Excerpt from

History of Washington County, Ohio,


Illustrations and Biographical Sketches,

H.Z. Williams & Bro.


1881. Chapter XXXVI. Pg 439-443



Marietta – The Ancient Remains – Burial Places.


Description of the Mound Builders’ Fortifications and Monuments—Extent of the System of Works—Quadranaou, Capitolium, and Sacra Via—The Great Mound—Its Partial Excavation in 1788—Measures for the Preservation of the Works—Marietta Burial Places—Location of the Early Graves—Mound Cemetery—Harmar Burying Ground—Old Grave at Harmar—Oak Grove Cemetery.


Description of the Pre-Historic Remains at Marietta.*


            The antiquities of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys afford a rich field for plodding science, and one of mysterious and romantic interest for poetical imagination. 

            The vastness of the questions suggested by the simple but enduring earth monuments which dot the valleys and crown the hills throughout the west and south—the very fact that absolute knowledge concerning the people who reared them is so meagre, and the domain of speculation so vast, renders the whole subject fascinating in the extreme.

            The student who endeavors to solve any of the mightier problems to which examination of ancient remains leads, will find himself almost at the outset confronted by the great black curtain of oblivion through which no gaze can penetrate.  He can only discern what the great mound, the Quadranaou, the Capitolium, the far extending walls of fortified towns, and the thousands of tumuli occupying coignes of vantage along the Ohio and its tributaries, silently and solemnly attest that a vast race once dwelt in the land and has passed away.  Concerning the origin, career, and final fate of the people he will gain no positive information.  There is, to be sure, a general trend of evidence that the race, who have been given the name of Mound Builders, came from Asia, by way of Behring straits, passed southward to the central region of North America, occupied for a considerable period the great basin of the Mississippi, and then by a slow, long continued migration along the shores of the Father of Waters, reached the gulf, and ultimately Mexico, where they obtained their highest civilization.  The wide geographical distribution of the earthworks received by this people (they extend from the Alleghanies to the Missouri and Platte rivers), and the great size of many of the remains indicate that the population must have been very large and was resident in the country.  Caleb Atwater estimated that in 1819 the population of Ohio was no greater than that which the same territory sustained in the age unknown.  It is highly probable that the ancient people were even more numerous than the present population along the tributaries.  The spontaneous yieldings of earth, and the products of the chase could not have sustained so numerous a people as the Mound Builders.  They undoubtedly followed agriculture.  A study of the graves gives many hints as to the character of the race.  There are many indications that the people were semi-civilized.  They had a rude knowledge of the arts.  Spinning and weaving were among the industries they practiced.  They constructed pottery, some of which exhibits of fine workmanship.  That they had a knowledge of some science or art similar to modern surveying is indisputable.  Most of the larger earthworks remaining give proof of this, in the absolute regularity and exactness of the circles, squares and octagons of which they are constituted.  It has been the almost universal opinion of those who have given the subject much study, that the ancient people were strongly governed, that they were the devotees of a superstitious religion observed with elaborate rites, and that some form of vassalage prevailed among them.

            That the race was either divided against itself or had an aggressive enemy is indisputable indicated by the great number of that class of works designed solely for defence.  It is commonly believed by archaeologists that the exodus of this people was enforced by their antagonists, who, it is supposed, swept down upon them from the north, and very likely waged war upon them for a long period.

            The ancient remains in this State, consisting of the various varieties of mounds, graded ways, enclosures, etc., are chiefly confined to the valleys of the Ohio and its tributary streams, and are most numerous along the Scioto, though they abound also upon the Great and Little Miami, upon the Muskingum and the lesser streams.  The number of tumuli in the State may be safely estimated at ten thousand, and the number of enclosures at one thousand or fifteen hundred.*  One circumstance in the location of greater works is very noticeable.  They occupied in numerous instances the sites destined for the present cities and village.  The centres of the ancient and present population were the same in southern Ohio.  Like Marietta, the towns of Cincinnati, Chillicothe, Portsmouth, Circleville, and many others that might be mentioned, are built over the embankments and mounds indicating an ancient occupation of the country.

            The ancient works at Marietta occupied the “plain,” and were included within the territory north of Putnam street and east of Third (with the e3xception of the graded way, extended down to the lower river terrace, at a point between Second and Front streets).

            These works consisted originally of two enclosures (irregular squares, one of which contained about forty and the other twenty acres), together with several truncated pyramids or elevated platforms of earth, the graded way, the great mound now enclosed in the cemetery, several embankments flanking it, and numerous lesser tumuli.  The portions of this interesting group of works remaining are the two truncated pyramids known as Quadranaou and Capitolium, and the mere bed or bottom of the graded way, Sacra Via.

            When the settlement was made at Marietta these works were covered with a heavy forest.  “When I arrived,” says Dr. Cutler, “the ground was in part cleared, but many large trees remained on the walls and mounds.  The only possible data for forming any probable conjecture respecting the antiquity of these works, I conceived must be derived from the growth upon them.  By the concentric circles, each of which denotes the annual growth, the age of the trees might be ascertained.  For this purpose a number of trees were felled; and in the presence of Governor St. Clair and many other gentlemen the number of circles was carefully counted.  The trees of the greatest size were hollow.  in the largest of those which were found to contain at least four hundred and sixty-three circles.  Its age was undoubtedly more than four hundred and sixty-three years.  Other trees in a growing state were, from their appearance, much older.  There were likewise the strongest marks of a previous growth, as large as the present.  Decayed stumps could be traced at the surface of the ground, on different parts of the works, which measured from six to eight feet in diameter.  In one of the angles of a square a decayed stump measured eight feet in diameter at the surface of the ground; and through the body of the tree was so moldered as scarcely to be perceived above the surface of the earth, we were able to trace the decayed wood under the leaves and rubbish for nearly a hundred feet.  A thrifty beech, containing one hundred and thirty-six circles, appeared to have first vegetated within the space that had been occupied by an ancient predecessor of a different kind of wood.”

            Upon the hypothesis that the growth which he saw had occupied four hundred and sixty-three years, and that it had been preceded by one of equal size and age, Dr. Cutler estimated that at least nine hundred years had elapsed since the works had been deserted by the people who constructed them.

            We may remark in this connection that Clavigero, in his History of Mexico, says that the emigration of the Toltecs commenced from their native country about the middle of the sixth century.

            The larger of the two square (or nearly square), fortifications, of which we have spoken, was commonly called by the early inhabitants of Marietta, “the town.”  The walls were, at the time when first observed and measured, from six to ten feet in height, and from twenty-five to thirty-five feet broad at the base.  Through these walls there were, upon three sides, three openings or gateways, of which the central ones were the largest.  The central one in the front facing the Muskingum was one hundred and fifty feet wide.  Immediately in front of this great gateway, and leading from it toward the river, its walls running at right angles to those of the “the town,” was the covered way, and named by some pioneer, of classical education, Sacra Via.  This was a broad avenue, excavated so as to descend by a perfect grade to the lower or latest formed terrace of the Muskingum, at the foot of which it is supposed the stream flowed when the work was constructed.  The grade remains, but the walls thrown up at either side have long since been demolished.  They began at a distance of sixty feet from the gateway, were exactly parallel, and six hundred and eighty feet long.  They were one hundred and fifty feet apart at their bases and two hundred and thirty feet at their summits, and the broad “way” between them was rounded and raised like a modern city street.  At the base of the grade the walls were twenty-one feet in perpendicular height, measuring from the inside, while at the same point upon the outside they were from eight to ten feet high, and much less at the upper end of the avenue.  This portion of the Marietta works along would be a stupendous piece of conotruction even in this age; and in the era when it was executed must have been a marvel of engineering and have required the patient, long continued toil of a vast number of men.  Not less remarkable were the four squares or truncated pyramids (of which the two principal ones have been preserved), enclosed with the walls of the ancient town.  The largest of these, the Quadranaou, the location of which is now best described by saying that it is upon the west side of Fourth street, north of Warren, was in the northwest corner of the great enclosure.  It was described by Squier and Davis in 1847 as being one hundred and eighty-eight feet long, by one hundred and thirty-two wide and ten feet high.  Its apparent height is now a little less than this figure.  It contains more than a quarter of a million cubic feet of earth.  At the centre of each of the four sides the earth projects, forming gradual and easy ascents to the top.  The elevated square, next in importance, is the Capitolium, which is situated upon the northwest corner of Washington and Fifth streets.  The southern wall of “the town” originally extended along Washington street very near the Capitolium.  This elevated square is one hundred and fifty feet long by one hundred and twenty wide, and is about eight feet high.  Upon three sides are projections or inclined ways leading to the level platform, but upon the south side of the graded ascent is a recess, the measurements of which are equal to those of the projections, or about twenty feet in width by forty in length.  East of this square there was originally another and a smaller one, which was known in earlier days as St. Cecelia.  It was a truncated pyramid, similar in general characteristics to the Quadranaou and Capitolium, one hundred and twenty feet long by fifty wide and five or six feet high.  It had graded ascents only at the ends.  In the northern angle of the enclosure was another rectangular elevation which was never of as great a height as the others, and unlike them, had no ascents.

            The purpose for which these elevated squares and the great graded way leading down to the Muskingum can of course, only be conjectured.  The former, it has been generally thought by students of archaeology, were designed as the sites of temples, and were originally so occupied, but with edifices which, having been constructed of perishable material, long since crumbled into dust.  The surface of the elevated squares which we have described is perfectly level, except where it has been upheaved by the roots of falling trees, or burrowing animals.  The squares bear a close resemblance to the Teocalli of Mexico, upon which temples still stand.  In Ohio there are but few of these peculiar formations in connection with the great groups of works, and, in fact, besides the Marietta squares there are none, except at Portsmouth, Newark and in the vicinity of Chillicothe.  At no one of these localities are the squares as large as those we have here described.  Works of this kind occur more frequently in the South, and investigators who have travelled down the valley of the Mississippi and thence into Mexico, report that there is exhibited quite a uniform and constant increase in the size of the squares until they lead up to the mighty temple crowned Teocalli, in the land of Montezuma.  Upon the other hand, as we journey southward we find a decrease in the size and in the number of enclosures of similar nature to those which abound in Ohio.

            We have so far said but little of the smaller of the two enclosures which existed at Marietta.  As we have said its area was about twenty acres.  This area is now about equally divided north and south by Wooster street, and lies above Fourth street.  This enclosure, which formed the connection in the great system of the Marietta works between the larger enclosure and the great mound, was many years ago obliterated.  Its walls were never as high as those of the larger enclosure called “the town.”  There were openings or gateways at the centre of each side and at the corners, which were defended by mounds.  It is conjectured that these two enclosures were not designed for defence although they may of course have served that purpose.  The ditch or fosse which often occurs in connection with the walls of similar enclosures was wanting here, but it is not improbably that palisades were planted upon the top of the embankments.

            The most reasonable hypothesis to be adopted in accounting for the construction of the so-called “forts” is that they were simply enclosures designed to protect the temples and the sacred altars of the ancient people from the profane gaze or touch of an alien race, or to guard them from the desecration by animals.  They may also have served as the place for great civic or religious assemblages, or the practice of something analogous to the Olympian games.  Very likely they contained the residences of the priests or rulers of the people.

            Most of the earth of which the so-called “forts” were constructed must have been taken evenly from the surface of the ground within and around them, although excavations commonly designated as “dug holes” were at an early day observable in several places not farm from the works.  Several of these have been supposed to be wells, funnel-shaped like those in eastern countries, so that the water-carriers could go down into them.

            The large mound now inclosed in the cemetery, the most interesting feature of the Marietta group of works, remains to be described.  it is not larger than some others in Ohio, but is probably higher in proportion to its base measurement, and is uniqe in its accessories of embankment and fosse.  It is thirty feet in height and its base is one hundred and fifteen feet in diameter.  It is surrounded by a ditch about fifteen feet wide and four feet deep, outside of which is a wall about four feet high, and twenty feet or more in breadth.  There is an opening in this wall upon the north side and a filling in the fosse, each about twenty feet in width.  The surrounding wall and ditch do not form a perfect circle but an ellipse, the longer diameter of which is two hundred and thirty feet, and the shorter two hundred and fifteen feet.  Originally there were a number of fragmentary walls of slight elevation west and south of the great mound, forming an imperfect reenclosure.  There was also a wall extending from a point near the filling of the fosse toward the south embankment of the smaller enclosure.

            The mound was described by Squier and Davis in 1847 as being truncated.  It so appears at present and the memory of the oldest inhabitant cannot recall a time when it was otherwise.  The writer, however, has reason to believe that the mound as originally constructed was a perfect mammalian.  The Marietta mound is, doubtless, a sepulchral mound, and it is probable that it contains (or did once contain) two chambers like the great mound at the mouth of Grave creek, in West Virginia—one chamber being situated upon a level with the surrounding plain, and the other midway between the base and the apex of the mound.  The flattening of the top my have been caused by the crushing in of one or both of these chambers (the chambers are, in most cases, constructed of timber), or by the uprooting of the great oak which Dr. Cutler, as quoted by Mr. Harris,· says that “an opening being made at the summit of the great conic mound” (and it is worthy of not that he used the word conic) “there were found the bones of an adult in a horizontal position, covered with a flat stone.  Beneath this skeleton were three stones placed vertically at small and different distances, but no bones were discovered.  That this venerable monument might not be defaced, the opening was closed without further search.”  The skeleton found was doubtless not lower down than the middle of the mound, that is to say, fifteen feet from the apex.  In everyone of the few large mounds excavated, which have a chamber near the top, there has been found another at the base, and hence there is presumptive evidence that the bones of some might personage of the ancient race lie as they were originally deposited in an unknow age, amidst the pomp and splendor of strange and superstitious rites.  While this mound is undoubtedly monumental in its character, its unique accessory formations—the fosse and wall—would suggest that the Builders had in view some other purpose than the rearing of a massive sepulchre.  It may have been utilized as a place for the observance of religious ceremonies.

            Small mounds are usually to be found upon the hills overlooking the larger works in the valleys.  These are not wanting at Marietta.  Harmar hill and the other eminences in the vicinity of the great group we have described are crowned with them, and they occur at intervals along the whole length of the Muskingum valley, and also those of the Tuscarawas and the Ohio.  It is conjectured that these mounds served the purpose of coignes of vantage from which they approach of an enemy could be descried, and also that they were signal stations from which beacon lights have flashed forth at night and columns of smoke arisen in the day time as warnings of impending danger, or the means of conveying quickly other information.  it will be found that from one of these mounds upon the valley wall, another similar mound can nearly always be seen, and that the second commands a third, and so on.  It is probably that these mounds formed systems extending along the valleys and across the country.  There are in Washington county many small works and mounds, the most interesting of which are mentioned in the histories of the localities in which they occur.  It is scarcely necessary to say that there are none which approach in magnitude the ancient remains at Marietta.


Preservation of the Ancient Works


            The pioneers at Marietta exhibited a laudable disposition to preserve the strange monuments left by a prehistoric people, and although much has necessarily been swept from existence, the most interesting portions of the great system have been preserved, and nearly in the condition in which they were found.  While the Goths and Vandals at Circleville were razing to the ground the wonderful works which gave their town its name, the citizens of Marietta were taking steps not only to guard against the immediate obliteration of the remains within the town plat, but to secure their protection for all time.  The names which have been used in this chapter, Quadranaou, Capitolium, and the Sacra Via, were bestowed upon the several works during the year 1788.  A little later the Ohio company passed the following resolution, which was the first measure adopted looking toward the preservation of the ancient works:





Resolved, That Colonel Battelle, Colonel Crary, and Major Sergeant be a committee to lease the public squares (to Samuel H. Parsons, Rufus Putnam, and Griffin Green, esqs.), the ones on which the great mound stands, the Quadranaou, and Capitolium, for so long a time as they are not wanted for the uses for which they were reserved.  The committee are to point out the mode of improvement for ornament, and in what manner the ancient works shall be preserved, and also to ascertain the amount of what is to be given.


            In March, 1791, the company decided to lease public square No. I (Marie Antoinette), containing the great mound, to Rufus Putnam for twelve years, on condition that he should set out trees and make other improvements.  On similar terms it was proposed to lease square No. 2 (Capitolium), to Dudley Woodbridge for eight years, and square No. 3 (Quadranaou), to Benjamin Tupper for ten years.  It was resolved at the same time that Sacra Via be not leased but that General Putnam should retain control of it, seed it down, plant trees upon it, etc.  It was specified that the trees to be set out on the ancient works were to be of native growth.  Subsequently Rufus Putnam, Paul Fearing, and Dr. Jabez True were appointed trustees to take charge of the public squares until the town should become incorporated, and lease them to proper persons, the avails of the rent to be applied to the education of indigent orphans.

            The large trees growing upon the Quadranaou are all of second growth and were set out in accordance with the requirements of the Ohio company.  This work, or rather the question of its preservation and the right of the lessee to obliterate or deface it, was the subject of a very warm controversy in 1820.  The square containing the Quadranaou had been leased to D. Hartshorn and he had transferred the right of possession to the Rev. Joseph Willard.  He began plowing down the truncated pyramid and the citizens protested.  Caleb Emerson, who was a member of the council, was active in opposing Willard’s action.  The council removed the square from Willard’s possession and leased to C. D. G. Bonny, and a number of citizens turned out and repaired the damage done by plowing.  A discussion of the merits of the case was carried on for some months in the newspapers between a writer who signed himself “Fair Play,” and Mr. Willard, and the case was carried into the court, where it was decided in favor of the town.  The council claimed the square as a reservation granted to the town for public works, or public buildings, and for the benefit of indigent orphan children.

            The public squares had not been fenced, up to 1837, and some damage had been caused to the ancient works, but in the year mentioned the citizens raised a sufficient sum of money to repair the injuries effected and to build fences around the squares.  Ichabod Nye and Thomas Vinton were appointed by the council as a committee to make the needed improvements and restorations.  The large mound has, perhaps, been injured more than either of the other remains, the water having washed the sides where the earth was loosened by the feet of climbers.  The uneven places were filled, the defective trees cut down, and the entire surface of the mound sown with grass.  In order that the symmetry of the mound should not again be impaired by the displacement of earth consequent upon many persons climbing its steep sides, a flight of stone steps was constructed by which the summit could be easily gained.  The mound has since been kept, by occasional slight labor bestowed upon it, in the best possible condition, as have also the other remains.  The Capitolium is, however, at present unprotected by a fence, and is in danger of being defaced.









* The pre-historic remains in Marietta have engaged many pens.  Probably no others in the Ohio valley or in the vast basin of the Mississippi have been so often described.  This fact is accreditable to two causes: First, the peculiar character of the ancient works, as compared with others in the Northern Central States; and second, the marked attention drawn to them by the planting of the colony of the Ohio company upon the site of the old town.  General Samuel Holden Passons wrote of the fortifications in private letters in 1785.  Joseph Buell mentions them in his journal for the year 1786.  Captain Jonathan Heart, of Fort Harmar, wrote a letter upon them in January, 1791, which was published in the transactions of the American Philosophical Society, volume III.  Dr. Manasseh Cutler spent considerable time in examining the works when he visited the settlement in 1788, and assisted Rufus Putnam in making measurements of them.  He afterwards incorporated much information concerning them in his notes to the charge at the ordination of the Rev. Daniel Story, and constituted a valuable paper to one of the French scientific or literary societies upon the subject.  Caleb Atwater devoted a large space to the Marietta remains in his general description of antiquities in the west, published in the Archaeologia Americana in 1819.  Thaddeus Mason Harris wrote of them in his Tour, printed in 1805.  Ashe, the wholly unreliable English traveler, had much to say of them in his works, and so had the erudite but eccentric Josiah Priest, whose American Antiquities was published in 1833.  It remained for Charles Whittlesey, esq., of Cleveland, to make the first survey and accurate map of these wonderful creations of a lost race, in 1837.  Among other writers who have given them consideration we may mention William Henry Harrison, Professor Rofinesque, Dr. S. P. Hilereth, and Squier and Davis, whose valuable work, published in 1848, formed the first of the Smithsonian Institute Contributions to Knowledge.  In this volume, among a wealth of accurate plates and fine illustrations, is the map prepared by Mr. Whittlesey, and two views—one of the Great Mound, and one of the whole system of works—from paintings by Charles Sullivan, now in the possession of A. T. Nye, esq., of Marietta.

* Squier and Davis’ Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.

· Harris’ Tour, page 152