An Excerpt from The Pioneers


The first pioneers—forty-eight men including surveyors, carpenters, boat builders, common laborers, and a blacksmith—were to go in two parties. One, numbering twenty and headed by a veteran officer, Major Haffield White, was to depart first from Ipswich Hamlet. The second, led by General Rufus Putnam, the overall head, or “superintendent,” of the expedition, would leave soon after from Hartford, Connecticut.


Their tools, one ax and one hoe per man, as well as thirty pounds of baggage, were to be carried in the company wagon. In addition, each man was to furnish himself with one good musket, a bayonet, six flints, powder horn and pouch, priming wire and brush, half a pound of powder, one pound of musket balls, and a pound of buckshot. Wages were $4 a month.


By the time all was ready, December had arrived, hardly the best time of year to be setting off for the far wilderness. They would be traveling on foot the entire way until reaching the headwaters of the Ohio, so even under ideal conditions they would be moving at a speed of little more than one mile an hour, or about ten miles a day on an overland journey of some 700 miles that included the mountains of western Pennsylvania.


But spirits were high and the importance of getting there with the least delay possible was very much in mind. Once at the Ohio, time would be needed to build boats for the journey downriver—all to arrive in early spring, soon enough to get in a first planting of gardens and corn sufficient for survival.


Before sunrise the morning of Monday, December 3, 1787, a band of pioneers had gathered in front of the rectory, where they were to take an early breakfast. At dawn, they paraded in front of the house, and after a short address delivered by the Reverend Cutler, “full of good advice and hearty wishes,” the men fired a three-volley salute, and marched off down the road cheered by the bystanders and following a large covered wagon pulled by oxen.


The wagon had been a gift from Manasseh Cutler and he himself had painted the white inscription on the black canvas sides, “For the Ohio.”


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David McCullough

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