Samuel H. Parsons

From Ohio History Central

Samuel Holden Parsons was an American political and military leader in the years following the American Revolution. He was one of the first settlers in the Northwest Territory and one of its most prominent early leaders.

Parsons was born in Lyme, Connecticut, on May 14, 1737. He graduated from Harvard College in 1756 and then studied law with his uncle. He joined the Connecticut bar in 1759. Three years later, the people of Lyme elected Parsons to the Connecticut General Assembly. He served in the Assembly until 1774. As tensions increased between the colonies and Great Britain, Parsons actively supported independence. He participated in Connecticut's Committee of Correspondence and was one of the first people to call for the organization of the Continental Congress.

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, Parsons joined the Continental Army. He helped General Benedict Arnold capture Fort Ticonderoga. He was present at the siege of Boston and at the battle for New York City. Following the loss of New York, Parsons spent the remainder of the war defending Connecticut from British invasion. The highest military rank he attained during the American Revolution was major general. He became a strong opponent of the Continental Congress after the government bonds that he purchased at the war's beginning became valueless. Due to poor health beginning in 1777, Parsons repeatedly threatened to resign from the army. Parson's ill will against the American government convinced William Heron, a double agent working for both the Americans and the British, to try to get Parsons to switch his loyalties. While he disagreed with many of the actions taken by the Continental and Confederation Congresses, Parsons was a devoted patriot and remained loyal to the American cause. The Confederation Congress refused to accept his resignation until July 22, 1782, as the war was ending.

Following the American Revolution, the voters of Connecticut returned Parsons to the General Assembly. The Confederation Congress also selected him to serve as an Indian commissioner. In 1786, he and Richard Butler negotiated the Treaty of Fort Finney with the Shawnee. In this treaty, the Shawnees agreed to relinquish their claims to the land in southwestern Ohio and southern Indiana.

Having spent time in the Ohio Country negotiating with American Indian nations, Parsons became convinced that he could earn a fortune on the frontier. In 1786, he became a shareholder in the Ohio Company of Associates. In the next year, the company's investors selected Parsons to be a director of the company and sent him to the Confederation Congress to negotiate the purchase of land in the Northwest Territory. The Congress refused, and the Ohio Company removed Parsons from his position as director.

In October 1787, the Confederation Congress appointed Parsons, along with James Varnum and John Cleves Symmes, as the first judges of the Northwest Territory. Accepting the position, Parsons moved from Connecticut to Marietta in April 1788. The judges commonly disagreed with the governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair. Tensions between the judges and St. Clair dominated politics in the Northwest Territory in the late eighteenth century. Still involved in real estate speculation, Parsons traveled to the Connecticut Western Reserve in 1789. He had invested money in the Connecticut Land Company. On the return trip to Marietta, Parsons traveled by canoe. Parsons drowned when his canoe overturned on November 17, 1789.

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, William Parker, and Julia Perkins Cutler, eds. Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL. D. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1987.
  3. Hall, Charles, S., ed. Life and Letters of Samuel Holden Parsons: Major-general in the Continental Army and Chief Judge of the Northwestern Territory, 1737-1789. Binghamton, NY: Otseningo Pub. Co., 1905.
  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. Onuf, Peter S. Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
  7. 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.
  8. Williams, Frederick D., ed. The Northwest Ordinance: Essays on Its Formulation, Provisions, and Legacy. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1989.