When the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, only a small sliver of the country’s vast expanses had been established as part of the new Union. But before the young country had even completed its Constitution, a group of enterprising war veterans formed a new company to buy up land in what now forms the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and part of Minnesota. Known as the “Ohio Company of Associates,” or just the “Ohio Company,” the members are credited with becoming the first non-Native American group to permanently settle west of the Allegheny mountains.
Much of what would eventually become the United States actually still belonged to Spain when the American revolution ended. However, the land between the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Ohio River was disputed territory between Britain and France. As part of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that ended the Revolutionary War, the land was awarded to the United States. What to do with that land was of great interest to settlers on the East coast, especially those looking to stake their own claims.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 set up a standardized system in which settlers could purchase title to farmland in the undeveloped west. Shortly afterward in March of 1786, a group of former Revolutionary war officers including Brigadier-General Rufus Putnam, General Benjamin Tupper, General Samuel Holden Parsons, as well as clergyman Manasseh Cutler formed the “Ohio Company of Associates” land company.
It’s important to understand that when the veteran officers of the Continental Army left their service, they were at odds with both the Continental Congress and the civilian population. During the war’s final years officers had actively lobbied for military pensions, and when they were turned down, some had even considered mutiny. The civilian population of the young country was also strapped thanks to wartime taxes and what was becoming a shortage of land, so were unwilling to give up resources especially to military officers that early colonists didn’t trust. The Ohio Company was very much a product of these frustrations.
The Ohio Company of Associates wanted to purchase land in the Northwest Territory west of a previously surveyed area called the Seven Ranges. Both Putnam and Tupper had participated in survey expeditions and believed that the region had great potential for land speculation. They placed ads in newspapers “to inform all Officers and Soldiers who have served in the late War” of their plans.
In the spring of 1787, a congressional committee finally formed to create a new ordinance to govern what would be called the Northwest Territory, formally known as the “Territory Northwest of the River Ohio.” The resulting “Northwest Ordinance” established three stages for the territorial government. In the first stage, Congress would appoint a governor, secretary, and three judges to make laws for a territory. Once a territory had 5,000 male settlers, it entered the second stage and they could elect a legislature. Stage three occurred once the territory reached 60,000 male inhabitants. At that time, the territory could apply for statehood. The Ordinance also required that the Northwest Territory be organized into at least three states, but no more than five.
Cutler then worked to negotiate an arrangement for the purchase of the land. The Ohio Company of Associates purchased 1,500,000 acres of land, agreeing to pay $500,000 immediately and another $500,000 payment once survey work was finished. The company made its first installment of $500,000, but was unable to raise the second $500,000, so it settled for a purchase of 750,000 acres, plus two established townships, for a total area of 913,833 acres. The area encompassed land north of the Ohio River, between the present day sites of Marietta, Ohio, and Huntington, West Virginia. Cutler had tried to purchase all the land between the Ohio and Scioto rivers, but the western half was optioned by the Scioto Company, although that deal later failed without the Scioto Company purchasing any of the land.
Putnam was then chosen to lead a group of New Englanders to settle the land in what became Ohio. The pioneers arrived at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers on April 7, 1788, where they established the first Ohio Company of Associates settlement. Known originally as Adelphia, the community soon became known as Marietta in honor of French Queen Marie Antoinette. It was the first permanent European-American settlement in the Northwest Territory. Most of the settlers were veterans that had found it difficult to reestablish themselves in New England after the war.
For the next 25 years, Ohio became the primary destination of westward-bound pioneers because of the fertile farmland in the Ohio River Valley. According to the 1800 Census of the United States, the pending state of Ohio had a population of over 45,000. By the time of Ohio statehood in 1803, there were as many as 50 named towns in the Northwest and Indiana Territories, a few with thousands of settlers, and dozens of unnamed settlements below the Treaty Line in Ohio. The great wave of immigration to the US continued to flow westward, founding the eventual 6 states of the Territory which is now the midwestern United States. (Sources: Legends of America, National Archives, US History, Wikipedia)