Ohio History Journal





The ancient earthworks at Marietta, Ohio, have received

much attention, and have been written about more than any of

the prehistoric remains of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys.

These structures were great and ranked high in importance, al-

though not so extensive and complicated as certain other remains

which have been fully considered. At the time of the opening of

the great West the Ohio river was the main artery that led into

the wilderness, and hence the Marietta antiquities invited early

notice; but the first to be recorded were those at Circleville.

Rev. David Jones, of Freehold, New Jersey, in 1772-3, spent

some time among the western Indians, and in his journal makes

mention of some of the works on the Scioto. On October 17,

1772, he made a plan and computation of the works at Circleville.

The company of settlers, organized by Gen. Rufus Putnam,

arrived at the mouth of the Muskingum April 7, 1788, and then

took possession of the land purchased of the United States Gov-

ernment. The Directors of the company, appreciating the im-

portance of the ancient remains, took immediate measures for

their preservation. One of their earliest official acts was the

passage of a resolution, which they caused to be entered upon

the journal of their proceedings, reserving the two truncated

pyramids and the great conical mound, with a few acres attached

to each, as public squares. The great avenue, named "Sacra

Via," by special resolution was "never to be disturbed or de-

faced, as common ground, not to be enclosed." These works

were placed under the care of the corporation of Marietta, with

the direction that they should be embellished with shade trees

of native growth, the varieties of which being specified.

It is of no credit to the people of Marietta to examine into

the cause of their falseness to their trust. When I visited these

works in 1882, I found the truncated pyramids denuded and

the walls of the Sacra Via gone. On inquiring what had become


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38       Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


of these walls I was informed that the material had been moulded

into brick; that a brick-maker had been elected a member of

the town council, and he had persuaded the other members to

vote to sell him the walls. This unpleasant fact has also been

reported by Prof. Wright. Quite a voluminous report of the

Centennial Celebration of Marietta is given in volume II, OHIO


tory and glorification, but no word concerning what has really

made Marietta known. The editor of the QUARTERLY, more con-

siderate, accompanies the account with a cut of the remains, taken

from Squier & Davis' "Ancient Monuments," and an original

picture of the conical mound in the cemetery.

With but little exaggeration it may be stated the antiquities

at Marietta are principally obliterated. What few remain do

not exhibit the value of what existed at the time the Ohio Com-

pany took possession. For all archaeological purposes we must

depend on the integrity of those who made surveys and plans

of the works when they were practically complete. Fortunately

we are not at a loss in this matter. The works were of sufficient

note, not only to call the attention of military men and travellers,

but also to excite the curiosity of the intelligent in the older

states. The descriptions and plans of these early observers have

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.          39


been preserved. The changes that have taken place in the con-

dition of these structures, and the variations noted by the dif-

ferent observers, all point to value in summing up the evidence.

When the works were denuded of their trees and the iconoclastic

hand of the white man protruded itself, the change in the appear-

ance of the remains must have been very rapid.




In all probability the first of the ancient earthworks west

of the Alleghanies that were carefully surveyed were those under

consideration. During the years 1785 and 1786 many letters

from army officers found their way into the public prints giving

an account of these remains, some of which were highly exagger-

ated. It was due to Gen. Samuel H. Parsons, that an authentic

character should be given to the reports. In a letter addressed

to President Willard, of Harvard College, dated October 2, 1786,

he described the Grave Creek mound - Moundsville, W. Va. -

and referred to the remains at Marietta, a description of which

he had sent previously to President Stiles, of New Haven.

The first plan and description of the works have been ascribed

to Capt. Jonathan Heart. General Harmar, in a letter dated Fort

Pitt, March 17, 1787, to General Thomas Mifflin, of Philadelphia,

says: "Be pleased to view the inclosed plan of the remains of

some ancient works on the Muskingum, taken by a captain of

mine (Heart), with his explanations. Various are the con-

jectures concerning these fortifications. From their regularity

I conceive them to be the works of some civilized people. Who

they were I know not. Certain it is, the present race of savages

are strangers to anything of the kind." *

Daniel Stebbens states,+ under date of Northampton, Mass.,

May 1842, that the drawing sent to Dr. Stiles, was copied by

him, to be preserved in the archives of Yale College. In his

letter he explains the drawing. "No. I, Town. No. 2, The Fort.

No. 3, The Great Mound and Ditch. No. 4, The Advance Work.

No. 5, Indian Graves. No. 6, Covered Way from the town to

the then locality of the river, which is supposed at that time to

* Butterfield's Journal of Captain Jonathan Heart, p XIII.

+ American Pioneer, Vol I, p. 339.


Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.          41


have run along the edge of the second bottom. These walls are

now twenty feet high, and the graded road between them was

one hundred feet wide, and beautifully rounded like a modern

turnpike. No. 7, A Second Covered Way with walls of less

elevation.  No. 8, Caves. Nos. 9 and 10, Elevated Squares.

These works were interspersed with many small mounds as repre-

sented in the drawings."

The Columbian Magazine, for May 1789, contains Capt.

Heart's plan with an elaborate description.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, October 22, 1788, contains a

letter from a gentleman at Marietta, to his friend in Massachu-

setts, dated September 8, 1788, from which the following is ex-

tracted: "An accurate survey of the ancient ruins within the

limits of our city has been made in presence of the governor,

judges, directors of the company, and a number of other gentle-

men, that we may be able to ascertain all the facts respecting

them; in the course of this survey we had several of the large

trees, on the parapet of those works, cut down, and have examined

their ages by the rings of grains from the heart to the surface,

computing each grain to be one year's growth. We found

one tree to have stood 443 years, another 289, situated so as to

leave no room to doubt of their having began to grow since those

works were abandoned. We find the perpendicular height of

the walls of this covert to be at this time twenty feet and the

base thirty-nine, the width twelve rods."++

In the third volume of the American Philosophical Society,

appears Captain Heart's replies to inquiries, which he wrote in

January 1791. In this paper he treats the subject in a judicious

manner observing "that the state of the works and the trees grow-

ing on them indicated an origin prior to the discovery of America

by Columbus; that they were not due to the present Indians or

their predecessors, or some tradition would have remained of

their uses; that they were not constructed by a people who pro-

cured the necessaries of life by hunting, as a sufficient number

to carry on such labors could not have subsisted in that way;

and, lastly, that the people who constructed them were not alto-

gether in an uncivilized state, as they must have been under the

* Journal and Letters of Colonel John May, p. 58.

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42        Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


subordination of law, with a strict and well-governed police, or

they could not have been kept together in such numerous bodies,

and been made to contribute to the execution of such stupendous


It was most unfortunate that two such intelligent observers

as Gen. Parsons and Capt. Heart should meet with death so soon

after their interest in western antiquities had been awakened.

The former was drowned in the Ohio river in December 1791,

and the latter was slain in the disastrous defeat of St. Clair, in

November 1791, while, with a handful of men, he was covering

the retreat of the army.

Col. Winthrop Sargent, in March, 1787, wrote a more

elaborate and finished sketch than that of Capt. Heart, and sent

it to Governor Bowdoin, which was not published until 1853,

when it appeared in "Memoirs American Academy of Arts and



In the year 1803, Rev. Dr. Thaddeus M. Harris, of Massa-

chusetts, examined some of the ancient structures, and published

his "Journal of a Tour" in 1805. The following is the oft

repeated description taken from his book (Page 149) : "The situ-

ation of these works is on an elevated plain, above the present

bank of the Muskingum, on the east side, and about half a mile

from  its junction with the Ohio. They consist of walls and

mounds of earth, in direct lines, and in square and circular forms.

The largest square fort, by some called the town, contains

forty acres, encompassed by a wall of earth, from six to ten feet

high, and from twenty-five to thirty-six in breadth at the base.

On each side are three openings, at equal distances, resembling

twelve gateways. The entrances at the middle, are the largest,

particularly on the side next to the Muskingum. From this out-

let is a covert way, formed of two parellel walls of earth, two

hundred and thirty-one feet distant from each other, measuring

from center to center. The walls at the most elevated part, on

the inside, are twenty-one feet in height, and forty-two in breadth

at the base, but on the outside average only five feet in height.

* Haven's Archaeology of the United States, p. 24.

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.         43


This forms a passage of about three hundred and sixty feet in

length, leading by a gradual descent to the low grounds, where

at the time of its construction, it probably reached the river.

Its walls commence at sixty feet from the ramparts of the fort,

and increase in elevation as the way descends towards the river;

and the bottom is crowned in the center, in the manner of a well

founded turnpike road.

Within the walls of the fort, at the northwest corner, is an

oblong elevated square, one hundred and eighty-eight feet long,

one hundred and thirty-two broad, and nine feet high; leve on

the summit, and nearly perpendicular at the sides. At the center

of each of the sides, the earth is projected, forming gradual

ascents to the top, equally regular, and about six feet in width.

Near the south wall is another elevated square, one hundred and

fifty feet by one hundred and twenty, and eight feet high, similar

to the other, excepting that instead of an ascent to go up on the

side next to the wall, there is a hollow way ten feet wide, leading

twenty feet towards the center, and then rising with a gradual

slope to the top. At the southeast corner, is a third elevated

square, one hundred and eight, by fifty-four feet, with ascents

at the ends, but not so high nor perfect as the two others. A

little to the southwest of the center of the fort is a circular

mound, about thirty feet in diameter and five feet high, near

which are four small excavations at equal distances, and opposite

each other. At the southwest corner of the fort is a semicircular

parapet, crowned with a mound, which guards the opening in

the wall. Towards the southeast is a smaller fort, containing

twenty acres, with a gateway in the center of each side and at

each corner. These gateways are defended by circular mounds.

On the outside of the smaller fort is a mound, in form of a

sugar loaf, of a magnitude and height which strikes the beholder

with astonishment. Its base is a regular circle, one hundred and

fifteen feet in diameter; its perpendicular altitude is thirty feet.

It is surrounded by a ditch four feet deep and fifteen feet wide,

and defended by a parapet four feet high, through which is a

gateway towards the fort, twenty feet in width. There are other

walls, mounds, and excavations, less conspicuous and entire."

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44       Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


Mr. Harris adopted from Clavigero his account of the emi-

gration of the Toltecs, and to them ascribed the construction of

all similar works, and maintained that the mural works had been

surmounted by palisades, intended for protection in the gradual

progress made by these people through the territories of less

civilized tribes.


At the same time Mr. Harris was engaged in making his

observations on one side of the Ohio river, on the other, James

Madison, then episcopal bishop of Virginia, was likewise enter-

taining himself. The result of his observations he communicated

in a letter which was read before the Philosophical Society, and

subsequently appeared in one of its volumes. It appeared to

Bishop Madison that such remains were too numerous and vari-

ous in form, besides being too unfavorably situated to be re-

garded as places of defence; and their striking figures indicated

one common origin and destination. He regarded the mounds as

burial places.


At the request of the President of the American Anti-

quarian Society, and by him assisted with pecuniary means, Caleb

Atwater undertook to prepare a comprehensive account of the

antiquities of the Western States. This contribution was pub-

lished by the society in 1820, and comprises 164 pages of Vol.

I. of its Transactions. Seven pages are devoted to the Marietta

works. The text is accompanied by a plan taken from a survey

made by B. P. Putnam.

The contribution, with accompanying plates, was republished

by the author, in 1833, together with his Tour to Prairie Du

Chien, under the title of "Western Antiquities."  A reduced

plan of the work is given in Howe's "Historical Collections of

Ohio." The account given by Atwater is drawn from descrip-

tions written by Dr. Hildreth and Gen. Edward W. Tupper.

He quotes in extenso from Harris's "Tour."  He concludes his

narrative in the following language:

"It is worthy of remark, that the walls and mounds were not

thrown up from ditches, but raised by bringing the earth from a

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.         45


distance, or taking it up uniformly from the plain; resembling

in that respect, most of the ancient works at Licking, already

described. It has excited some surprise that the tools have not

been discovered here, with which these mounds were constructed.

Those who have examined these ruins, seem not to have been

aware, that with shovels made of wood, earth enough to have

constructed these works might have been taken from the sur-

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46      Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


face, with as much ease, almost, as if they were made of iron.

This will not be as well understood on the east as the west side

of the Alleghanies; but those who are acquainted with the

great depth and looseness of our vegetable mould, which lies on

the surface of the earth, and of course, the ease with which it

may be raised by wooden tools, will cease to be astonished at

what would be an immense labor in what geologists call 'primi-

tive' countries. Besides, had the people who raised these works,

been in possession of, and used ever so many tools, manufactured

from iron, by lying either on or under the earth, during that long

period which has intervened between their authors and us, they

would have long since oxydized by rusting, and left but faint

traces of their existence behind them."

Under the genius of Atwater a highly creditable and au-

thentic representation of the ancient structures and other objects

of interest and curiosity was systematically connected. Some of

the structures he believed to have been fortifications; others

sacred enclosures, such as mounds of sacrifice, or sites of temples;

other mounds were for burial, and some places were for diver-

sion. The accuracy of the regular works, which enclose large

areas, is adduced as proof of scientific ability, and that the grad-

ual development of the works would indicate that the strain of

migration was toward the south. The growth of generations

of forest trees over the remains, and the changes in the courses

and bends of the streams on whose banks the ancient works are lo-

cated are given as evidence of antiquity.




Dr. Hildreth's "Pioneer History of the Ohio Valley" and

"Biographical and Historical Memories of the early Pioneer Set-

tlers of Ohio," will long remain standard works. For upwards

of forty years he was a constant contributor to scientific jour-

nals. While he published no book on western antiquities, yet he

wrote fully on the works at Marietta, all the details of which

were perfectly familiar to him, as well as all that had been writ-

ten on the subject. He was very much interested in those at

Marietta, besides being well informed on the general subject,

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.           47


What he has written is worthy of candid consideration. In a

letter sent to Caleb Atwater, and dated June 8, 1819 he says:

"Mr. Harris, in his 'Tour,' has given a tolerably good account

of the present appearance of the works, as to height, shape and

form. The principal excavation or well, is as much as sixty feet

in diameter, at the surface; and when the settlement was first

made, it was at least twenty feet deep. It is at present twelve

or fourteen feet; but has been filled up a great deal from the

washing of the sides by frequent rains. It was originally of the

kind formed in the most early days, when the water was brought

up by hand in pitchers, or other vessels, by steps formed in the

sides of the well.

The pond, or reservoir, near the northwest corner of the

large fort, was about twenty-five feet in diameter, and the sides

raised above the level of the adjoining surface by an embankment

of earth three or four feet high. This was nearly full of water

at the first settlement of the town, and remained so until the last

winter, at all seasons of the year. When the ground was cleared

near the well, a great many logs that laid nigh, were rolled into

it, to save the trouble of piling and burning them. These, with

the annual deposit of leaves, etc., for ages, had filled the well

nearly full; but still the water rose to the surface, and had the

appearance of a stagnant pool. In early times poles and rails have

been pushed down into the water, and deposit of rotten vege-

tables, to the depth of thirty feet. Last winter the person who

owns the well undertook to drain it, by cutting a ditch from the

well into the small 'covert-way;' and he has dug to the depth

of about twelve feet, and let the water off to that distance. He

finds the sides of the reservoir not perpendicular, but projecting

gradually towards the center of the well, in the form of an in-

verted cone. The bottom and sides, so far as he has examined,

are lined with a stratum of very fine, ash colored clay, about

eight or ten inches thick; below which, is the common soil of

the place, and above it, this vast body of decayed vegetation.

The proprietor calculates to take from it several hundred loads

of excellent manure, and to continue to work at it, until he has

satisfied his curiosity, as to the depth and contents of the well. If

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48       Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


it was actually a well, it probably contains many curious articles,

which belonged to the ancient inhabitants.

On the outside of the parapet, near the oblong square, I

picked up a considerable number of fragments of ancient potters'

ware. This ware is ornamented with lines, some of them quite

curious and ingenious, on the outside. It is composed of clay and

fine gravel and has a partial glazing on the inside. It seems to

have been burnt, and capable of holding liquids. The fragments,

on breaking them, look quite black, with brilliant particles, ap-

pearing as you hold them to the light. The ware which I have

seen, found near the rivers, is composed of shells and clay, and not

near so hard as this found on the plain. It is a little curious, that

of twenty or thirty pieces which I picked up, nearly all of them

were found on the outside of the parapet, as if they had been

thrown over the wall purposely. This is, in my mind, strong pre-

sumptive evidence, that the parapet was crowned with a palisade.

The chance of finding them on the inside of the parapet, was

equally good, as the earth had been recently ploughed, and planted

with corn. Several pieces of copper have been found in and near

to the ancient mounds, at various times. One piece, from the de-

scription I had of it, was in the form of a cup with low sides, the

bottom very thick and strong. The small mounds in this neighbor-

hood have been but slightly, if at all examined.

The avenues or places of ascent on the sides of the elevated

squares are ten feet wide, instead of six, as stated by Mr. Harris.

His description as to height and dimensions, are otherwise cor-


In the "American Pioneer," for Oct. 1842, (Vol. I. p. 340),

Dr. Hildreth has the following extended notice of the conical


"The object of the present article is not to describe the whole

of these works, but only 'the mound,' which beautiful structure is

considered the pride and ornament of Marietta.

The venerable and worthy men, who were the directors of

the Ohio company, and superintended the platting of the city of

Marietta, viewing with admiration this beautiful specimen of the

*Archaeologia Americania, Vol. I, p 137, also Western Anti-

quities, p. 39.

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.          49


arts amongst the ancient proprietors of this region, reserved a

square of six acres around this mound, and appropriated it to

the use of a burying ground, thus giving a hallowed aspect to

that spot, and preserving it front the violation of private individu-

als. It yet remains in all its pristine beauty, a monument of the

industry and arts of the ancient inhabitants of the valley, and a

lasting memento of the classic taste of the directors of the Ohio

company. Every provision was made that could be, for the pro-

tection of the two elevated squares, or truncated pyramids, about

half a mile northwest of the mound, by appropriating three acres

around each of them as public squares, and placing them under

the authority of the future mayor and corporation of the city.

They also remain uninjured; while some of the parapets of the

ancient fort and city have been dug away in grading the streets,

and in some instances by individuals, where they fell within their

inclosures; but to the credit of the inhabitants, it may be said,

that the old works have been generally preserved with more care,

than in any other towns in Ohio. 'The mound,' a drawing of

which accompanies this article, was, when first measured, fifty

years since, about thirty feet in height; it is now only about

twenty-eight feet. It measures one hundred and thirty yards

around the base, and should be one hundred and thirty feet in

diameter. It terminates not in a regular apex, but is flat on the

top, measuring twenty feet across it. The shape is very regular,

being that of a cone, whose sides rise at an angle of forty-five

degrees. It stands in the center of a level area, which is sixty-

4 Vol. XII.

50 Ohio Arch

50       Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


six yards in diameter. This is surrounded by a ditch one hun-

dred and ninety-seven yards in circumference; it is now about

four feet deep, and ten feet wide at the top, sloping evenly and

regularly from the top of the parapet, and inner edge of the

ditch to the bottom. Outside the ditch is a wall of earth, being

apparently that thrown out of the ditch, and elevated about four

feet above the adjacent surface of the earth. The parapet is two

hundred and thirty-four yards in circumference. On the north

side is an avenue, or opening of fifteen feet in width, through

the parapet, across which no ditch is dug. A few rods north,

in a line with the gateway or opening, are three low mounds;

the nearest is oblong or elliptical, sixty feet in length, and about

twenty in width, with an elevation of six or eight feet in the

centre, tapering gradually to the sides. These mounds communi-

cate with the fort, as seen in the old plan.* The parapet, ditch,

circular area, and mound itself, are now covered with a vivid

and splendid coat of green sward of native grasses, which pro-

tects them from the wash of the rain. There are several beauti-

ful oaks growing on the sides of the mound. When first noticed

by the settlers, it was covered with large forest trees, seven of

them  four feet in diameter. A few years since, sheep were

allowed to pasture in the cemetery grounds. In their repeated

and frequent ascents of the ground, they had worn paths in its

sides, down which the wintry rains taking their course, cut deep

channels, threatening in a few years to ruin the beauty of the

venerable structure, if not to destroy it entirely. Some of the

more intelligent inhabitants of Marieta, observing its precarious

state, set on foot a subscription for its repair, and for building a

new fence, and ornamenting the grounds with shade trees.

Four hundred dollars were raised by subscription, and four

hundred were given by the corporation, and a very intelligent man

appointed to superintend the work. Three hundred dollars went

to the mound, and five hundred to the fencing, planting trees,

and opening walks, etc. Inclined planes of boards were erected,

on which to elevate the earth in wheel-barrows. At this day it

would require a sum of not less than two thousand dollars to

erect a similar mound of earth. At the same time a flight of

* Reference here is made to Figure 2.

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.          51


forty-six stone steps, was made on the north side, making an

easy ascent to the top. A circular seat of planks is built on the

summit, protected in the outer edge by locust posts, with iron

chains from post to post. The scene from this elevation is one

of the finest in the country, commanding a prospect of eight or

nine miles up and down the Ohio river, with a broad range over

the hilly region which skirts the Muskingum. No examination

has ben made by digging, to discover the contents of this mound,

with the exception of a slight excavation into the top, many years

ago, when the bones of two or three human skeletons were found.

The public mind is strongly opposed to any violation, or dis-

figuring the original form of this beautiful structure, as well as

of the old works generally. Several curious ornaments of stone

and copper have been brought up at various times in digging

graves in the adjacent grounds.

From the precaution taken to surround this mound with a

ditch and parapet which was probably crowned also with palisades,

it has been suggested that it was a place of sacrifice, and the de-

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52       Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


fenses for the purpose of keeping off the common people, while

the priests were engaged in their sacred offices."

The last article taken from Dr. Hildreth appeared in the

"American Pioneer" for June, 1843 (vol. II, No. VI), and treats

of the mounds;    "PYRAMIDS AT MARIETTA.-This beautiful

specimen (see Fig. 5) of the skill and good taste of that ancient

race of inhabitants who once peopled the rich bottoms and hillsides

of the valley of the Ohio, stands on the western border of that

high sandy plain which overlooks the Muskingum river, about

one mile from its mouth. The elevation of this plain is from

eighty to one hundred feet above the bed of the river, and from

forty to sixty feet above the bottom lands of the Muskingum. It

is about half a mile in width, by three-fourths of a mile in length,

and terminates on the side next the river by a rather abrupt

natural glacis, or slope, resting on the more recent alluvious or

bottom lands. On the opposite side, it reclines against the base

of the adjacent hills, except where it is cut off by a shallow ravine

excavated by two small runs, or branches, which head near each

other at the foot of the hills. On this plain are seated those an-

cient works so often mentioned by various writers. The main

object of this article is to describe the two truncated pyramids, or

elevated squares, as they are usually called. Since reading the

travels of Mr. Stevens in Central America, and his descriptions

of the ruins of Palenque and other ancient cities of that region,

I have become satisfied in the belief, that these two truncated

pyramids were erected for the purpose of sustaining temples or

other public buildings. Those which he describes were generally

constructed of stone, and the temples now standing on them are

of the same material. He however saw some that were partly

earth, and part stone. They are the work of a people further

advanced in the arts than the race who erected the earthworks

of Ohio; but that they were made by a people of similar habits

and policy of government, there can be little doubt by anyone

who has taken the trouble to compare the two. It may be ob-

jected that they are too distant from each other ever to have

been built by the same race. Allowing that they were not of

the same nation; yet similar wants, and similar habits of think-

ing, would probably lead to very similar results. But there can

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.        53


be no reasonable objection to their being erected by a colony from

Mexico, where the same works are found as in Central America.

Neither is there any serious objection to their being the parent

tribe of the Mexicans, driven away southerly by the more north-

ern and warlike tribes; and these the structures which precede

the more perfect one of stone. In Illinois there are similar

earthen structures nearly one hundred feet high and three hun-

dred in length.*  Broad, elevated basements of this kind were

no doubt intended for the support of public buildings or temples

and must have been thrown up by the joint labor of the tribe for

their general benefit.

While the structures of this character in the valley of the

Mississippi were made of earth, and the superstructures or build

ings which crowned them, of wood, those in Central America

were built of stone, the imperishable nature of which has pre-

served them to this day. The wood has decayed and returned

again to its parent earth hundreds of years since, while the clay

on which the buildings rested, being also imperishable, remains

to this day, bearing the outlines of the truncated pyramid in all

its original beauty of form and proportion. The sides and top,

where not covered with buildings, were probably protected from

the action of rains and frosts by a thick coating of turf, which

prevented the wasting action of these powerful agents of destruc-

tion. And when, in the course of after years, the primeval forest

had again resumed its empire, that served as a further protec-

tion and preserved them in the state in which they were found

by the first white inhabitants of this valley. Our own opinion

is, that these earthworks of the valley of the Ohio, were more

likely to have been built by the ancestors of the Mexicans,

lather than by a colony from that country. One principal rea-

son is, that if they proceeded from Mexico they would have left

some relics of their labor in stone, as the Mexicans worked the

hardest varieties with their indurated copper tools, with great

neatness and facility. Nothing, however, of the kind has yet

been discovered, unless the sculptured impressions of two human


* In all probability Dr. Hildreth refers here to the great Cahokia

mound near East St. Louis, which is ninety feet high, seven hundred feet

long and five hundred in breadth.

54 Ohio Arch

54        Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


feet in the hard limerock near St. Louis be samples of their skill

in the use of metallic implements. Further researches and care-

ful analysis of known facts may yet throw more light on this

dark subject. Dr. S. G. Morton, of Philadelphia, who has spent

several years in examining the skulls of the aboriginal inhabitants

of America, collected from the mounds and cemeteries from all

parts of this continent, has come to the conclusion that the numer-

ous tribes of dead and living Indians form but one race, and

that race is peculiar to America.  (Here follow several excerpts

taken from  Dr. Morton's paper delivered before the 'Boston

Society of Natural History,' in April, 1843.*)

But to return to the description of the truncated pyramid, a

figure of which stands at the head of this article. The spectator

is standing on the top of one of the earthen parapets which

form the walls of this 'ancient city,' within which the pyramid

is situated. It is distant less than one hundred yards, north-

easterly, from the opening of the 'via sacra,' or covered way,

which leads down to the Muskingum river; a drawing and de-

scription of which also accompanies this article. The dimensions

are as follows: The form is a parallelogram, one side of which

is forty yards and the other sixty-five yards; the longer direction

is southerly. The height is four yards, or twelve feet, above the

adjacent surface of the plain; a regular glacis or avenue of

ascent is thrown up on each side near the centre of the work;

these are ten yards wide and eighteen yards long, rendering the

ascent very easy. The foot of the south glacis terminates directly

opposite the north wall of the 'via sacra,' which is about one

hundred yards distant. The top of the pyramid is entirely level.

LESSER TRUNCATED PYRAMID: - This work is seated near

the southeast corner of the 'ancient city,' distant about forty rods

from the larger one. Its dimensions are as follows: Fifty

yards long by forty-five yards wide; its height is eight feet above

the surface of the plain. It has a glacis or avenue of ascent on

three sides only, viz. the south, west, and east. Those on the

west and east sides are not in the centre, but near to or only nine

* Dr. Hildreth contributed to crania taken from the mounds, in Mor-

ton's Crania Americana. See pp. 219, 220, and also from the caves, pp.

235-6. None from Marietta.

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.          55

yards from the north side; that on the north side is near the

centre. On the south side there is a recess or excavation in place

of a glacis. It is sixteen yards long, and ten yards wide, and

eight feet deep. This opening was probably covered by the

building which stood on the pyramid, and formed a dark or secret

chamber, in some way connected with their religious rites. The

other three glacis are each ten yards wide and sixteen yards long.

The whole is in fine preservation, and coated over with a nice

turf of native grasses.

'VIA SACRA,' OR COVERED WAY.- This work, which exceeds

all the others in magnitude of labor, is finely represented in the

drawing. The observer is standing a little past the middle of the

work towards the upper end of the way next to the truncated

pyramid, and facing upon the Muskingum river, which runs at

the foot of the little ridge between the trees figured on its banks.

On the opposite shore are the Harmar hills. This road or way

is two hundred yards long, and proceeds with a very gradual

descent from near the western parapet walls of the city to the

present bottom lands of the Muskingum. It is supposed that at

the period of its construction the river ran near the termination

of the road; but this is quite uncertain. It is fifty yards or one

hundred and fifty feet in width, and finished with a regular

crowning in the centre like a modern turnpike. The sides of

this ancient 'Broadway' are protected by walls of earth rising in

height as they approach the river, commencing with an elevation

of eight feet and ending with eighteen feet on the inside; on

the outside the wall is about seven feet above the adjacent sur-

face in its whole length; the increased height within, as it ap-

proaches the river, being made by the depth of the excavation in

digging away the margin of the elevated plain to the level of

the Muskingum bottom lands. The average depth of the exca-

vation in constructing this avenue, may be placed at ten feet,

which will make one million of cubic yards of earth to be removed

in constructing this grand way into the city. This earth was

probably used, as we see no other source from which it could

come so readily, in the erection of the larger truncated pyramid,

and a portion of the adjacent walls of the 'fenced city.' But as

this would consume but a small portion of the earth removed,


Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.          57


the balance was probably used in constructing a quay for the

convenience of their boats. The earth from which the pyramid

is made, was apparently not taken from the immediate vicinity,

as there is no appearance of holes, or sunken spots, or vestiges of

my earth being removed.

The transportation of this earth must have been an immense

labor, as there is no probability that the inhabitants had any

domestic animals to assist them in the work. The supposition

is, that it was carried away in baskets on the shoulders of the

men and women, a distance of one or two hundred yards, and

placed where we now see it. This mode of removing earth is

still practiced by several rude nations. The population of this

ancient city must have been very considerable to have required

so broad an avenue for their ingress and egress from its gates.

Traces of their hearths may yet be seen by digging away the

earth in the inside of the parapets or walls, along the borders of

which their dwellings would seem to have been erected. Numer-

ous relics of copper and silver have been found in the cinders

of these hearths. They are generally in the form of ornaments,

rings of copper, or slender bars of copper that had been used as

awls. In the mounds have been found several curious articles

of metal. The bowl of a brass spoon is in the possession of the

writer, taken from one of the parapets in the northwest corner

of the old city, at the depth of six feet below the surface. Large

quantities of broken earthenware was found when Marietta was

first settled, lying on the surface, and especially in the bottom

of an excavation called 'the well,' about one hundred yards from

the lesser pyramid in a southerly direction. It was sixty or

eighty feet wide at the top, narrowing gradually to the bottom

like an inverted cone, to the depth of fifty feet. Numerous frag-

ments of broken vessels were found here, as if destroyed in the

act of procuring water from the well."



The work of Josiah Priest, entitled "American Antiquities,"

originally published in 1833, is a sort of curiosity shop, made up

of odds and ends of theories and statements pertaining to Amer-

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58      Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


ican antiquities. It is of value in this connection only as contain-

ing a plate of the Marietta works made from a survey by S.

De Witt in 1822. (See Fig. 7).



In the year 1848 "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi

Valley," by Squier and Davis, was published by the Smithsonian

Institution. The result of this work was to promote a more

active spirit of inquiry upon all questions connected with the

ancient remains in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi. In

one form or another it has become the real basis of all books

written on the subject since its advent. In short it is the one

standard authority on the subject. Although it has been criti-

cised and even assaulted, yet it has maintained its position while

its detractors have either or else are passing into oblivion. Both

men, who engaged in its compilation, were singularly fitted for

the task they essayed to perform.

"Ancient Monuments" publishes a map (Plate XXVI.) of

the Marietta works taken from the survey and plan made by

Colonel Charles Whittlesey in 1837. At that time Colonel Whit-

tlesey was topographical engineer of the state. The great ability,

well known accuracy and integrity of the man will always make

this survey the authoritive one, however meritorious the others

may be. The plan of the works (Fig. 8.) is supplemented

(Fig.9) by cross and longitudinal sections which greatly enhance

the value of the plate.

"Ancient Monuments" gives a view (Fig. 1) of the remains

as they appeared just after the forest trees were cut away.

This illustration has been made to do service in several different

publications. A full page, colored illustration (Fig. 10) of the

conical mound also appears in the contribution.

The account accompanying the plan embraces four and one-

half pages. The description of the two truncated pyramids is

taken from that of Dr. Hildreth which first appeared in the

"American Pioneer," for June 1843, and as I have already given

it, there is no necessity for its repetition.

"In the vicinity (of the conical mound) occur several frag-

mentary walls, as shown in the map. Excavations, or 'dug holes,'

Click on image to view full size

Click on image to view full size


Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.         61


are observable at various points around these works. Near the

great mound are several of considerable size. Those indicated by

m and n in the plan have been regarded and described as wells.

Their regularity and former depth are the only reasons adduced

in support of this belief. The circumstance of regularity is not

at all remarkable, and is a common feature in excavations mani-

festly made for the purpose of procuring material for the con-

struction of mounds, etc. Their present depth is small, though it

is represented to have been formerly much greater. There is

some reason for believing that they were dug in order to procure

clay for the construction of pottery and other purposes, inas-

much as a very fine variety of that material occurs at this point,

some distance below the surface. The surface soil has recently

been removed, and the manufacture of bricks commenced. The

'clay lining' which has been mentioned as characterizing these

'wells,' is easily accounted for, by the fact that they are sunk in

a clay bank. Upon the opposite side of the Muskingum river

are bold precipitous bluffs, several hundred feet in height.

Along their brows are a number of small stone mounds. They

command an extensive view, and overlook the entire plain upon

which the works here described are situated.

Such are the principal facts connected with these interesting

remains. The generally received opinion respecting them is, that

they were erected for defensive purposes. Such was the belief

of the late President Harrison, who visited them in person and

whose opinion, in matters of this kind, is entitled to great weight.

The reasons for this belief have never been presented, and they

are not very obvious. The numbers and width of the gateways,

the absence of a fosse, as well as the character of the enclosed

and accompanying remains, present strong objections to the hypo-

thesis which ascribes to them a warlike origin. And it may be

here remarked, that the conjecture that the Muskingum ran at

the base of the graded way already described, at the period of its

erection, seems to have had its origin in the assumption of a

military design in the entire group. Under this hypothesis, it was

supposed that the way was designed to cover or secure access

to the river,- an object which it would  certainly not have re-

quired the construction of a passage-way one hundred and fifty

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62        Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


feet to effect. The elevated squares were never designed for

military purposes,--their very regularity of structure forbids

this conclusion. They were most likely erected as the sites for

structures which have long since passed away, or for the celebra-

tion of unknown rites, - corresponding in short, in purpose as

they do in form, with those which they so much resemble in

Mexico and Central America. Do not these enclosed structures

give us the clue to the purposes of the works with which they

are connected?  As heretofore remarked, the sacred grounds of

almost every people are set apart or designated by enclosures of

some kind. *  *   *

There are no other works in the immediate vicinity of

Marietta. At Parkersburgh, Virginia, on the Ohio, twelve miles

below, there is an enclosure of irregular form and considerable

extent. There are also works at Belpre,* opposite Parkersburgh.

The valley of the Muskingum is for the most part narrow,

affording few of those broad, level and fertile terraces, which

appear to have been the especial favorites of the race of Mound-

builders, and upon which most of their monuments are found.

As a consequence, we find few remains of magnitude in that

valley, until it assumes a different aspect, in the vicinity of Zanes-

ville, ninety miles from its mouth."

The supplemental plan (Fig. 9) is of very great importance

on account of the relative proportions of the works. The section

marked z h gives the Via Sacra, and i u the conical mound with

accompanying wall.



As heretofore remarked all books published since that by

Squier & Davis, and which treat of the Marietta antiquities,

are largely indebted to "Ancient Monuments." Some of these

later publications are of value, while others use the descriptions

to bolster up a theory. It is not the object here to give an

* In my paper on Blennerhassett's Island (Smithsonian Report for

1882, p. 767), I called attention to the miniature representation of the

conical mound at Marietta, located on the plain of Belpre, opposite the

isle, having the wall, interior ditch, and the elevated gateway leading

from the mound to the gateway.

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio

Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.


account of these more recent books, however interesting and

important their contents may be.




With the mass of information now before us we learn the


At the junction of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers is a

high sandy plain, from eighty to one hundred feet above the bed

of the river, and from forty to sixty above the bottom lands of

64 Ohio Arch

64      Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


the Muskingum, being about three-fourths of a mile long by

half a mile in width.

Upon this plain, in 1785, and for many years afterwards,

were located a series of ancient works, consisting of two irregu-

lar squares, containing respectively fifty and twenty-seven acres

area, in connection with a graded way, truncated pyramids, sundry

other mounds, exterior embankments, and large artificial wells or


The Graded Way, or Via Sacra, was exterior to and discon-

nected from the major square and was six hundred and eighty feet

long and one hundred and fifty feet in width, the bottom of which

was regularly finished by  a crown form  of construction. This

ancient way was covered by exterior lines of embankment seven

feet in height above the adjacent surface. The depth of the exca-

vation near the square was eight feet, but gradually deepened to-

wards the farther extremity where it reached eighteen feet on the

interior,-the average depth of the avenue being about ten feet.

The largest of the truncated mounds was one hundred and

twenty feet by one hundred and ninety-five feet, and twelve in

height, while the second is one hundred and fifty feet long, by one

hundred and thirty-five in breadth and eight in height. The coni-

cal mound, when first measured was thirty feet in height, with a

diameter at the base of one hundred and thirty feet. This mound

is surrounded by a ditch five hundred and ninety feet in circumfer-

ence. On the exterior of this ditch was a wall four feet in height.

It will be noticed that in Fig. 8 Colonel Whittlesey gives a

single embankment between the circle and the lesser square. I ex-

amined the structure in 1882 and noticed the double wall, with

slight depression between them, as given in Fig. 10.

Partly enclosed by an exterior wall, the lesser square and the

conical mound was a well fifty feet deep and between sixty and

eighty feet in diameter at the top.

From the general study of these and other ancient remains of

the Ohio valley, we may obtain the following results:

That it was the same race who built the mural structures and

great mounds.

The extent of teritory covered by this people prove them to

have been very numerous.

5 Vol. XII.

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66       Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


The people had arrived at a considerable degree of civilization

and had made great progress in the arts.

The builders were skilled in the art of fortification and the

construction of regular geometrical works.

The ancient remains show an antiquity long ante-dating the

advent of the white man.

The crania, from the mounds, indicate that the people belonged

to the great divisions, denominated by Cuvier, the "American

Family." The ancient structures prove they were greatly re-

moved from the wild tribes that inhabited the Ohio valley at the

time of the discovery. There is not a scintilla of proof that the

wild tribes descended from the Mound Builders, or vice versa.

The regular structures are usually classed as sacred en-

closures. The graded avenues are only found in connection with

such works. The object of the Via Sacra at Marietta must be left

to our consideration of the Graded Way at Piketon, in Pike

county, Ohio.

Franklin, O., Nov. 9th, 1902.