Length: 352 pages
Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 23 minutes
First Published: 2019
David McCullough chronicles the lives of rarely heard of settlers in the Ohio Valley. Among the pioneers willing to brave the newly opened Northwest Territory, Manasseh Cutter and General Rufus Putnam felt lured forth by the promise of freedom of religion, universal free education, and the prohibition of slavery.
After covering such historical figures as Truman, John Adams, and The Wright Brothers, I was less than impressed with the extraordinarily narrow focus of The Pioneers. While it contained some interesting details, the book was basically an in-depth history of Marietta, Ohio, making for a rather dull read, even for an Ohio girl like me.
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.
Quotes from The Pioneers
Count the day lost at which the setting sun sees at its close no worthy action done.
If ignorance could be banished from our land, a real millennium would commence. – Ephraim Cutter
About David McCullough
David McCullough is an American historian, author and narrator. His books Truman and John Adams each won Pulitzer Prizes. His other popular books include 1776, The Johnstown Flood, The Wright Brothers, The Pioneers, and The Great Bridge. He is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.