Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David McCullough rediscovers an important and dramatic chapter in the American story—the settling of the Northwest Territory by dauntless pioneers who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country.
As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.
McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness, while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.
Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. This is a revelatory and quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.
About the Author
David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. His other acclaimed books include The Johnstown Flood, TheGreat Bridge, Brave Companions, 1776,The Greater Journey, and The Wright Brothers. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Visit DavidMcCullough.com.
“David McCullough has become perhaps our best-loved chronicler of America’s past. . . . The Pioneers is the account not just of one Ohio settlement but of myriad such places across America, where innumerable immigrants (as the settlers were known) came to make a fresh start in a strange land. It is a story as resonant today as ever.” — Gerard Helferich
"McCullough is a master of research along with being a wonderful storyteller. He takes the history of the area and turns what could be dry and dull into vibrant and compelling tales. . . . The region and its occupants come alive in McCullough’s hands. . . . Lovers of history told well know that McCullough is one of the best writers of our past, and his latest will only add to his acclaim." — Jeff Ayers
“Like McCullough's other books, The Pioneers succeeds because of the author's strength as a storyteller. The book reads like a novel, with a cast of fascinating characters that the average reader isn't likely to know about; while history textbooks use broad strokes to paint the picture of the early settlers to the Northwest Territory, McCullough takes a deep dive, and does so with assured, unshowy prose. . . . A worthy addition to McCullough's impressive body of work.” — Michael Schaub