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150th anniversary of Northwest Territory settlement was a cause for celebration

By Henry Timman • Aug 10, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Eighty years ago at this time, our section of the United States was agog over the 150th anniversary (known as a sesquicentennial) of the settlement of the Northwest Territory. In case you don’t recall, the Northwest Territory covered the area which now is Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a small part of Minnesota.

After the American Revolution was settled, our new government looked westward for expansion. After the Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, passed the Ordinance of 1787, enterprising groups began planning settlements west of the original 13 colonies for the first time.

The first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory was at Marietta, Ohio, on April 7, 1788. Not only was this the first settlement, but its government was the first organized American government west of the original colonies. The Ordinance of 1787 itself is an extraordinary document, very detailed as to the governance of the area and the criteria for eventually creating individual states. One very important clause of the ordinance is that it forbade slavery and involuntary servitude in the Territory, and that clause was always enforced.

That first settlement at Marietta was made under the auspices of the Ohio Company, which was formed at Ipswich, Mass., late in the year 1787. On Dec. 3 of that year, a group of settlers left for Ohio, coming across the southern route in Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh. There they built boats and finished their trip to the Muskingum River by water on the Ohio River.

In 1937, it was decided to celebrate the sesquicentennial of those great events of 1788. A team of oxen was procured to lead a caravan manned by 36 young men. They left Ipswich on Dec. 3, 1937, and arrived in Marietta on April 7, 1938. Four days later, the caravan left Marietta and wended its way north through Canton and Akron to Ashtabula and Cleveland. After a stop in Oberlin, the ox team reached Norwalk on April 29, 1938.

There was a grand parade, as seen in the accompanying photo, followed by a pageant that evening at the fairgrounds. During that day, the schools had been closed and there were entertainments and special displays along Main Street. The morning had started with a Boy Scout flag-raising ceremony. Mayor Fred Link rode out in an old-fashioned barouche to meet the ox team at the east corporation limits.

From Norwalk, the caravan moved on to Sandusky; south to Chillicothe; north to Toledo; and on west through the other states in the Northwest Territory. It returned to Ohio in October 1938, ending its long pilgrimage at Marietta.

Near the end of October, people began wondering about the fate of the oxen “Tom” and “Jerry.” They had been driven by Marvin Shock, a farmer residing near Lowell. He agreed to drive them if they would become his property when all was said and done. So it was, and the oxen spent the remainder of their natural lives on the Shock farm.

One of the logistical problems before the 1937 expedition started was how to shoe the oxen to protect their feet. The nay-sayers said that steel ox shoes would never last on the paved road, but Shock used less than half the number of shoes he brought along. He did have to bring portable “stocks” along to lift the oxen off the ground in order to accomplish the shoeing tasks.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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