Featured

Pirates on the Ohio River

 Pirates on the Ohio River

By Jessica Wielitzka

Our view of pioneers during the early 1800s is one of hope, sacrifice and the rewards of a new life. We view their lives with something of nostalgia, yearning for the days where hard work was rewarded, where men were men and lived in harmony with nature. Purposefully it seems, we forget that a pioneer’s life was often scary, harrowing and short. The pioneers who came to the Ohio river valley in Marietta, Ohio were tough. Many of them were veterans of the Revolutionary War. They had a distinct view on what their lives should be, and they were willing to put forth the effort to see their dreams become a reality. But the odds they were up against were monumental. Disease, Indian attack, and starvation were everyday struggles. We imagine how difficult it must have been for these men, women and children, to load their lives onto a wagon and walk from the settled and civilized East coast into the Western Unknown.

covered wagon

If they were lucky, they took a flatboat from Pittsburgh and floated down the Ohio River to Marietta. It sounds like a grand adventure, floating down the river toward a new life. But we forget, that many of these pioneers were not sailors, they did not understand how to navigate the harsh waters and hidden sandbanks of the Ohio. The Ohio River was much shallower, and narrower than the one we see today.  It was easy to get lost, or to become trapped in the mud. In fact, the original 48 pioneers that settled in Marietta missed their point of embankment and had to be pulled back up river by the soldiers at Fort Harmar. If those hardy, highly educated men missed their mark, how much more likely was the average family to navigate those treacherous waters successfully?

48 settles

And in addition to the dangers of the river, there came another scare: Pirates. Cunning, mean men soon started arriving along the riverbank of the Ohio, offering their services as ‘guides’ to the hapless pioneer families.  They would then run those boats to ground. Sometimes they would set up traps in the river, forcing the flatboat to get stuck, and then the men would attack, pillaging the goods and murdering the family. The pirates often had located convenient caves along their route, to store the stolen items in. Sometimes, the pirates would have in their company a woman, who would play the victim, and when the pioneers came to her rescue, they would find themselves overrun by pirates. In other cases, the women were used as bait, promising a good time in the cave to passing men on flatboats. If they accepted the lure, they did not see the light of day.

flatboat Cave In rock

Eventually, once settled towns sprung up around the Ohio River, local militias began to rout out the pirates, forcing them on to the Mississippi and further west. By 1830, river piracy was a thing of the past.

 

For more fascinating Marietta History, join us every Saturday June-October at 10:30am for our public Urban History Hikes through downtown Marietta. $15 adults, $10 children. Or schedule a private group tour by calling (740) 590-1987.

Sharing is caring

Marietta & The Marie Antoinette Connection

 

Hidden History Article:

Marietta & The Marie Antoinette Connection

By Jessica Wielitzka

Who was Marie Antoinette? Why was Marietta named for her?

Marie Antoinette is a woman history has maligned since the French Revolution in 1792. On the losing side of history, her character was twisted to fit the agenda of the time. The first martyrs to propaganda, she and her husband, King Louis XVI of France, were victims of their time, culture and upbringing.

Let them eat cake

Marie Antoinette was born as Antonia, in Vienna, Austria in 1755. Her mother, the formidable Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria-Hungary had born 16 children, and then assumed leadership of the monarchy when her husband died in 1765. This left Maria-Theresa very little time to influence the upbringing of her daughter, Antonia. Antonia was one of the younger children, and spent her youth in frivolity. No special role was allotted to Antonia; as all of her siblings had made grand marriages, there was little left for her. Antonia’s education was playing games, enjoying the outdoors, perfecting her fashion sense and making herself as pretty as possible. Remember, in the 17th century, women in leadership roles like Maria-Theresa’s were very rare. Women were expected to be ornaments to their husbands, not making decisions and leading the family. So Antonia’s upbringing, though neglected, was pretty typical for Princesses of that age.

 

However, in 1765 the heir to the French throne died, leaving Louis XV’s grandson, Louis Auguste, the next heir at age 11. He was only a year older than Antonia, and this was deemed the perfect match. Though Antonia was taught French, and some etiquette skills, she was very young and naïve to survive the back-stabbing and intrigue of the French court.

At the tender age of 14, Antonia was sent to the French Court. With little education, terrible handwriting, no diplomatic training and with the reminder to ‘obey her husband in all things’, Antonia was forced to toss off her Austrian identity and assume a falser, French one. Antonia became the Dauphine Marie Antoinette (Dauphine meaning: wife to the heir of the throne). Poor Marie Antoinette was set up for ruin before she even arrived. The French economy was plundered by the previous kings of France. The people were starving, dirty, poor, and living in hovels. They were still in awe of their French monarchs, but Marie Antoinette was not really French. So when the people learned of the excesses of court living, it was not the old kings who were blamed, it was “that Austrian woman, Marie Antoinette”. She was a convenient scapegoat.

Marie Antoinette did not know how to economize, she was raised as a wealthy Princess, and did not understand the sufferings of the poor. Nobody talked to her of the wretched state of the country, because she was a woman, and not considered important enough to influence state decisions. Her time was spent in frivolity, and she was constantly scrutinized, judged and gossiped about, not only by the people but also by the court. Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste became King and Queen in 1774. She was nineteen years old, he was twenty. Louis XVI (as he was now known), also grew up in a court of pleasure, and was not taught statesmanship because he did not expect to be King. His interests lie in the forest, hunting and making locks. A simple man, he was overwhelmed by the opinions of his ministers as they pulled him this way and that. He wanted to please his wife, and let her do as she wished, spending large amounts of money to assuage her guilt that she had not yet produced an heir to the throne, her only real role at court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The true downfall of the monarchy was set in stone, when Louis XVI’s ministers recommended that he support the American Revolution. At this time, the colonies in America were throwing off the yoke of England, and trying to create their own country. England and France were traditional enemies. The ministers were looking to weaken the hold of England, and therefore told Louis to support the colonists by sending money the monarchy did not have. So they taxed their poor, starving people to aid another country’s poor, starving people get rid of the very type of government that they represented. It was a disaster for France, but a real success for America. Without the aid of the French government, it is unlikely that the colonists would have won their war.

Louis the XVI, and Marie Antoinette were hailed as heroes in the new United States of America. Their names were honored everywhere, in thanks for the help they had given. Marie Antoinette likely new little about what was going on in the colonies of the new world, but she was honored anyway.

The 48 settlers that created our town of Marietta were Revolutionary War Soldiers. They knew of the aid given by the French. But Marietta was not the first choice for the name of their new town. Adelphia, Castrapolis, Protepolis, Urania, Tempe, Genesis, Montgomery and Muskingum were also candidates for the name of the town. But Marietta was finally chosen, in 1788, as the official name of the town. Marie Antoinette was told of the honor through a letter sent by the patriots. Rumor has it that she sent a bronze bell as a token of her gratitude to the town, but the whereabouts of the bell are unknown.

Though honored as the saviors of the American Revolution, in France it was quite another story. Blamed for all the excess of an ancient monarchy, and seeing the success the Americans had, the French started a Revolution of their own. Instead of being led by highly educated, wealthy landowners, as in America, the French were led by hungry, bloodthirsty and vengeful peasants. They were not content to topple the regime, they wanted to annihilate every last member of the ruling royal family, as well as anyone rumored to support the king. In America, the war was far less bloody. The American soldiers did not kill unless they were in battle. The French killed everyone. Marie Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI were beheaded in 1793, along with the majority of their friends and family.

While the name ‘Marietta’ brings to mind a happy, successful and hopeful new life for the colonists in America, the hidden history of our town’s name must also call to mind the tragic life and horrific death of her namesake.

For more fascinating Marietta History, join us every Saturday June-October at 10:30am for our public History Hikes through downtown Marietta. $15 adults, $10 children. Or schedule a private group tour by calling (740) 590-1987.