Marietta museum brings historical figures back to life

Photo by Doug Loyer A tour guide, Chuck Yonker, Holly Smith and her children enjoy listening to the living historians at Campus Martius Museum on Saturday.

MARIETTA — Campus Martius Museum visitors Saturday got a rare opportunity to see history come alive as living historians from Joseph Crockett’s Western Battalion Brigade of the American Revolution were in character portraying Rufus Putnam, Winthrop Sargent and an Ohio Company Director.

The historical characters were meeting to organize a militia to protect themselves from Indian attacks.

The time being depicted was 1791. At that time in history, Indians had recently defeated U.S. troops at the Battle of Wabash where Indians killed nearly 1,000 soldiers. Also about that time, the settlement at Big Bottom was attacked by Indians which resulted in the loss of several lives.

Rufus Putnam and the Ohio Company reacted to these events by making plans to protect the Ohio Company residents.

The Ordinance of 1787 that governed the Northwest Territory required fair treatment to all people, including native Indians. The hostilities went on for about five years. Putnam’s group was trying to get organized and trained so they could protect themselves against the Indians until the problems were resolved.

Photo by Doug Loyer John Conklin, from left, Bill Reynolds and Rob Gorrell re-enact a meeting from 1791 as Winthrop Sargent, Rufus Putnam and an Ohio Co. Director.

“As people come in the museum, we’ll answer their questions in character back in 1791,” said Bill Reynolds of Marietta, who played the part of Putnam. “We’re tying to reenact what the Ohio Company trustees would have done.”

They formed a militia for defense of the new settlement against the Indians in the area, explained Reynolds. An ordinance was passed that required males between the ages of 16 and 65 to be part of the militia. Every Sunday after church service, they would drill to keep up their skills. Most members were Revolutionary War veterans, many who were officers.

“The Brigade is a non-profit living history association dedicated to recreating the life and times of the common soldier of the Revolutionary War,” said John Conklin, of Glouster, who portrayed Winthrop Sargent who was the Secretary of Northwest Territory under General Arthur St. Clair.

Rounding out the living historians trio was Rob Gorrell, of Parkersburg, who played the part of one of the Ohio Company Directors. Gorrell said he has been interested in history since he was a kid and decided to join the Brigade of the American Revolution back in 1995.

“This is so great for the children,” said museum visitor Chuck Yonker of Seneca Lake. “They get to come and see history.”

Yonker went on to say that there is a period of time when a person loses contact and every generation that passes takes something with them. When people can see the things that existed and are still present for the sake of the children, the interaction with living historians is touching kids with history, he said.

“I think this is a great opportunity for my son,” said Holly Smith of Byesville. “He just studied about Rufus Putnam this week in school. To see the portrayal and hear things one on one is nice.”

Holly’s son Quincy Smith, 10, added that Rufus Putnam was a war general and the historians at the museum really bring history to life.

“We came today because my son Dallas is a history buff,” said Heather Riffle of Pomeroy. “He’s constantly spouting out some kind of historical fact.”

Riffle said it made for a good day trip for them to come to Marietta and experience the living historians. Riffle came to the Campus Martius Museum on a school trip when she was little and thought it would be nice to bring Dallas and let him experience it.

“This is pretty cool,” said Riffle’s son, Dallas Krawsczyn, 11. “I like history and learning about the past.”

The Brigade of the American Revolution’s living historians invite anyone interested, to join their group and become involved.

The Ohio River Museum will open for the season on April 1. For Campus Martius and the Ohio River Museums hours and events, visit

Those wanting information about the Northwest Dept. of the Brigade of the American Revolution should visit