#1NEW YORK TIMESBESTSELLERPulitzer Prize–winning historian David McCullough rediscovers an important and dramatic chapter in the American story—the settling of the Northwest Territory by dauntless pioneers who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country.
As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.
McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness, while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.
Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures,The Pioneers
is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. This is a revelatory and quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.The Pioneers
The Ohio Country
The Ohio is the grand artery of that portion of America which lies beyond the mountains. . . . I consider therefore the settlement of the country watered by this great river as one of the greatest enterprises ever presented to man.
—J. HECTOR ST. JOHN DE CRÈVECOEUR, 1782
Never before, as he knew, had any of his countrymen set off to accomplish anything like what he had agreed to undertake—a mission that, should he succeed, could change the course of history in innumerable ways and to the long-lasting benefit of countless Americans.
That he had had no prior experience in such a venture and was heading off alone in his own one-horse shay appears to have been of little concern. If he was as yet unknown to those with whom he would be dealing, he carried with him letters of introduction from the governor of Massachusetts, the president of Harvard College, and some forty others. The day of his departure was Sunday, June 24, 1787.
Manasseh Cutler was forty-five years old and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ipswich Hamlet, a tiny Massachusetts village not far
from the sea, thirty miles north of Boston. He had been born and raised on a hilltop farm in Killingly, Connecticut, and given the biblical name of Manasseh after the oldest son of Joseph. Like most New Englanders, he was a descendant of those strong-minded English Puritans who had la