Having read of the areas of the Northwest Territory that later became the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, I was familiar with many of the events that took place and the names involved, but McCullough’s “The Pioneers” cleared-up the details and gave life to the story.
I’d previously read about the settling of the Northwest Territory – the clashes with Indian tribes, the successes and failures by a young US military, the clearing-out of forests to make for good farming land, and the creation of parcels to serve as remuneration to veterans of the Revolutionary War. But nobody brings it alive like David McCullough, perhaps the greatest historian of our time.
The history describes pacts that went bad between the natives and the settlers due to the trespasses of both sides, the formation of some of the areas earliest schools, like Marietta College and Ohio University, the establishment of Chillicothe as the first Capital of Ohio, the laying of the major highways throughout the territory. and the foundation of major cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus.
In addition to the treatment of native Americans, that of the African Americans is also a part of the story. Abolitionism was strong in the territory and the Underground Railroad was a major operation there, but freedom was not absolute. While many slaves were going north towards freedom, some slaves were heading south after being apprehended and taken back to their owners.
Many colorful characters are presented, like John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapmen, Meriweather Lewis, William Clark, Aaron Burr, Charles Dickens, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but the central ones are the members of the Cutler family, namely Manasseh Cutler, the man who initiated the enterprise.
As usual with anything written by David McCullough, I recommend “The Pioneers”, especially if you’re interested in American history.