Book Review: The Pioneers by David McCullough (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough

(Four Stars)

“Besides the opportunity of opening a new and unexplored region for the range of natural history, botany, and medical science, there will be one advantage which no other part of the earth can boast, and which probably will never again occur; that, in order to begin right, there will be . . . no inveterate systems to overturn.” Manasseh Cutler

Excellent history of the opening of the Northwest Territory after the American War of Independence. McCullough focuses on the individuals who formed and were sent out by the Ohio Company to settle in Marietta, Ohio and environs.

“As one widely respected, later-day historian, Albert Bushnell Hart of Harvard University, would write, ‘Never was there a more ingenious, systematic and successful piece of lobbying than that of the Reverend Manasseh Cutler’ and 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.”

Deeply dependent on diaries and letters of the principals. Sufficient ties to the greater flow of American history to keep the reader oriented. Good writing.

“To Ephraim Cutler, more than to any other man, posterity is indebted for shutting and barring the doors against the introduction into Ohio of the monstrous system of African slavery.”

Even though the Northwest Ordinance specifically forbade slavery in the new territory the first session of the Ohio legislature almost overturned that achievement. The proposal was narrowly defeated.

“There is nowhere to be found knaves more designing than at a legislature, where designing scoundrels lurk and with specious words and demure looks they calculate to entrap the unwary and like blood-suckers leech and suck the public.” Ephraim Cutler on the workings of the Ohio legislature. (Some things don’t change.)

Sadly, the native population did not fare so well. Initially pushed to the side, the local peoples were eventually pushed out.

“The native people did not believe land was something to be owned. In the words of a Wyandot named Turk, ‘No one in particular can justly claim this [land]; it belongs in common to us all; no earthly being has an exclusive right to it. The Great Spirit above is the true and only owner of this soil; and He has given us all an equal right to it.’”