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The Pioneers," My Thoughts For Part I: 1787-1794 & Part II: 1795-1814

Dear Trusty Book Club Members,

David McCullough, author of "The Pioneers," our current read for Glenna's Book Club, The Armed Forces Retirement Home, Washington, D.C. is a book rich in historic facts and most entertaining in regards to personal stories of the historical figures that McCullough writes about.

There is far too much to address and give credit to in "The Pioneers," so I will highlight some of what I learned and some of what entertained me the most.  On a personal note, having been born in Ohio and having lived my younger years there, it was very interesting to be engaged in McCullough's writings about the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio.

I Learned:

The Northwest Territory, also known as the Old Northwest and formally known as the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, was formed in the United States after the American Revolutionary War.  The Northwest Territory was established in 1787 by the Congress of the Confederation through the Northwest ordinance, and it was the nation's first post-colonial organized incorporated territory.  At the time of its creation, the territory included all the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River below the Great Lakes.  The region was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.  Reduced to present-day Ohio, eastern Michigan, and a portion of southeastern Indiana with the formation of the Indiana Territory, July 4, 1800, it ceased to exist on March 1, 1803 when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Ohio, and the remainder attached to Indiana Territory. 

David McCullough's vivid descriptions of The Northwest Territory's vast wilderness and its pioneer inhabitants was often brutal.  The formal definition for the word "pioneer," a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area," is putting it mildly for the peoples that explored and set up stakes in The Northwest Territory.

Just A Few Of The Personalities In The Northwest Territory:

**Rufus Putnam was a colonial military officer during the French and Indian War, and a general officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.  Putnam was very instrumental in the settling of The Northwest Territory in present-day Ohio following the war.  He was founder of Marietta, Ohio, judge of the Northwest Territory, and first Surveyor General of The United States.  Rufus Putnam married Elizabeth Ayers in April 1761.  Elizabeth died in 1762 during childbirth.  On January 10, 1765 Putnam married again to Persis Rice.  Rufus and Persis had a wonderful life together raising ten children.  General Putnam was a good friend of George Washington-Washington trusted Putnam and confided in him.  From all that I read and learned about Rufus Putnam, he was an not only an exemplary and dutiful citizen to those that he served, he was a kind, fair, and very intelligent person.

**General St. Clair, on the other hand was a historical figure that David McCullough brought to life under a different set of circumstances.  St. Clair's defeat, also known as the Battle of Wabash River or the Battle of a Thousand Slain, was a battle fought on November 4, 1791 in the Northwest Territory of The United States of America.  The U.S. Army faced the Western Confederacy of Native Americans as part of the Northwest Indian War.  It was the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military and its largest defeat ever by Native Americans.  The Native Americans were led by Little Turtle of the Miamis, Blue Jacket  of the Shawnees, and Buckongahelas of the Delawares.  The war party numbered more than 1,000 warriors.  The opposing force of about 1,000 Americans was led by General Arthur St. Clair.  President George Washington adamantly warned St. Clair against "surprise attacks."  The forces of the American Indian confederacy attacked at dawn taking General St. Clair's men completely by surprise.  Of the 1,000 officers and men that St. Clair led into battle, only 24 escaped unharmed.  The very angry and outraged President George Washington forced St. Clair to resign his post, and of historical importance Congress initiated its first investigation of the Executive Branch of government. 

**Margaret & Harman Blennerhasset were a husband and wife "duo" that author, David McCullough brought to life in his book, "The Pioneers," in a very whimsical and entertaining fashion.  Harman and Margaret emigrated to The United States from Ireland in 1796.  On the western Virginia frontier, Harman bought the upper half of an Ohio River Island lying about a mile downstream from what is now Parkersburg, West Virginia.  The Blennerhasset's built a European-style mansion/estate that for a while, was the most beautiful private residence in the American West.  On a personal note, all along while reading about the "ups & downs" of Harman & Margaret Blennerhasset, I thought about the history of Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina.  Beginning in1888, George Vanderbilt planned and orchestrated the building of a castle/estate that continues to be privately owned and operated by fifth generation Vanderbilt's.  Unfortunately, due to mismanagement of personal finances and the involvement with the unscrupulous Aaron Burr, Harman Blennerhasset and his wife Margaret and their children led a life of uncertainty and in the end, a life of hardship and poverty.   

I am certainly enjoying our read, "The Pioneers."  What captivates my attention about the style of author, David McCullough's writing is how he is able navigate his readers through often times very graphic details, with a twist of levity and the "realness" of the peoples he is describing.

Miss all of you!  A very Happy Veterans Day to all at AFRH!



From Christine Baldwin, Librarian, AFRH:

David McCullough brings to life this wonderful story of the start and development

of Marietta, Ohio (present population 13,604). Again we are presented with maps and

portraits to put faces to names. With his unique approach, he chronicles the lives of

these early pioneers. Between gnats, poison ivy, bad weather, predatory animals and

the fights with the Native Americans, Mr. McCullough shows the fortitude of these men,

women and children. I find it an easy read, with lots of fascinating insights into the


Please read Chapters 5 – 7 for next week.                


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