The pioneers : the heroic story of the settlers who brought the American ideal west

by David G. McCullough

Laserdisc, 2019




New York : Simon & Schuster, 2019.


History. Nonfiction. HTML:#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Pulitzer Prize�??winning historian David McCullough rediscovers an important and dramatic chapter in the American story�??the settling of the Northwest Territory by dauntless pioneers who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country. As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River. McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler's son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness, while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough's subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them. Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. This is a revelatory and quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough's signature narrative e… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Jthierer
I was really excited to read this book. I've read others by McCullough in the past and really enjoyed his ability to make history come alive with illustrative details and a sense of narrative flow that many traditional historians seem to lack. Unfortunately, this one was a bit of a disappointment.
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One of the things that is most important in dealing with our history is avoiding the temptation to mythologize the heroes of our past and grapple with the fact that they were humans, with flaws just like us. In his telling of the settling of the Ohio River valley, McCullough largely fails to do this. The men he describes (and it is almost exclusively men we spend time with) are almost uniformly good men who don't drink to much, lose their temper or make any long lasting mistakes. Instead of feeling like I better understand the people who pushed American frontiers forward, I felt I was getting a surface hagiography without any of the complexities and contradictions that make history fascinating and instructive.
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LibraryThing member Jared_Runck
I originally hail from Nebraska, specifically from the south-central region of the state, never more than 30 minutes from the Platte River where nearly all the great trails of the westward pioneers (e.g., the Mormon Trail and the Oregon Trail) converged, following a route very similar to Interstate
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80. You could throw a rock in any direction from where I lived and hit some piece of pioneer history, some of it fascinating, some of it less so.

Living in a place so saturated with the history of America’s westward expansion, it’s easy to forget that this was actually America’s SECOND westward expansion. There was a time in American history when “the West” did not begin on the western edge of the mighty Mississippi but at the ragged edge of eastern Appalachia. It is the story of the settlement of this first “American West” that McCullough has elected to tell.

As with all great national stories, the major movements can be successfully summarized in the lives of key figures; in a sense, the sweep of history is best seen through the focused lens of biography, which might explain why McCullough excels as a historian…because he has an inimitable gift for writing about people. The major players in this narrative are two generations of the Cutler family, Manasseh Cutler and his son, Ephraim.

Manasseh Cutler, almost alone, persuaded Congress to pass the Northwest Ordinance which, as McCullough is quick to point out, is a document OLDER than the Constitution (1787) and serves as one of the earliest embodiments of America’s national ideals, expressed in two key provisions:

1) That slavery would be prohibited
2) That land would be set aside to fund public education

McCullough concludes: “The great Northwest Ordinance of 1787 stands alongside the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence as a bold assertion of the rights of the individual.”

His son, Ephraim, almost 50 years later (1825), carried forward his father’s vision, successfully leading a crusade in the Ohio state legislature to pass a tax to fund statewide public education. In addition, he played a key role in the founding of Ohio University (where Cutler Hall is still the campus centerpiece) and Marietta College.

As many others would undoubtedly agree, McCullough may be the finest historian of this generation; he is most certainly one of the most popular and most widely-read and holds, I’ve discovered, the rare accolade of having all his published works still in print. Given that his first book on the Johnstown flood was published in 1968 (50+ years ago), that is no small accomplishment.

Perhaps if I were a professional historian, I would have more to offer by way of meaningful critique. However, history is, for me, hobby reading and I am, I must confess, more dilettante than connoisseur. Reading for pleasure brings with it a different set of expectations that McCullough is somehow able to perfectly fulfill. I am always surprised at how quickly I can read his books. His prose is effortless and spell-binding. It’s history that reads better than any novel. The more of McCullough’s work that I read, the more that I WANT to read his work. And, at the end of the day, that may be the highest praise that one could give to ANY author.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
I enjoy McCullough's readable United States histories. This volume, focusing on settlement of the Northwest Territory and specifically of Marietta, Ohio, was no exception. McCullough knows how to tell the story in an engaging manner, incorporating discoveries from his research. The book focused
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primarily on more prominent settlers of Marietta and its surrounding areas although we learn bits and pieces about the settlement of the rest of the state, especially the Cincinnati area, and receive some basic statistics on the settlement of Indiana and Illinois. I found it interesting as some ancestral families lived in this area during the book's time period. I was a little disappointed readers didn't hear the voices of some of the more common citizens more often. I detest blind endnotes, and unfortunately the book incorporated those. I want to know of a footnote's presence without having to keep my finger in the back and following word by word to try to figure out where a footnote exists. I know this was a publisher's decision rather than the author's. I call this "publisher fail," and I would like to throw egg on the face of the blind footnote inventor.
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LibraryThing member markm2315
The history, mostly, of the founding and settlement of Marietta, Ohio. The story is told through the writings of five of its settlers. Things may drag a little if after hearing of the number of brick houses in Marietta, the regularity of its streets, or the legendary moral superiority of its
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founders, one becomes concerned that the author might have been trying to sell property there. The most interesting parts of the book are about other mentioned asides, e.g. Aaron Burr's attempt to become the emperor of the West or Marietta's role in the underground railroad.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Closely following the end of the American Revolutionary War, a group of hardy and well-educated veterans set out to settle the Northwest Territory ceded to the US at the end of the war. In The Pioneers, David McCullough retells their story from the signing of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 to the
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start of the Gold Rush, focusing on a few families and their Puritan desire for abolition, free education, and religious freedom. As usual, McCullough packs in a lot of historical details through primary sources, but still manages to tell a pretty good story. The Pioneers is an excellent resource for readers looking to understand the beginnings of Western expansion and the politics and lives of Americans during this period.
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LibraryThing member nate48281
The book is well written and not dry at all. The story is told through the eyes of a handful of various men, so the shifting of narratives and sometimes unnecessary details may jolt a few readers, but McCullough feels so excited to share all the nuggets of his research that it didn't take me out
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the book at all.

The style of his writing in this one felt akin to the Ken Burns film documentary, The War, which also got some criticism for taking this alternate style of approach for historical storytelling.

How you feel about the content is relative to you; I personally didn't know about the anti-slavery clause in the Northwest Ordinance, which, since it was written before the Constitution, throws a wrench into the debate about the framers intent on slavery (and what the omission of that word means).

If you've read a book about a certain battle or group or anything around this place you will feel that it is inadequately covered because that's your area of specialty, and how dare an author not dedicate a tome to the very thing you know so well. This unoriginal critique can be given to every history book (certainly a 260 page one), so if you're one of those guys, prepare yourself (or just read more books).
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LibraryThing member maryzee
Bit rambling, hard to follow sometimes
LibraryThing member santhony
I’ve read virtually all of David McCollough’s books and have enjoyed them immensely. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this work up to the level of the others. I’m not sure if it was the subject matter or the style in which it was written, but if his name were not on it, I would not have
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believed that he wrote it.

The book chronicles the formation and establishment of the Northwest Territory (the northwest at the time encompassing the Ohio and Michigan territories) in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. I recently read a biography of Daniel Boone, so I was somewhat familiar with settlement of the region immediately to the south, across the Ohio River. The settlers faced many of the same threats and challenges, so it was not entirely new ground.

There were certainly some interesting passages, and it was not “bad” by any stretch, but I had come to expect excellence in the work of Mr. McCollugh, and sadly did not find it here.
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LibraryThing member Renzomalo
David McCullough’s “The Pioneers” illuminates just how important Ohio was in the westward expansion and, in particular, the passing of Northwest Ordinance which first prohibited slavery in the new territory and established the premise for public schooling. Ohio University (1804) and Marietta
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College (1832) stand as testaments. As always, McCullough delivers a fluid, you-were-there narrative, rich in detail and devoid of the “faculty lounge” bloviating usually associated with such texts. Why, I ask, didn’t I have history professors like McCullough in college? Barring one – a Julius Weinberg by name – my “professors” universally demonstrated an uncanny ability to bludgeon their students into an undulating mass of somnambulating, date spewing automatons. Seriously, the joke (and truth) was that you read your history assignments standing up so that after you fell asleep and dropped to the floor, you would wake up and start again.
“The Pioneers” also illuminates just how tough, resourceful and interconnected our early settlers were. It is also honest about the frequently harsh treatment of the Native Americans and their frequently barbaric treatment of innocent settlers, with notable exceptions on both sides. McCullough characteristically deals with these incidents as historical fact and leaves any bias to the reader. A breath of fresh air in these troubled times.
A pleasure to read and one that has inspired this Ohio native to motor down to Marietta, a river town settled and named by French ex-pats in honor of Marie Antoinette. Who knew? Four stars for this collection-worthy journey through a seminal period in our Nation’s founding and Ohio’s role in it.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
This book should have been titled "The Pioneers who came to Marietta, Ohio." Interesting to see the intersection of such luminaries as Lafayette, Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe and J.Q Adams.
LibraryThing member readyreader
I love nonfiction. This is a wonderful account of the settling of the Northwest in the early 1800's; aka Ohio.
LibraryThing member labdaddy4
All of the historical works by Manchester are easily read, engaging, and informative. The reader can plainly see the courage, determination, and strength displayed by the early pioneers in their efforts to settle what was then the "western wilderness" of Ohio. This is not my favorite of
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Manchester's books but interesting and informative all the same. I recommend "The Pioneers" to anyone wanting to do a thorough dive into this slice of Americana.
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LibraryThing member MrDickie
Wonderful David McCullough book about the opening and settling of the Northwest Territory. The book's focus is on the people who came from Massachusetts to settle the town of Marietta, Washington Co., OH at the confluence of the Muskingum and the Ohio Rivers.The story details the long fight to
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prevent the introduction of slavery into the Northwest Territory. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member John_Warner
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which predated the U.S. Constitution, opened the area of the country above the Ohio River to settlement and later became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Incorporated within the document were three conditions: freedom of religion, free
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public education, and prohibition of slavery. After the Revolutionary War, America was in a financial crisis. The script promised the veterans was almost worthless. Offering land in the Northwest Territory was a better substitute.

David McCullough provides a very readable history of the pioneer spirit as they built communities within the then Ohio wilderness. The story is told through the lives of five individuals: clergyman and politician Manasseh Cutler, who shepherded the Northwest Ordinance through Congress; General Rufus Putnam, Ohio Company organizer; Manasseh’s son, Ephraim, sales agent for the Ohio Company; Joseph Barker, carpenter, architect, and shipbuilder; and Samuel Hildreth, physician and scientist.

This book of American history covers a period between 1787-1863 from the perspective of the aforementioned individuals from their Ohio residences. Much of the material were taken from personal journals. (One must wonder what primary sources future historians will use to detail our time’s history since much of our correspondence is limited to 128 bits.) Sources are well documented but conveniently sequestered and organized at the end of the book, which promotes smooth reading. I have avoided reading this historian fearing that it would be dry and tedious reading. I was wrong and look forward to reading another of his histories.
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LibraryThing member jmcilree
The book focuses on founding of Ohio, its first settlement Marietta, and the Cutler and Putnam families.

It's a fascinating topic and McCullough is a solid writer and historian. I felt this book lacked the focus I expected and was searching for a theme to hold the work together.
LibraryThing member Carmenere
Though narrow in scope, I found this story quite enlightening. As a life long resident of Ohio who even took the mandatory Ohio History class in eighth grade, I don't recall ever reading such detailed information about the birth of the Northwest Territory, the people involved in it and the people
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it impacted.
In true McCullough fashion he delivers a history lesson which reveals the struggle and hardships shared by all, the human desire to discover the unknown and to tame its harsh realities.
This book is not merely about power and destruction. There were a few ah ha moments for this Ohioan. So, that's why the Columbus hockey team is named the Bluejackets, So that's how Marietta got its name. Interesting stuff but I'm not quite sure how popular this book would be outside the buckeye state but I hope it draws attention if not for the subject then for McCullough's well written story.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
McCullough tells the story of the settling of the Northwest Territory - Ohio, Indiana, etc - after the revolutionary war and the war of 1812.
LibraryThing member FormerEnglishTeacher
Another gem by David McCullough. This is the story of the settling of the Northwest Territory, the wilderness northwest of the Ohio River beginning in 1788. A Massachusetts minister, Manasseh Cutler led the first group of Revolutionary War veterans on the 700 mile journey from New England to what
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became Ohio. The book is written from a treasure trove of sources including diaries, articles, and letters, most of which are housed at Marietta College, where McCullough camped out for weeks working on the research. The story focuses on five individuals: Cutler, his son Ephraim, General Rufus Putnam, and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect and the other a doctor who became a prominent pioneer scientist. The book is written as all of McCullough’s books are written by teaching history through the stories of real people who lived during trying and challenging times.
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LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Author David McCullough stands securely as one of our nation’s great historians. His prior well-received works have focused upon American military and political history. This exposition tells how the American ideal settled into what was then known as the Northwest Territory. McCullough does so by
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sharing the work of five sizable figures in early Ohio history.

The five played varied roles in life: A pastor/educator, a military man, the farmer-son of the pastor/educator, an architect, and a physician/scientist. McCullough treats them as heroes in contrast with his critique of Vice-President-turned-rebel Aaron Burr’s role in Ohio state history. He captures interesting history about a state which comes to the fore every four years in electoral politics. He also demonstrates Ohio’s dedication to education epitomized in Manasseh Cutler’s Puritan ethic and its pride in a stand against slavery in its state constitution.

Those looking for a critical and analytical history will probably be disappointed as McCullough essentially tells “hero” stories about white males and as settlers’ xenophobia manifested in wars with the Native Americans. This book is told by an American who is proud of his country’s history even when it seems morally questionable. His sensitivity falls a bit short concerning the paranoia the pioneers showed towards Native American attacks. While the narrative about Ohio’s stand against slavery is admirable, the narrative about constant butchering from one side or the other between the settlers and the natives is simply tragic. In this work, McCullough could have shown more compassion towards those being invaded and moral honesty about white oppression.

Despite these shortcomings, this well-told tale should be treasured by many for years to come. The world rarely presents itself in morally clear categories. Such is the case here. The American move west required ingenuity, steadfast labor, and hardiness. This was shown by both the men and the women who for sharing these values. This work captures that ethic in relatively clairvoyant form. Such is our common national history, and those interested in understanding what it means to be an “American” (or even an “Ohioan”) should spend some time reading McCullough’s entertaining exposition.
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LibraryThing member Alphawoman
I am familiar with many of the towns/settlements in this history that I was never out off. Lots of history crammed into 260 pages. From good old George Washington to the Civil War. From Benjamin Franklin to Mad Anthony Wayne ( good old ft. Wayne!!). The Indians had a good 50 pages or so then mad
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Anthony pushed them off the story and we moved on to steamboats and Ohio statehood.

I enjoyed it. The only disappointment that made this pedestrian may be too many excerpts from letters.

Never boring. I Learned quite a bit about about the movers and shakers who were the pioneers of Ohio. Gateway to the west.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
I was delighted to see the maestro of American history had turned his genius toward places where I've lived and studied. The Pioneers focuses on the early visionaries (and speculators) who campaigned to form the inroads that led to the forming of Ohio, the Northwest Territory and ultimately the
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entire westward expansion. In the course of covering a hundred years from the end of the Revolution to the turn of the 20th century, McCullough explains the Burr-Blennerhassett conspiracy, the founding of Ohio University, the rise of steamboats, and the end of native peoples. Marietta, Ohio is at the center of it all. McCullough portrays the personal charm and political perseverance of its residents, the Cutlers, Putnams, and Hildreths who were all so central to this time and place in America's history.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Popular historian McCullough’s latest book examines the lives and times of the New England pioneers who formed the Ohio Company of Associates and settled in Marietta, Ohio, at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. This book had its origins in McCullough’s 2004 commencement address at
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Ohio University. His research into the history of the university led him to Manasseh Cutler and the Ohio Company. It didn’t hurt that McCullough was already very familiar with John Adams and his family, who make appearances in this book. The bibliography provides evidence of both wide and thorough research. The execution feels a little awkward, though, especially the rather abrupt ending. Since it’s a group biography of people of different generations, the last to die were living in a different era at the end of their lives.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
When Britain recognized the United State as an independent country, it gave up its rights to the territory north of the Ohio River--what would later become Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Mannaseh Cutler, a Massachusetts minister, and Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War general,
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gathered together a number of veterans and set out to establish the first settlement in what was known as the Northwest Territory: Marietta, Ohio. It wasn't an easy passage, nor was the settlement easy. McCullough details a series of brutal raids by Native Americans and equally brutal retaliations by the settlers. In addition, they faced a lack of roads and bridges, dwindling supplies, wild animals, floods, illness, and more, yet they persisted. At the heart of their new American ideal were three tenets: freedom of religion, free schooling for all, and freedom from slavery. And there were struggles among themselves to achieve these goals as not all of the settlers agreed upon them.

As usual, McCullough creates a readable story by focusing on a few key persons and their families: Manasseh Cutler, his son Ephraim, General Cutler, an architect who helped to build the great cities of the territory, and a doctor who became a scientific ground breaker. Several better known figures in American history make appearances, including Washingon, Jefferson, Burr, and John Quincy Adams. McCullough bases his work on a recently discovered collection of diaries and letters, as well as legal and government documents. The tale gets somewhat repetitive at times, yet the reader never loses sight of the perseverance, ingenuity, faith, and sacrifices of these pioneers.
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
Read this in 2019 -- two years before this book was added to the DAR Book club reading list for 2021-22. I had found this an engrossing book about America's beginnings of its westward expansion -- it focuses on the settlement of one area of Ohio in the early days of our nation, and also covers
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several remarkable people behind it all. McCullough also did a great job evoking the dangers (wild animals, etc) of going into this unknown territory.
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LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
For me, David McCullough is an acquired taste. His accounts of American history and its players don't immediately do justice to this book's subtitle, "The Heroic Story of Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West." I think it's the use, or misuse, of the word "heroic." These figures aren't
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Lincolns or Washingtons. They're more like John Adams but much, much less well known. They're heroic, yes, but not larger-than-life legends.
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Ohioana Book Award (Finalist — 2020)




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