiction. His work would influence the temperance movement which eventually reduced alcohol consumption. But that would be decades in the future. Meanwhile drinking remained America's favorite pastime.

Jewett, Tom, “Spirits of Our Forefathers,” 2002,

Burns, Eric, The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol, 2004, Temple University Press.

Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio Vol II, 1908

Crews, Ed, “Drinking in Colonial America,” 2007, Colonial Williamsburg Publications,

Hildreth, Samuel, Pioneer History, Being an Account of the First Examinations of the Ohio Valley and the Early Settlement of the Northwest Territory, 1848, W. Derby & Company (Cincinnati)

De Seife, Ethan, Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England by Corin Hirsch, 2014,