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Marietta-Washington County

Marietta-Washington county is a place of bold beginnings and new adventures for travelers of all ages. Established in 1788 Marietta is known as the first settlement in the Northwest Territory. This picturesque river town with European ambiance is conveniently located just off Exit 1 on I-77. Named by the Smithsonian Magazine as the #6 best small town to visit in 2014, Marietta is positioned at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. Its brick streets are lined with lush hardwood trees and opulent Victorian homes. Our city is always alive with activity, modern yet delightfully old.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Marietta Earthworks

If you have been in Mound Cemetery or walked around at Camp Tupper Park in Marietta, Ohio, you have seen a major feature of the Marietta Earthworks. They are remnants of the vast Hopewell civilization which flourished from 100 BC to 500 AD in the eastern U.S. These impressive structures were abandoned and sat dormant for centuries. The earthworks were brought back to life at Marietta in the late 1780's - this time as objects of curiosity by settlers from the eastern U.S.

The Earthworks was a system of mounds, embankments, and open paths which occupied a major portion of the original town. Below is a map of the earthworks as drawn in the 1830's. You'll notice a large square, a smaller square, the circular Conus mound, and the graded pathway to the Muskingum River. 

Map of Marietta Earthworks from Moundbuilder.blogspot.com; originally credited to Charles Whittlesey in Squire and Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, but which researcher William F. Romain believes was done by Samuel R. Curtis, an engineer with the State of Ohio at the time, about 1837.

Marietta earthworks were the first in America to be documented
The earthworks were, except for a sketch of earthworks at Circleville in 1772, the first to be documented in America. That they were even noticed is remarkable considering the thick forest that blanketed the entire area.

Joseph Buell, stationed at Fort Harmar, mentions them in his journal, on February 1, 1787:..."this day I took a walk with Serg't Shaumburgh, Strong Orcatt, & Munsell to view the curiosities of the mountains which afforded us great Satisfaction...." The term "curiosities" reflected early reactions at the time to the earthworks - a blend of awe, scientific enigma, and UFO-like mystery. 

Image of Heart's drawing, at Christoper Busta-Peck Flickr website: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cbustapeck/19577659676/in/photolist-vQ1C9u-bXbbhe-dT6Zg7-cx5e8S

The first detailed drawing, circa 1786, (see above) is attributed to Captain Jonathan Heart, also a soldier at Fort Harmar. General Josiah Harmar, the fort's namesake, wrote to General Thomas Mifflin of Philadelphia: "Be pleased to view the inclosed plan of the remains of some ancient works on the Muskingum, taken by a captain of mine (Heart), with his explanations. Various are the conjectures concerning these fortifications. From their regularity I conceive them to be the works of some civilized people. Who they were I know not. Certain it is, the present race of savages (American Indians) are strangers to anything of the kind." 

Heart's drawing and notes generated considerable scholarly interest in the east. General Samuel Parsons had toured the Ohio Valley, and had studied the Grave Creek Mound (at Moundsville, WV) and those at Marietta. In May 1786 Parsons sent his mound data (including Heart's drawing and notes) to Ezra Stiles of Yale University. Stiles forwarded the Marietta earthworks data to Thomas Jefferson and to Benjamin Franklin for their opinions on the their origin. In October of 1786, Parsons sent similar information to President Joseph Willard of Harvard University.

Noah Webster wrote a letter to Stiles supporting a theory, first mentioned by Benjamin Franklin, that the Marietta earthworks were built by Spanish explorer DeSoto during his 1539 expedition. Heart's map appeared in the May, 1787 edition of Columbian Magazine - shown below. To recap: Harvard, Yale, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster and others expressed genuine interest in curious piles of earth in Marietta, Ohio. Pretty impressive.

Image of Columbia Magazine May 1787 issue which lists Captain Jonathan Heart's drawing in the index. It appears as Roman Numeral VII in the list. This image is from Archive.org at

Ohio Company was proactive in research and preservation                

The Ohio Company of Associates were the organizers of the settlement of Marietta. Their leaders surveyed the earthworks, recognized their historical significance, and prudently took action to protect them. Rufus Putnam, Superintendent of the Ohio Company, conducted a detailed survey of the earthworks. Images of his work are below.

Rufus Putnam's drawings of the mounds and earthworks and notes below, from
The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence

References to notes (on right side of the image above) on Rufus Putnam's drawing 

Manasseh Cutler, a member of the Ohio Company and an ordained minister with scientific training, also closely observed the mounds. He estimated their age by counting tree rings on some of the largest trees growing on them. The largest tree was 462 years old. There were other large stumps visible, indicating preceding growth of a similar length of time. From this he estimated that the mounds were at least 1,000 years old. This finding allowed him to refute Noah Webster's DeSoto theory.

The earthworks were considered part of the town. They were given Latin names by the Ohio Company: Quadranaou for the largest mound at Camp Tupper, Capitolium for the one at the Public library location, Conus for the Mound Cemetery mound, and Sacra Via for the parkway leading from Third Street to the Muskingum River.

The groupings of earthworks (refer to the Whittlesey drawing above) also had informal titles. The largest square enclosure was "The Town," the smaller square "The Fort," the cemetery mound was the "Great Mound and Ditch," and Sacra Via was the "Covered Way." 

Preservation efforts - success and failure
The Quadranaou, Capitolium, Conus mounds and Sacra Via parkway were set aside as protected common areas by the Ohio Company: "Resolved, That Colonel Battelle, Colonel Crary, and Major Sergeant be a committee to lease the public squares (to Samuel H. Parsons, Rufus Putnam, and Griffin Green, esqs.), the ones on which the great mound (Conus), the Quadranaou, and Capitolium,....The committee are to point out the mode of improvement for (beautification), and in what manner the ancient works shall be preserved...."

Those earthworks were thus leased to individuals for safekeeping. Sacra Via was under the informal supervision of Rufus Putnam. This system was continued over time, but there were serious lapses. Conus was set aside as a cemetery, but it was not fenced for decades. The mound suffered serious erosion from sheep and people climbing the mound - compounded by water runoff. The mound was eventually repaired and fenced.

In 1820, Quadranaou was being leased to D. Hartshorn who transferred control to Rev. Joseph Willard. Incredibly, Willard started plowing down the mound! Fortunately, there was a public outcry. A legal wrangle ensued, but courts sided with the city's control of the property. Willard was removed and citizens worked to restore the damage. 

The special case of Sacra Via
Sacra Via (Latin for Sacred Way) was the excavated graded pathway from Quadranaou to the Muskingum River. It was to be protected..."never to be disturbed or defaced, as common ground, not to be enclosed." But the large boundary walls were destroyed in a regrettable lapse in governance. A city council member, who was a brickmaker, talked the city council into selling the earthen walls to him for bricks. The bricks were reportedly used in the construction of the Unitarian Church.

The original Sacra Via earthwork was a dominant structure, quite different from the level park of today. Parallel earthen walls bounded the Sacra Via parkway for a  length of 680 feet. The rounded walls were nearly 40 feet wide and 8 ft high. The interior pathway descended uniformly toward the river, and was excavated below the surrounding terrain. The pathway was 8 ft below grade at the upper end but steepened to 18-20 ft near the river. 

The effect was dramatic. Someone standing in the lower pathway would have been looking 20+ ft upward to see the top of sidewalls. Some theorized that the below grade section was for a defensive military feature to allow an undetected avenue of escape to the river. A Charles Sullivan charcoal drawing of the scene (below) conveys some of the visual effect. We know boundary walls were used for bricks, but what happened to the graded excavation? It's barely discernible now.       

From Ohio History Connection Archaeology Blog: "It's that most wonderful time of the year", Dec 13, 2010
Americanantiquarian.org.: Ancient Works, Marietta, Ohio. Based on a painting, this lithograph shows the (Sacra Via) elevated plain with elaborately constructed fortifications. “Ancient Works, Marietta, Ohio,” in Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley(Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1848), pl. 26, p. 73.

The challenge of protecting our heritage
Unfortunately, much of the original Marietta Earthworks network of extensive boundary walls and smaller mounds has been destroyed over time. These were on private property, not in protected areas. 

Fortunately, enough of the major features remain for us to realize their importance, uniqueness, and cultural value. But there will always be preservation challenges - from wear, erosion, and land use changes over time. It is imperative that we remain faithful stewards in protecting them and in pressing for additional research about them.


Ancient Ohio Trails website: ancientohiotrails.org, "Marietta" page views
Barnhart, Terry A., American Antiquities, Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, 2015, pages 96-115, viewed at Google Books-https://books.google.com/
Butterfield, Willshire, Consul, Journal of Capt Jonathan Heartetc., Albany, NY, Joseph Munsell's Sons, 1885, pages x-xiv.                                                                                         Foster, J. W., Prehistoric Races of the United States of America, Chicago, S. J. Griggs and Company, 1874, pages 128-30, 351
Lepper, Bradley T, Ohio Archaeology, Wilmington OH, Orange Frazer Press, 2005, pages 164-68, 241
Lynott, Mark J., Hopewell Ceremonial Landscapes of Ohio, Havertown, PA, Oxbow Books, 2014
Maclean, J. P., "Ancient Works at Marietta," Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Volume XXII, Pages 37-66, viewed at http://www.ohio.edu/people/sandford/Articles/AncientWorksatMarietta.html.                     
The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence, The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Ohio, edited and compiled by Rowena Buell, Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1903.
"Mound Cemetery (Marietta, Ohio)," Wikiwand.com, viewed at http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Mound_Cemetery_(Marietta,_Ohio)
Sandford, Chris, website "Marietta Earthworks" at http://www.ohio.edu/people/sandford
Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County, H. Z. Williams & Bro., 1881, Chapter XXXVI, Pages 439-443 excerpt, viewed at a website created by Chris Sandford http://www.ohio.edu/people/sandford/Articles/MariettaWilliams.html

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Winter Solstice

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I had learned just recently that certain of the Marietta (Ohio) Hopewell earthworks were built to align with sunset on the winter solstice. They formed a 2,000 year old astronomical observatory system. William F. Romain documented this with measurements in his book Mysteries of the Hopewell. The book displays a cover photo - taken by the author on December 21, 1996 - of the winter solstice sunset at Sacra Via in Marietta:

December 21, 2015, the usual date for the winter solstice, was overcast and cold. It was definitely not sunset viewing weather. Luckily for us the winter solstice for 2015 was on December 22, a sunny and clear day. I decided at the last moment to view this event for myself.
My grandson Connor was visiting with us. The two of us drove to Camp Tupper, the park where the Quadranaou mound is located. I was surprised to find a sizable group of people standing atop the flat mound. They were clustered along the axis line on the mound where the setting sun at that moment was, just as advertised, perfectly aligned. I was transfixed. It was awesome, in the true sense of that word. 

Photo by author on December 22, 2015 on Quadranaou mound. The group in the center foreground is roughly lined up on the axis pointing to the setting sun.

Folks were watching, taking pictures, gesturing, and chatting with each other. Many were talking with Wesley Clarke, a local archaeologist, who had presented a program and was now answering questions. He handed out a copy of the Charles Whittlesey map of the Marietta earthworks published in 1837, a portion of which is shown below.

Above:Photo by author of map distributed by archaeologist Wesley Clarke on December 22, 2015. The map is based on an original drawing (see image below) published in 1837 commonly attributed to Charles Whittlesey, but which author Romain believes was done by Samuel R. Curtis, a civil engineer for the State of Ohio at the time.
Below: full version of the drawing, from Squire and Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.

The Marietta Earthworks is a group of mounds, embankments, and open paths which occupied a major portion of the original town. There were two large structure groupings (which appear as squares in the bottom drawing) and the graded pathway (Sacra Via) to the Muskingum River. There were also earthworks at other locations in the Muskingum River valley. They were part of extensive earthworks throughout the eastern U.S. credited to the Hopewell civilization which flourished from 100 BC to 500 AD.

Look at the top drawing above to visualize the sunset alignment. Find the rectangular mound with an extension on each side - marked A. That is the Quadranaou mound in Camp Tupper park. The line connecting the two side ramps pointing towards the river is the axis to the sunset. Find the mound marked B, to the right of A. That is the Capitolium mound where the public library now stands. It too lines up with the sun and so also does the Sacra Via parkway connecting the large square to the river - labeled "Graded Way" in the drawing. 

William F. Romain's solstice sunset calculations are meticulous and fascinating. He compares expected calculations of the sunset direction - based on the latitude and estimated age of the mounds - to the current orientation of the mounds today. The calculation is adjusted for the height of the opposite ridge (Harmar Hill) where the sun "sets" over the hill.

Here is his narrative: "...from Aveni's tables* we find that given a date of A.D. 250, 39 degrees 20 minutes north latitude, lower limb tangency, and a 7.0 degree horizon elevation, the winter solstice sun would have set at an azimuth of 231.3463. Recall that the azimuth of the Quad Mound's minor axis is 231.5. Accordingly, the Quad Mound is aligned to the winter solstice sunset to within two-tenths of one degree (231.5 - 231.3463 = .153 degree." Pretty, close, eh? There are similar computations for the Capitolium Mound and Sacra Via.

*Computerized calculations generated by Dr. Anthony F. Aveni, Colgate University physics and astronomy professor.
John E. Hancock of the University of Cincinnati has studied many Hopewell earthwork structures. He notes that: "Studies of the (Hopewell) earthworks indicate that the builders had a remarkable understanding of mathematics and geometry, a deep knowledge of astronomy, a common unit of measure, and reliable methods of surveying. It also indicates that the Hopewell people did not lay out their earthworks in a haphazard manner. They built them according to a predetermined plan that incorporated the cyclical movements of the sun, moon, and perhaps the planets and stars as well."

The Marietta earthworks are in a select group of structures built by civilizations around the world that marked solstice solar and lunar events. Newark Earthworks in Ohio is one excellent example among Hopewell structures. There are numerous examples from other civilizations, including Stonehenge and the Glastonbury Tor in England, the pyramids of Egypt, the Goseck Circle in Germany, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the four-handed Moai statue on Easter Island, Newgrange in Ireland, the Temple of Karnak in Egypt, and many others. Many of these involved intricate construction to measure or exhibit the event. Learn more by clicking on this website: Ancient Sacred Sites Aligned to the Winter Solstice.

The amazing thing to me is that so many different civilizations noticed the solstice/equinox cycles, considered them important, and created structures to observe them. All of this occurred independently, since many of these cultures presumably did not interact with each other.

Much of Marietta's earthworks network has been destroyed over the years. We are fortunate that some major features have been preserved. They remind us today of our unique heritage, hiding in plain sight and often taken for granted, shared with ancient cultures around the world.

Ancient Ohio Trails website: ancientohiotrails.org, "Marietta" page views
Lepper, Bradley T, Ohio Archaeology, Wilmington OH, Orange Frazer Press, 2005,
Lynott, Mark J., Hopewell Ceremonial Landscapes of Ohio, Havertown, PA, Oxbow Books, 2014
Maclean, J. P., "Ancient Works at Marietta," Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Volume XXII, Pages 37-66, viewed at http://www.ohio.edu/people/sandford/Articles/AncientWorksatMarietta.html
Ohio History Connection Archaeology Blog: "It's that most wonderful time of the year", Dec 13, 2010
Pritchard, Angela and Belsebuub, Path of the Spiritual Sun, on line extract atBelsebuub.com: "Ancient Sacred Sites Aligned to the Winter Solstice," copyright BelsebuubDotCom, 2012
Sandford, Chris, website "Marietta Earthworks" at http://www.ohio.edu/people/sandford
Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County, H. Z. Williams & Bro., 1881, Chapter XXXVI, Pages 439-443 excerpt, viewed at a website created by Chris Sandford http://www.ohio.edu/people/sandford/Articles/MariettaWilliams.html

Monday, January 4, 2016

Early Marietta: Marietta's First Christmas

Today our post comes from Early Marietta's blog be sure to check his page out at this link:  http://earlymarietta.blogspot.com/
The first Christmas in Marietta featured a 2 for 1 deal. No, it was not a "buy one get one" retail promotion. It was two holidays that were celebrated on the same day: Thanksgiving and Christmas were to be celebrated on December 25, 1788. 

A proclamation dated December 17, 1788 was issued by "His Excellency Arthur St. Clair, Esquire, Governor and Commander in Chief," stating that "For as much as it is incumbent on all men to acknowledge with gratitude their infinite obligations to Almighty God for benefits received...do hereby ordain that Thursday the 25th of December be observed as a day of solemn Thanksgiving and Praise..., and I do prohibit all servile labor on that day."

It is unclear why Thanksgiving was not observed at the usual time. The Governors Chart of Laws, published by Rufus Putnam on April 9,1788, included both Thanksgiving and Christmas, among other holidays: "Be it ordained that all members of the colony must celebrate 22d February, 7th April, 4th July,  annually. Also in a proper manner observe the 28th November, 25th December, and 1st day January, annually."

Christmas then was not the mega-event that it has become today. Moreover, the New England settlers in Marietta were probably not used to celebrating Christmas. Their puritan ancestors had actually banned Christmas celebrations in 1659. They believed that Christmas was not biblical, had pagan origins, and in practice was more drunken revelry than pious observance. Christmas had been reinstated but was still only loosely observed by the bah-humbug New Englanders in the late 1700's.

1788 had been an historic yet challenging year. Marietta was a new (and the first!) settlement in the newly established Northwest Territory of the United States, the first such territory outside the original 13 states. The town was being laid out, a few houses were built, a fortified community elegantly named Campus Martius (Latin, meaning "Field of Mars") was started, and Indian treaty negotiations were well underway at nearby Fort Harmar. The surrounding lands were being surveyed, and 30 families had recently moved into town. It was a "crazy busy" place.

Yet there were stresses. Food was short at times since the first harvest was limited. Indians seemed friendly, but the peace seemed tenuous to many. There was discord among leaders and citizens. The weather that winter was severe; the rivers froze. Ice and snow made travel - and survival - a challenge. But, life went on. 

It was an event filled December, 1788 in Marietta. The diary of James Backus - a young Ohio Company shareholder, businessman, and civic official - supplies much of the commentary. Quotes are from his journal unless otherwise noted. 

On December 13 nearly 200 Indians were reportedly present for treaty negotiations; the following day there was a parade and military inspection. On December 15, there was a ball. It was the talk of the town, "All of the conversation of the Settlers centered in the Ball." Backus himself "Went to the Ball....drank good wine & came home groggy." He reported the next day: "Tuesday, 16. Fine morning but felt no better for the Ball." Judge Parsons, in a letter to his friend, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, mentioned the ball in glowing terms - with no mention of a hangover: "We had the first Ball in our Country at which were present fifteen ladies as well accomplished in the manners of polite circles as any I have seen in the old states."

The ball was a pleasant distraction from the rigors of frontier living. However, Governor St. Clair viewed the revelry - and the frequent drunkenness of the Indians - with concern. The Indian negotiations were too sensitive and the threat to public safety too great to risk an alcohol fueled incident - from Indians or settlers. 

St. Clair issued a warrant on December 16 for the confiscation of all "spirituous liquors" until treaty negotiations were finalized. The same James Backus, as a recently commissioned deputy sheriff, was responsible for seizing the liquor. He does not mention this in his diary. He kept detailed records and issued receipts for the later return of the liquor. 

Community activity was henceforth more sedate and, well, sober. Dr Solomon Drown arrived in Marietta on December 19 and reported "more decorum (was) observed than in the British Parliament when I was there."

On Christmas/Thanksgiving morning, locals were jolted alert by a three gun salute from Fort Harmar answered by a three shot cannon blast from Campus Martius. Later there was a church service. Judge Parsons gave a sermon from Psalm 103, verse 2. 

Dr. Drown gave an account of the day to his family in Providence, "It being Christmas, public worship was introduced by reading...in the Church Prayer Book. Gen'l Parsons read a sermon adapted to the occasion. Good singing. I dined at General Goodale's and as this is such a new country, perhaps you will like to know our bill of fare. A boiled dish, Turkey, beef and bacon, cabbage, turnips and potatoes, butter, etc., A roast turkey 17 pounds. A turkey pie, custards, wheat bread, etc." There was no mention about those disruptive spirituous liquors.

Christmas Day at Fort Harmar may have been similar to that reported by soldier Joseph Buell's journal in 1787: "This being Christmas Day, the sergeants celebrated it by a dinner to which was added a plentiful supply of wine." Backus' journal notes that on December 26 there was "another ball." New Years Eve and New Years Day were also occasions for merriment and "musick." 

The new year of 1789 began with events of note. The Indian peace treaty was signed January 9. There was a gathering of Indian chiefs, a dinner, and parade. On that same day, General James Mitchell Varnum passed away quietly of tuberculosis. An elaborate funeral including citizens, leaders, military honors, and masonic rites followed. Later in January, a son was born to the family of Nathaniel Cushing; he was named James Varnum Cushing. The cycle of life moved on in the new settlement and surrounding territory.

Phillips, Josephine E.,  "The Tide of Time, the Old Northwest Territory's First Christmas," The Tallow Light, Vol.1, No. 3, January, 1967.
Journal of James Backus, various entries, as reported in the Josephine Phillips article above.
Backus, William W., Geneological Memoir of the Backus Family, The Press of the Bulletin Co., Norwich CT, 1889, pages 37-42, accesssed at https://archive.org/stream/genealogicalmemo00back#page/38/mode/2up
The Week Staff, The Week, December 20, 2011, accessed at http://theweek.com/articles/479313/when-americans-banned-christmas
Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, an Encyclopedia of the State, Volume II, C. J. Krehbiel, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1907, page 803, viewed at https://books.google.com/

Note: Special thanks to Campus Martius Museum Education Specialist Glenna Hoff for sending your author The Tallow Light article after a casual conversation and to Charlotte Keim for providing The Week article about Christmas.