Author David McCullough hails from my hometown of Pittsburgh so I feel a connection to him. Okay, not really, but I’ve enjoyed many of his books. If you love historic settings and details, you have to have read some of his books. The Pioneers is subtitled “The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West.” In this case “West” is Ohio. The book heralds the settlement of communities in and around what is now Marietta, Ohio. Being from Pittsburgh, I truly enjoyed the references to the Ohio River and Pittsburgh itself.
“Pittsburgh at the time, a crude frontier settlement of no more than 150 log cabins and houses, was described as “an irregular poor built place” alongside old Fort Pitt inhabited by “a lazy set of beings” and where “money affairs” were at a low ebb. Its chief export was whiskey. But with its key location at the headwaters of the Ohio, Pittsburgh was the Gateway to the West and almost certain to have great promise.”
It’s hard for me to imagine the Ohio River “drying up” or being impassable due to low water as it was turned into a series of pools to aid navigation many decades ago. One exerpt that follows highlights passage through a “railroad” which was how barges were lifted over the mountains in Pennsylvania. I visited the remnants of one (Portage National Historic Site) this year after an aunt’s funeral. It was an amazing feat of power and engineering.
“To cross the Allegheny Mountains, they traveled by a contrivance that hauled the canal boat up and over the mountains, something such as they never had experienced and that fascinated Hildreth. Here we were drawn up an inclined plane by a stationary engine and a huge cable of hemp. This operation of drawing up is repeated five times by as many engines before reaching the summit. . . . The mountain scenery at this season of the year is fine. The chestnut is in full bloom and very abundant.”
The chestnut are almost all long gone. The settlement of the territory was a microcosm of the country at the time. Early settlers suffered at the hands of the Indians, and often returned the brutality. Slavery was an issue and early leaders successfully banned the practice.