The year was 1788. A group of 48 men of the Ohio Company of Associates arrived at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers and established the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. It was named Marietta in honor of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who had aided the young country in its battle for independence from Great Britain.
This odyssey had actually begun in 1770 when a young surveyor began exploring large tracts of land west of his native Virginia. During the Revolutionary War, this surveyor, George Washington, told his friend, General Rufus Putnam, of the beauty he had seen in his travels through the Ohio Valley and of his ideas for settling the territory. After the war, the newly formed country found itself with little money but blessed with natural resources.
When this group of 48 men, led by General Rufus Putnam, arrived, they brought with them the first government sanctioned by the United States. Fort Harmar, a military outpost built three years prior, lay across the Muskingum River. The Native Americans were not pleased with the arrival of the settlers who immediately started construction of two forts, Campus Martius, which stood at the site of the museum which today bears it’s name, and Picketed Point, at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. At the same time, a community was also being built in the wilderness from plans made before the groups departure form Boston.
In 1785, the Treaty of Harmar was signed, bringing some resolve with several Native American nations in regards to trade, controversy and boundaries.
The families of the settlers began arriving within a few months, as did Governor Arthur St. Clair who presided over this new territory, and, by the end of 1788, 137 people populated the area. The Treaty of Greenville was signed with the Native Americans in 1795, thus allowing the settlers to move from the safety of the fortresses and to spread out into the surrounding territory.
Religion was important to these first settlers and services were held on a regular basis, but it wasn’t until 1796 that a church was chartered. This first church was Congregational and it’s charter was unusually inclusive due to the varied religious backgrounds of it’s members. The congregation constructed the first church building in 1807.
Since many of the settlers had been officers during the revolution, and were highly educated, education was also a priority for these first settlers. That first winter saw the beginning of basic education for the children at Campus Martius. In 1835 the community leaders founded Marietta College.
Marietta’s location on two major navigable rivers made it ripe for industry and commerce from the start. Boat building was one of the early industries with even ocean going vessels being constructed and sailed down river to the Mississippi and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Brick factories and sawmills supplied materials for homes and public buildings. An iron mill, along with several foundries provided rails for the railroad industry and Marietta Chair Factory supplied furniture. And then there was oil!
In 1860 oil was first drilled in the Marietta region. A great deal of wealth was generated for investors during oil booms in 1875 and 1910. The results of these booms can be seen even today by touring the town and observing the many large homes built by men who made their fortunes during these periods.
In 1788, the first president of the young United States had this to say about Marietta:
“No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum. If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation.”