MARIETTA - On April 7, 1788, a fleet of boats arrived at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers carrying 48 men from New England who desired to "plant a Christian nation in the midst of a savage wilderness, where they expected to make their homes."
That description, from "The Founders of Ohio: Brief Sketches of the Forty-Eight Pioneers," by Julia Perkins Cutler, sums up the mission of the pioneers.
Carrying out this mission were several men in two detachments - one leaving Dec. 3, 1787, from Danvers, Mass., under the command of Major Haffield White and the other, leaving Jan. 1, 1788, from Hartford, Conn., with Col. Ebenezer Sproat in charge. After grueling marches and carrying all their gear over the Allegheny mountains during an especially severe winter, they finally arrived at the Youghiogheny River. Along the way, mountain roads often were buried under three feet of snow. Many had taken ill with smallpox, and the sawmills were frozen. It was six weeks before they were able to finish the boats they needed and arrived at the Muskingum River.
This photo depicts one of the murals on display at the Campus Martius Museum. It shows some of the original founders of Marietta leading a processional to Campus Martius to convene the first court in 1787. (Photo Provided)
"What amazes me, with this wide variation in age ... from 16 to 68, they all survived to make it from Massachussetts to here in the Ohio Valley," said local historian Louise Zimmer. "Without too much trouble, they made it alive."
Many of the original 48 pioneers went on to live long lives, but a few stories about heroics and death have survived more than two centuries later. Beyond the stories, many of the 48 were lost to history. Where they lived, what they did, information about families and even their final resting places are still hidden in yet-to-be discovered records.
The places where only 30 of the original pioneers are spending eternity have been identified.
"Sometimes the most fascinating are the mysteries," said Jean Yost, president of the Marietta chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. "You always have those with lots written about them. ... Sometimes, we overlook the sacrifices they made before they got here. Starting Marietta was only the beginning."
One such story is that of young Jonas Davis.
Davis arrived with the 48 in 1788 but found his way down to Stone's Garrison in Belpre a few years later. He was engaged in 1795 to Amy Barker, daughter of the frontiersman Isaac Barker. He even had a cabin where he and his new bride could live. On his way back from Marietta to Belpre, he spotted the wreckage of a skiff near the river bank. Davis thought any wood he could salvage would make excellent steps to improve his home for Amy.
A short time later, he returned to pick up the wood. Three Native Americans found him and apparently killed him. He was found dead near Belpre. He already had his wedding suit hanging in his cabin. He is buried in Cedarville Cemetery in Belpre.
It is no surprise that 18 of the original 48 seem to be lost to history. More than two centuries ago, it's still easy to "disappear."
"I spent a lot of years doing genealogical research," Zimmer said. "If you didn't own property or you didn't get in trouble, you fairly disappeared. If you just minded your own business, there was no way to trace you. It was very easy to disappear back then - on purpose or accidentally."
Yost said it was no big event for any of the pioneers to walk back to Connecticut or Massachussets.
"Some of these people seem to have dropped off (the face of the earth)," Yost said. "I think some families, if they were somewhat intact, they were better at writing their histories."
On his way back to New England, the weary traveler might have stopped off to see a relative or a buddy from the war, met a woman and gotten married, Yost said.
"It makes it difficult to pin down when they are in different states," Yost said. "It's hard to be conclusive about some of these people."
For example, is the Josiah Junior White who died in 1789 and was buried in Leonmister, Mass., the same man who arrived in Marietta at age 21 with the 48 original pioneers? Or, is it Samuel Josiah White who died and is buried in Bolton, Mass.? What is known about White is that he was born Oct. 4, 1767, the son of Major Haffield and Lydia (Masters) White. He died in Danvers, Mass., after returning there in 1788.
"Five years from now, we'll be light years ahead of where we are now," Yost said.
He points to work being done at Marietta College and other places across the state to digitize all sorts of records to make them searchable by name, place or any other piece of information.
"I think we'll discover a lot of military records that have never been transcribed in Columbus," Yost said. "All of a sudden, you get more ties (connections or clues) than the official records."
Thanks to those 48 hearty, brave pioneers that made the trek from New England to the mouth of the Muskingum River, Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.
"It was an idea whose time had come for the country to spread out," Zimmer said. "They were on their toes, and they saw the possibilities before everyone else. The fact they planned so carefully, they didn't want this to fail."