Pioneers | History | The Ohio River Scenic Byways Visitor Center
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The Pioneers, The Underground Railroad and The Civil War (1788 to May 9, 1865)

At the end of the American Revolutionary War a portion of the territory gained from Britain became the Northwest Territory. The Ohio Company of Associates purchased 1.5 million acres land at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers with military warrants for service in the American Revolution. These pioneers lead by Rufus Putnam set forth first by land and then constructed flatboats which they floated down the Ohio River to Fort Harmar at the mouth of the Muskingum River. They arrived on April 7, 1788 and founded Marietta Ohio the first American settlement in the Northwest Territory.

The Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory and the precedent by which the Federal government would be sovereign over this land and expand westward with the admission of new states. Thus began the westward movement of settlers into Ohio and farther west.

The Memorial to the Start Westward of the United States by Gutzon Borglum is in the 300 block of Front Street, Marietta, Ohio. The plan for Marietta was decided upon even before the pioneers came to Marietta. Many officers of the American Revolutionary War obtained land and moved to Marietta permanently. More Revolutionary soldiers are buried in Mound Cemetery than anywhere else in America and they have descendants who still live in Marietta.

Mound Cemetery

The plan for Marietta, with wide streets on a geometric grid, included space for government buildings, schools, churches and wide and numerous “Commons”, which today are Marietta’s beautiful parks and cemeteries. When the pioneers were threatened by Native Americans they built Campus Martius a civilian stockade and lived there from 1788 to 1791 for protection.

Slavery was forbidden in the Northwest Territory by the Ordinance of 1787, and many of the pioneers who came from New England were staunch slavery abolitionists. Since Marietta lay right across the river from what was then Virginia, where plantations depended on the labor of slaves, some Ohio land owners along the Ohio River began quite early to help slaves escape to freedom.

Farmers Museum

Henry Burke, a descendant of slaves, recounts the development of the Underground Railroad in Southeast Ohio. Many of his papers and artifacts about the Underground Railroad are housed in the Farmers Museum.


According to Burke the Underground Railroad (an elaborate network of safe houses) as a concept began to take shape in southwestern Ohio around 1814-1815. Fugitive Slave Laws protected the “property” of slave owners who were allowed to come into free, anti-slavery states and take the fugitive ex-slaves back. Now against the law to provide aid to escaping slaves, the whole process became more formalized and secret, hence the designation, “Underground” and the transportation metaphor of the “Railroad”. The places of refuge became known as “Stations” and the people who helped the slaves were known as “conductors”.


Marietta had an Anti-Slavery Society and many were active conductors, including David Putnam, whose brother’s home (Putnam Villas, now The Anchorage) according to legend was a stop on the Underground Railroad.


But most of the conductors were abolitionists, former slaves and freed slaves who helped guide escaped slaves to various hiding places. The extensive river system (especially the Muskingum and Little Muskingum) formed a network of rivers and creeks that ran north and connected with the canals that provided avenues north to Canada.

Underground Railroad Southeastern Ohio Map

Henry Burke wrote extensively about his family, the Underground Railroad and the extent of the “stations” established as they moved the former slaves north to Canada. See his website: and his book: “Washington County Underground Railroad”, by Henry Robert Burke and Charles Hart Fogle (2004)

Tours & Programs

The Civil War Roundtable of the Mid-Ohio Valley

The Castle Historic House Museum

418 Fourth Street, Marietta, Ohio 45750


Trolley Tours

127 Ohio Street, Marietta, Ohio 45750


Washington County Library
Local History and Genealogy

418 Washington Street, Marietta, Ohio

740.376.2172, Fax: 740.376.2175

Marietta College Legacy Library: Special Collections

The Library preserves rare books, manuscripts, photographs, paintings, and the Marietta College Archives. Students, faculty, visiting scholars, genealogists, and community members are welcome to use the collections in the reading room during posted hours. Plan ahead for your research visit, please e-mail or telephone to let us know of your interests. Staff will locate material in the collections and have it available upon your arrival. For appointments call 740.376.4545 or email Special Collections ( The Digital Collection is available at