A rare plan of the Campus Martius at Marietta, marking a major milestone in American territorial expansion.
After independence the public lands north and west of the Ohio River presented the Congress with both an opportunity and a problem: On the one hand a well-managed process of land sales and settlement would replenish government finances. It would also allow for the expansion of American control into regions hitherto under the sway of the native American tribes and their British allies. Yet there was a real risk that an unmanaged process could antagonize those same forces and result in a huge region settled by Americans living outside government control. Against this background Congress in the mid-1780s passed a series of landmark laws creating a Northwest Territory and providing for the orderly survey, sale, settlement and ultimately statehood of the lands therein. The Territory encompassed a huge area comprising the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as part of Minnesota.
The survey of the Territory began with Thomas Hutchins’ platting of the “Seven Ranges” of townships immediately west of the Ohio River. Land sales began in 1787 but met with little success, largely due to the “high” ($1 per acre!) price set by Congress and the ongoing threat posed by the Indians. Concurrent with this was a more chaotic and less transparent process, in which numerous companies large and small negotiated directly with Congress to purchase huge tracts west of the Seven Ranges on extremely advantageous terms. The best known of these was the Ohio Company of Associates, led by Revolutionary hero Rufus Putnam and the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, which contracted to purchase 1.5 million acres for a mere $1 million in depreciated Continental securities.
The Ohio Company established its first settlement on the west bank of the Muskingum River where it flows into the Ohio, on a site filled with monumental remains left by Indians of the mound-building Hopewell culture. Marietta, as it was called, was an ambitious effort, intended to “consist of a thousand House-Lots of 90 by 180 feet, with spacious Streets intersecting at right Angles, and the necessary reserved squares for Use, Pleasure, and Ornament” (Rufus Putnam’s plan for the city may be viewed here.) It was also the first permanent American presence in the Northwest Territory and thus marked a major milestone in the western expansion of the United States.
The Ohio frontier remained a dangerous place in the mid 1780s, and before the Company’s ambitious plan for Marietta could be realized Putnam erected the Campus Martius for the protection of the first settlers. He described this wooden fortress in his memoirs:
“ Campus Martius … consisted of four block houses of hewed or sawed timber, two stories high… the upper stories on two sides projected two feet with loop holes in the projection to rake the sides of the lower stories. Two of the block houses had two rooms on a floor, & the other two three rooms. The block houses were so placed as to form bastions of a regular square and flank the curtains of the work, which was proposed to consist of private houses, also to be made of hewed or sawed timber and two stories high—leaving a clean area within of 144 feet square.” (Rufus Putnam, Memoirs cited in John Reps, The Making of Urban America, p. 222.
A Plan of Campus-Martius
Offered here is a small but informative plan of the fortress, printed from a woodcut with inset letterpress. The plan shows clearly the basic layout of block houses at the four corners linked by a “curtain” of private dwellings, together forming a large enclosure, accessible only by two fortified gates at opposite ends. Above the plan is a woodcut profile view of the fortress, with among other things the second-story projections of the block houses clearly visible. The plan and view are based on engraved versions that appeared in The Columbian Magazine for November 1788.
The plan is offered complete with the May 1789 issue of the short-lived Gentlemen and Ladies Town and Country Magazine, in which it originally appeared as an illustration. The Magazine was published by Nathaniel Coverly in Boston from February 1789 through August 1790. According to the American Antiquarian Society it “contained an assortment of prose and poetry which emphasized the popular reign of sentiment and sensibility; many of these were contributed by a local following of women. Also included were foreign and domestic news, odd biographical and historical anecdotes, and miscellaneous items.”
The Magazine is today little known and extremely rare, which must account for the fact that this plan has gone unremarked in the reference literature.
The periodical listed in Steven Lomazow, MD, American Periodicals, #26. Plan not in Jolly, Maps of America or Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America, both of which note the Columbian Magazine plan.
Very occasional foxing, minor chipping to frontis and title, text block broken with wraps separated and final leaf of wraps perished. Withal, more than acceptable for an 18th-century American magazine.