Rufus Putnam

From Ohio History Central
Putnam, General Rufus.jpg
Reproduction of a portrait of General Rufus Putnam (profile), ca. 1780-1789. He was a Revolutionary War veteran and member of the Ohio Company who helped to found Marietta, Ohio and open the Northwest Territory for settlement.

Rufus Putnam was a soldier and early settler of Ohio after the American Revolution.

Putnam was born on April 9, 1738, in Sutton, Massachusetts. His father died when Putnam was seven and his mother apprenticed him to a millwright. In 1757, he fought for the British in the French and Indian War. When the war was over, Putnam returned home where he became a farmer and a miller. He also lobbied the English government to provide veterans of the French and Indian War with land bounties along the Mississippi River. Fearing conflicts between its colonists and the Native Americans residing west of the Appalachian Mountains, England issued the Proclamation of 1763. It prohibited any of England's colonists from living west of the mountains. The English government denied Putnam's request.

At the start of the American Revolution, Putnam enlisted in the Continental Army. Early in the conflict, he helped prepare earthworks and other defensive features for the Americans surrounding English soldiers in Boston, Massachusetts. He also assisted George Washington in preparing New York's defenses. He spent the remainder of the war in upstate New York and fought in the Battle of Saratoga. He began the war as a lieutenant colonel and by its conclusion had risen to the rank of brigadier-general.

Throughout the conflict, Putnam served as an advocate for junior officers and enlisted men. America's first government, created by the Articles of Confederation, had limited powers and faced tremendous difficulty meeting its expenses. This included paying the men in its army. The Confederation Congress promised to give these men land grants in the Ohio Country, but the Congress was slow to act. In 1783, Putnam helped draft the Newburgh Petition. In this document, many of the officers in the Continental Army demanded payment immediately in land grants or they would even contemplate replacing their government. General George Washington was able to prevent an uprising.

Following the American Revolution, Putnam engaged in real estate investment. He served as a surveyor for the Confederation Congress and used the knowledge he received while surveying to make land purchases. In 1786, a group of men from Massachusetts, including Putnam and Benjamin Tupper, founded the Ohio Company of Associates. Winthrop Sargent became the secretary of the venture. The company planned to purchase land in the Northwest Territory west of the Seven Ranges. Both Putnam and Tupper had participated in survey expeditions led by Thomas Hutchins and believed that the region had great potential.

The company first chose Samuel Holden Parsons to represent their interests before the American government. When he was unsuccessful in his mission, the company replaced him with the Reverend Manasseh Cutler. Cutler worked with Treasury Secretary William Duer and president of the Congress Arthur St. Clair to negotiate an arrangement for the purchase of the land. The Ohio Company purchased 1,500,000 acres of land, agreeing to pay $500,000 immediately and another $500,000 payment once survey work was finished.

Congress allowed the company to pay for part of the land using military warrants. This created a very favorable arrangement for the investors. In the end, they paid about eight and one-half cents per acre. In order to encourage settlement of the region and create a buffer zone between white settlements and Native Americans, Congress also gave the Ohio Company 100,000 acres. This land came to be known as the Donation Tract. In the tract, any adult white male would obtain one hundred acres of free land. Although the survey pattern was somewhat different from that of the Seven Ranges, Ohio Company investors were required to set aside land in each township for education and religion as well as three sections for future government purposes. In addition, two townships were set aside for a university.

Putnam established the first Ohio Company settlement on the banks of the Ohio River. Known originally as Adelphia, the community soon became known as Marietta. To protect the settlement from Native American attacks, the settlers built a fortification known as the Campus Martius. Many of the early settlers of Ohio Company lands came from New England. They tried to establish similar institutions and communities to those they had left in the East. In 1808, the company established Ohio University on the land set aside for that purpose. In its early years the university only offered the equivalent of a high school education and enrollment remained low for a number of years. The settlers of Marietta had greater success once the Native American threat was reduced with the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The population continued to grow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The New England settlers often disagreed with frontier settlers coming from Virginia and Kentucky who had different visions for the region.

Putnam emerged as an important political leader in the Northwest Territory. President Washington appointed Putnam to a judgeship in 1790. He also served as a brigadier-general in the United States Army during this same time period. In 1796, Putnam became the surveyor-general of the United States. President Thomas Jefferson removed him from the position. Putnam continued to play an important role in territorial government and participated in the constitutional convention of 1802. Putnam favored the Federalist Party and did succeed in preventing slavery from becoming legal in Ohio. Putnam died on May 4, 1824, in Marietta.

See Also


  1. Carter, Clarence Edwin, ed. The Territorial Papers of the United States. Vol. I-III. New York, NY: AMS Press, 1973.
  2. Cutler, Julia Perkins. The Founders of Ohio: Brief Sketches of the Forty-eight Pioneers Who, Under Command of General Rufus Putnam, Landed at the Mouth of the Muskingum River on the Seventh of April, 1788, and Commenced the First White Settlement in the Northwest Territory. Cincinnati, OH: R. Clarke & Co., 1888.
  3. Cutler, William Parker, and Julia Perkins Cutler, eds. Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL. D. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1987.
  4. Howe, Henry. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.
  5. Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
  6. Milligan, Fred J. Ohio's Founding Fathers. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2003. 
  7. Onuf, Peter S. Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
  8. Dawes, E.C., ed. Journal of Gen. Rufus Putnam Kept in Northern New York During Four Campaigns of the Old French and Indian War, 1757-1760: The Whole Copiously Illustrated with Notes and Preceded by a Biographical Sketch of Gen. Putnam. Albany, NY: J. Munsell's Sons, 1886.
  9. Smith, Dwight L., ed. The Western Journals of John May, Ohio Company Agent and Business Adventurer. N.p.: Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, 1961.
  10. Williams, Frederick D., ed. The Northwest Ordinance: Essays on Its Formulation, Provisions, and Legacy. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1989.