Rufus Putnam was born April 9, 1738 in Sutton, Massachusetts.
His father died when Rufus was 6 or 7, and he was sent to live with his paternal grandfather in Danvers, Massachusetts.
After his mother married John Sadler, he was brought back to live with his mother in Sutton, where his stepfather’s family ran an inn.
During the French and Indian War, Rufus served with a Connecticut regiment and saw action in the Great Lakes region near Lake Champlain.
In 1760, he relocated to New Braintree, Massachusetts where he worked as a millwright.
He met and married Elizabeth Ayers in April of 1761. She died in 1762, possibly during childbirth.
On January 10, 1765, Rufus married again, this time to Persis Rice.
He quit working as a millwright in 1769 to become a farmer and surveyor.
Then in 1773, along with his cousin Israel Putnam and two other friends, Rufus traveled to survey lands along the Mississippi River, which the British Crown had promised to grant to veterans of the French and Indian War in lieu of payment for their service.
April 19, 1775, the day after the battle of Lexington, Rufus enlisted in one of Massachusetts first revolutionary regiments.
With his knowledge and skill as a millwright, Rufus constructed fortifications that helped obtain victory over the British Army at Roxbury, Sewall’s Point, Providence, New Port, Dorchester Heights, Long Island and even West Point.
Rufus’s skills caught the eye of General George Washington, and he was appointed to be the Chief of Engineers of the Works of New York where he was promoted to the rank of colonel.
In 1776, Rufus proposed to the Continental Congress a plan to establish a national corps of engineers. When his plan was rejected, Rufus Putnam resigned his position and moved to the Northern Army to serve under Major General Horatio Gates.
Rufus commanded two regiments in the battle of Saratoga before serving under Major General Anthony Wayne as commander of the 4th Regiment of the Corps of Light Infantry.
After the war was over, he returned to Rutland, Massachusetts.
In 1780, Rufus bought a farm confiscated from a Loyalist and returned to working as a surveyor.
Then in January of 1783, Rufus Putnam as commissioned as a brigadier general.
The newly formed United States had little cash but plenty of natural resources.
Rufus became a strong advocate of granting lands in the Northwest Territory to veterans of the Revolution.
He was one of the authors of the army’s Newbergh Petition, which was submitted to Congress requesting land disbursements.
Ohio Company of Associates
Then in Boston on March 1, 1786, Rufus Putnam along with Benjamin Tupper, Samuel Holden Parsons, and Manasseh Cutler formed the Ohio Company of Associates to settle the territory around the Ohio River which had been ceded to the United States by Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
After Congress passed the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which officially created the Northwest Territory, General Arthur St. Clair was appointed governor of the territory.
St. Clair then signed a new contract with the Ohio Company of Associates on October 27, 1787.
The contract was for the Ohio Company to purchase 1,500,000 acres of land at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers in return for $1 million in government securities.
The Ohio Company made its first installment of $500,000, but was unable to raise the second $500,000 and ended up settling for a purchase of 750,000 acres plus two townships for College Lands and reserved School Lands and Ministerial Lands sections in each township, for a total area of 913,833 acres.
The “First forty-eight”
In early spring of 1788, General Rufus Putnam set out with 48 pioneers to settle the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. This group of 48 men were carefully chosen and vetted by the Ohio Company of Associates to ensure not only that they were all men of high character and bravery, but also men with proven skills necessary to build a new settlement in the wilderness.
On April 7, 1788, Rufus Putnam and his 48 men of the Ohio Company of Associates arrived at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers.
On the east side of the Muskingum River, they founded the first permanent American settlement of the new United States in the Northwest Territory officially opening westward expansion of the new nation.
They named this settlement “Marietta” Ohio in honor of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who had aided the colonies in their battle for independence from Great Britain.
This territory had been historically occupied by Native American tribes. As the natives had not ceded any land, they came into conflict with the arriving pioneers. They even organized a coalition of tribes to try to expel the Americans from their territory.
General Putnam served in the resulting Ohio campaign against these Native American tribes and ultimately defeated them.
Rufus Putnam was then appointed to serve as one of three judges of this Northwest Territory and in 1796 was appointed by President George Washington as the first Surveyor General of the United States.
Then in 1802, as Ohio residents organized to write a constitution and be admitted as a state, Rufus Putnam was elected a Washington county delegate to the Ohio Constitutional Convention.
In 1804, Rufus was appointed a Trustee of Ohio University.
Rufus Putnam died on May 4, 1824. He was buried at Mound Cemetery in Marietta, Ohio.
Now WE know em