Online: Object of the Month
Rufus Putnam's Manuscript Map of Worcester
Images from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Rufus Putnam (1738-1824), a farmer, surveyor, and soldier, made this "New Plan of Several Towns in the County of Worcester," in 1785 when he lived in Rutland, Massachusetts. This is a remarkable overview map of many (but not all) towns within Worcester County, Massachusetts.
Mapping Early Massachusetts
Rufus Putnam’s 1785 manuscript map of Worcester County represents one of the early attempts to create accurate maps of Massachusetts. In 1794, Massachusetts passed a law requiring towns to create measured surveys, but it was not until 1801--sixteen years after Putnam drew his map--that a published map based on those surveys became available. (See the online display of the second edition of the published map, A Map of Massachusetts Proper.) Putnam’s manuscript map shows town lines, roads, ponds, rivers, meeting houses, mills, meadows, hills, and other places of interest for the following towns: Greenwich, Petersham, Barre, Hubbardston, Princeton, Holden, Paxton, Spencer, Sturbridge, Charlton, Brookfield, Western (now Warren), Brimfield, Ware, Hardwick, New Braintree, Oakham, and Rutland. The map also shows the Ware, Quaboag, Swift and Merrimack Rivers, as well as Quaboag and Wickaboag Pond. The lower right corner of the map also includes a lengthy description of towns (the link to the online presentation of the transcription is part of the Page Viewing Options box).
This manuscript map was one of about a dozen maps contained in the earliest library collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). The original library, comprising several hundred books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, was formed in April 1791, at the second meeting of MHS, when nine out of its ten founders pledged items from their own personal libraries. One of these founding members, Rev. James Freeman, the first Unitarian minister of King's Chapel in Boston, Massachusetts, donated this map, along with a large number of published histories, sermons, and orations, as well as manuscript documents, and five additional maps.
About Rufus Putnam
Rufus Putnam was born in Sutton, Mass., on 9 April 1738, the sixth son of Elisha Putnam and Susannah Fuller. After his father’s death, when Rufus was just seven years old, Putnam went to live with his maternal grandparents in Danvers, Mass. He attended school only briefly, returning to live with his mother and stepfather, Captain John Sadler, in 1747. As a child, Putnam earned money by shooting partridges and selling them, blacking boots, and running errands. Although denied a formal education by his illiterate stepfather, Putnam used his earnings to buy books. In 1754, he was apprenticed to Daniel Matthews of Brookfield, Mass., to learn the trade of the millwright. During his three-year apprenticeship, Putnam devoted his free time to the study of arithmetic, geography, and history. His self-education was, however, deficient in the areas of spelling and grammar, which will be evident to those who read the text on this map.
Putnam settled in New Braintree, Mass., marrying twice, and working as a millwright and farmer. After serving as a solider in the French and Indian War, he returned to his farm in 1761 and began developing practical surveying skills that led to military engineering projects during the Revolution. Putnam entered the Continental Army in 1775 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, and in 1779, was promoted to brigadier general. He was involved in building batteries and fortifications in Boston, Manhattan, and at West Point. He advised General George Washington and it is said that "the success of the first great military operation of the Revolution [the fortification of Dorchester Heights during the Siege of Boston] was due" to him. Washington later said of Putnam, "he possesses a strong mind and is a discreet man."
After the Revolution, Putnam returned to his family and the home he purchased in Rutland, Mass., and resumed his work as a farmer and a surveyor. By March 1786, he was elected chairman of the newly established Ohio Company of Associates, which sought to settle the territory in what is now Ohio. Once the Northwest Ordinance passed in 1787, Putnam and others left New England to settle the region that stretched from Ohio to present day Wisconsin. Putnam is credited as being the "Father of Ohio" and established the first permanent settlement at Marietta, Ohio, named for Marie Antoinette, whom the settlers sought to honor for the assistance she gave during the Revolution. Putnam and his family moved to Ohio permanently in 1790. In 1796, Putnam was appointed Surveyor General of the United States by George Washington, but was dismissed from that position in 1803. Putnam also served as a judge of the Northwest Territory and was a delegate to the Ohio constitutional convention in 1802. He died in Marietta on 4 May 1824 and was buried at the Mound Cemetery in Marietta.
Massachusetts Maps Now Online at www.masshist.org
The Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to make 104 unique and rare manuscript and printed maps of Massachusetts available at its website, Massachusetts Maps, (www.masshist.org/online/massmaps). The maps presented include twenty four manuscript maps of local towns and counties dating from 1637-1809 and eight iconic printed maps of Massachusetts and Boston. Seventy two meticulously drawn manuscript maps by Samuel Chester Clough (1873-1949) present a wealth of information about property owners in Boston during the 17th and late 18th centuries. During the course of his life, Clough compiled an enormous amount of data about Boston landowners from town, court, and tax records that he intended to use to create maps of Boston between 1630 and 1800. The website includes reconstructed maps that Clough managed to complete of Boston in 1648 (one oversize map); Boston in 1676 (one oversize map); a multi-page atlas (one key map and sixty additional pages) depicting Boston property owners in 1798; and an oversize atlas (eleven plates) depicting Boston property owners in 1798.
Funding for the Massachusetts Maps website and digitization project was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Cone, Mary. Life of Rufus Putnam, with Extracts from his Journal and an Account of the First Settlement in Ohio. Cleveland: W.W. Williams, 1886.
Cushing, John D., et al., compilers. Catalogue of Books in the Massachusetts Historical Library: An Annotated Edition of the 1796 Catalogue of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1996.
Cutler, Julia Perkins. The Founders of Ohio: Brief Sketches of the Forty-eight Pioneers who, under Command of General Rufus Putnam, Landed at the Mouth of the Muskingum River on the Seventh of April, 1788, and Commenced the First White Settlement in the Northwest Territory. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co., 1888
Earle, Stephen Carpenter, and Ezra Ripley. The Rutland home of Major General Rufus Putnam. Worcester, Mass: Press of G.G. Davis, 1901.
Rufus Putnam: a Massachusetts empire builder. N.p., n.d.
United States. Congress. House of Representatives. Report, from the committee to whom was referred, on the third of April last, the letter from Rufus Putnam, surveyor-general of the United States 13th June, 1798. Philadelphia: Joseph Gales, 1798