The Rufus Putnam letters are made up of 13 drafts of letters written by Putnam, primarily concerning the Greenville Treaty boundary line. Putnam was surveyor-general of the United States from 1796 to 1803, and these letters provide insight into his duties related to the partitioning of the Northwest Territory.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
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The collection is open for research.
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Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
The collection has been microfilmed.
Rufus Putnam Letters, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
The collection is arranged chronologically.
Rufus Putnam was born on April 9, 1738, in Sutton, Massachusetts, the son of Elisha Putnam and Susanna Fuller. After the death of his father, Putnam lived with relatives until he started his apprenticeship as a millwright in 1754. He served in the French and Indian War, received a promotion to sergeant in 1759, and taught himself the basics of military engineering. Putnam became a millwright in 1761. In the 1760s and 1770s, Putnam taught himself land surveying while he worked as a miller and farmer in Massachusetts. He oversaw the construction of defensive works around Boston from 1775 to 1776, and around New York in late 1776 (including West Point). He earned the rank of colonel in the Continental Army in 1776 and became brigadier general by January 1784.
Congress appointed Putnam a surveyor of the lands northwest of the Ohio River because of his extensive military career and his skill as a land surveyor. In March 1786, Rufus Putnam and Benjamin Tupper created the Ohio Company of Associates, with the purpose of organizing a group of like-minded individuals interested in settling land west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Ohio Company bought 1.5 million acres of land from Congress. Putnam led a group of Ohio Company men to the Muskingum River in 1788, and oversaw the construction of the town of Marietta, including a fort and a plan for a city of fifteen thousand occupants. Putnam's role in the Ohio Company and the settling of Marietta helped him gain recognition in both the territorial and national governments. In 1790, President George Washington appointed him a territorial judge and, on October 1, 1796, surveyor-general of the United States. As surveyor-general, Putnam oversaw the establishment of the Indian-United States boundary line described by the Treaty of Greenville. After Thomas Jefferson became surveyor-general in 1803, Putnam remained in Marietta, and helped found Ohio University in Athens (1804). He died in Marietta in 1824.
Rufus Putnam married his first wife, Elizabeth Ayres of Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1761, but she died later the same year. Rufus Putnam married Persis Rice (d. 1820) of Westborough, Massachusetts, in 1765, and they had nine children.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Rufus Putnam letters (1797-1799) are made up of 13 drafts of letters written by Putnam, primarily concerning the Greenville Treaty boundary line. Putnam was surveyor-general of the United States from 1796 to 1803, and the letters provide insight into his duties related to the partitioning of the Northwest Territory. Putnam wrote twelve of these letters to Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, informing him of progress in drawing the treaty line, and of various other activities.
The earliest letters in the collection pertain to contracts for ax men and deputy surveyors needed in order to complete the "Greenville Treaty Line" survey in a timely fashion, as well as keeping Wolcott informed of Putnam's surveying plans. In a letter dated May 10, 1797, Putnam humorously reported that he had to acquire a new certification of his appointment as surveyor-general because the Senate revised his original commission, which meant he had to swear into office again. As surveyor-general, Putnam wished to avoid difficulties when working with Native Americans; on January 25, 1797, he wrote, "It will be proper to have the boundary lines between these lands & the present Indian claims ascertained as soon as may be to prevent all danger of our encroaching on the Indian Lands." To aid in the distinction between U.S. territory and Indian lands, Putnam believed that the construction of a "great road" was the best way to give the Indians "satisfaction & leave the white people without excuse with respect to their knowledge of the boundary line" (March 15, 1799).
The Rufus Putnam letters offer a glimpse into different native tribes' responses to the drawing of the Greenville Treaty line. A letter dated August 15, 1799, respects military officer Israel Ludlow's invitation to Indian chiefs to appear at the surveying of the line. However, after waiting for two weeks, no chiefs presented themselves to Ludlow. In a subsequent letter, Putnam described an encounter between Ludlow's men and "a party of Indians at Greenville; the Indians told them that they must go no farther [on] that course, that they would all be killed if they continued on." (10 September 1799) These situations left no doubt in Putnam's mind "that it was the intention of the Indians to prevent runing [sic] the boundary line, if it was in their power to effect a delay without employing actual force." (September 10, 1799) Ludlow completed the survey without any Indian representatives present.
The collection includes a copy of a letter from Shawnee chiefs to Ludlow, expressing their displeasure at Ludlow's apparent condoning of Chickasaw raids against the Shawnee (July 16, 1799). The Shawnee chiefs explained their dissatisfaction: "Brother you help the Chickasaws, you gave them provisions & they come here secretly to kill us and our families, we see them every morning but the woods is so thick we cannot catch them… When you send word that the Chickasaws are gon we will come to you to make the road, but if the Chickasaws kill one Shawonnoe we will follow them through your Town until we kill the most of them."
Chickasaw Indians--History--18th century.
Greenville, Treaty of, 1795.
Indians of North America--Ohio.
Ludlow, Israel, 1765-1804.
Shawnee Indians--History--18th century.
Wilkinson, James, 1757-1825.
Wolcott, Oliver, 1760-1833.
Ludlow, Israel, 1765-1804.
Container / Location
Box 49, Small Collections
Rufus Putnam letters, 1797-1799 [series]
1797 January 25. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [Oliver Wolcott]; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Makes suggestions and asks questions about the survey for the Greenville Treaty line.
1797 April 20. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [James] Wilkinson; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Informs Wilkinson about plans to begin surveying for the boundary line.
1797 May 6. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [Oliver] Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Discusses Wilkinson's invitations to native tribes, to meet at Greenville.
1797 May 10. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [Oliver] Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Plans for running the treaty line.
1797 June 1. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to Oliver Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Plans to survey Moravian lands.
1797 July 22. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to Oliver Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Updates Wolcott on movements in the field.
1797 July 29. [Rufus] Putnam ADfS to Oliver Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Forwards copies of contracts for deputy surveyors [contracts not present].
1797 September 2. [Rufus] Putnam ADfS to [Oliver] Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Informs Wolcott that Ludlow has completed a section of the treaty line, but has made an error in favor of the Native Americans in his attempt to avoid angering them.
1798 June 8. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to Oliver Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Forwards six copies of contracts for deputy surveyors [contracts not present].
1799 March 15. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [Oliver] Wolcott; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Discusses Native Americans' desire to have a vestige along the treaty line to differentiate their land from the U.S. land.
1799 May 9. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [Oliver] Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Regards the timing and cutting of the treaty line from Loramie to Fort Recovery and beyond.
1799 August 15. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to [Oliver Wolcott]; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Copies letters from Putnam and the chiefs of the Shawnee.
1799 September 10. [Rufus Putnam] ADf to Oliver Wolcott; Marietta, [Northwest Territory].
Informs Wolcott that Ludlow has completed the survey of the entire treaty line, and that no Native Americans were present at the completion.