Archive for October 22nd, 2019

When New England pastor, lawyer and doctor Manasseh Cutler, 45, set out in 1787 for Congress in New York, he was making history: urging passage of the Northwest Ordinance, guaranteeing that the new Ohio territory – where his sons later settled – would ban slavery. By 1850, after deprivation, struggle and conflict, frontiersmen in Ohio opened the doors for many more pioneers. Idealism of man is remarkable. Think of Lot, Patriarch Abraham’s nephew who chose the fertile plains. His experienced eye told greenness of the fertile land made his life and his large flocks easier. Unfortunately if Lot settled for this spot so did so many settlers who wanted to strike rich without much sweat. The very social fabric of Sodom and Gomorrah were reworked by these pioneers. It was similar to what happened in Ohio.

And there are several inarguably admirable elements of Manasseh Cutler’s plan.Cutler and his supporters wanted the Ohio Territory, and eventual state, to be non-slaveholding, free within a nation where slavery was still legal. Their goal followed the tendency of the states in the North to repudiate slavery — at least within their own borders. Prohibiting slavery in new states extended that revolutionary logic outward. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 declared, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.” Nor could the eventual states formed out of the Northwest Territory be admitted to the Union as slave states. Thus a moral border on the nation’s map, a firm resolve that the Ohio River separated two different ways of being American would test the direction the young nation would take. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who lived for a time in Cincinnati, shaped testimony about slavery she heard from free blacks in Ohio into “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The semi-frozen river the fugitive slave Eliza crosses to freedom in Stowe’s novel is the Ohio River, a geo-ethical line within an increasingly divided nation.

The Northwest Ordinance also stipulated that schools and education would be embedded into the new settlements. Ohio had a school system supported by public taxes and it had Ohio University, founded in 1804. Freedom of religion was also part of the Northwest plan and became law in Ohio two years before it would be enshrined in the Constitution, even as many of the old American states still had established churches, with financial penalties or civic exclusion of people of other faiths. It made a difference. In 1824 the first Ohio Jewish congregation was formed in 1824 — there wouldn’t be a counterpart in Massachusetts for another decade.

Folks on the famous side include Lewis and Clark (headed west), Aaron Burr (post-duel and mid-conspiracy against the American government), John Chapman (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, sower of fruit trees) and Charles Dickens (visitor to Cincinnati). The less famous characters include Harman and Margaret Blennerhasett, Anglo-Irish newlyweds who lit out for the territory because they were uncle and niece; the Revolutionary War veteran Rufus Putnam, whose frontier library tellingly featured Milton’s “Paradise Lost”; and Cajoe, an enslaved Virginia man who gained his freedom in Ohio, preached the Gospel and lived past his 100th birthday. New Englanders may have flooded into the free Northwest Territory, but they also streamed into slaveholding Georgia. Even as Harvard men were founding Ohio University, Yale men established the University of Georgia. The Connecticut native Eli Whitney developed his famous cotton gin on the Georgia plantation of a fellow New Englander, Nathaniel (also Nathanael) Greene, a Rhode Islander who had settled in the South and acquired slaves. Ohio and Georgia — antislavery and slaveholding, respectively — were both parts of the same nation. The two states were logical American outcomes, dueling creations of people from the same place.

And whatever praise Manasseh Cutler and his supporters might deserve, their designated Eden had an original sin: dispossession of the region’s native inhabitants — paradise lost, indeed. The Northwest Territory “teeming with wolves, bears, wild boars, panthers, rattlesnakes and the even more deadly copperheads,” recalls the Indians living off the land. Like the Persian empire replaced by the Greeks in the Classical Age the Indians did not leave much of recorded history so what we read is from the standpoint of the Occupiers.

Despite the Northwest Ordinance’s declaration that “the utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians,” several indigenous nations refused to recognize the treaties that, under United States law, nullified their land rights. A confederation of the Shawnee, Miami and Lenape (Delaware) — led by their leaders, Waweyapiersenwaw (Blue Jacket), Mishikinaakwa (Little Turtle) and Buckongahelas — resisted the settlers’ advance. After several attacks, American officials dispatched troops, who built a new fort. Their effort resulted in a battle at the Wabash River (Nov. 4, 1791), which came to be known as St. Clair’s Defeat, a rout worse than any suffered in the American Revolution: 623 men and officers lost, plus an estimated 200 civilians. (Indian fatalities were estimated at 21.) But the United States won a significant victory three years later at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where Gen. Anthony Wayne defeated Blue Jacket’s forces on Aug. 20. The Treaty of Greenville (1795) drew yet another line, one that demanded Indians remove themselves north and west of the Ohio Territory.

(ack:Review of David McCullough-The Pioneers/ John S Gardner July 4 2019/The Guardian 2. NYT Joyce E Joplin/May 13, 2019







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