The Ohio Company of Associates

The history of the Northwest Ordinance and the history of the Ohio Company [1] are intertwined. The Ohio Company helped to define the Northwest Ordinance, and the Northwest Ordinance was in turn key to the success of the Ohio Company. Much has been written about the Ohio Company, some characterizing its members as shrewd land speculators and some characterizing them as patriotic visionaries.  Perhaps, in a uniquely American way, they were both.

The basic idea was that the Ohio Company would sell shares to raise funds that would then be used to purchase a large tract of land in the frontier area north of the Ohio River. The appeal of this idea was that it offered to provide (a)  a source of funds for the newly formed nation, (b) an opportunity for veterans of the Revolutionary War to get some value from the greatly depreciated script in which they had been paid, (c) a scheme for orderly settlement of a frontier area, and (d) an opportunity for financial gain by the initial investors.

That the Ohio Company ended up having some elements of greedy land speculation was, I think, a disappointment to its leaders. After reading some of the papers of Rufus Putnam and other accounts of the Ohio Company, it seems clear to me that the primary goal of its founders was not land speculation. As the historian Archer Butler Hulbert noted in 1917:

“If the expansion of the United States had been advanced only by the agency of speculations which were profitable to the stockholders, centuries would have been needed to reach the present stage.” [2]

In later posts, I hope to examine how the Ohio Company and the Northwest Ordinance shaped the future, not only of Ohio, but also of the United States through its support for human dignity, civil liberties, education and community empowerment.


[1] For simplicity, the Ohio Company of Associates is often referred to as the Ohio Company. I follow that practice, but note here that there was an earlier company formed in 1748, formally known as the Ohio Company of Virginia, which is also sometimes referred to as the Ohio Company.

[2] Ohio Company (1786-1795). The Records of the Original Proceedings of the Ohio Company. Marietta, Ohio: Marietta Historical Commission, 1917. Introduction byArcher Butler Hulbert, editor.  Access via Google Books.

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