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Putnam, Rufus

Putnam, Rufus

PUTNAM, RUFUS. (1738–1824). Continental general and engineer. Massachusetts. Putnam was born at Sutton, Massachusetts. His father died when he was seven; after his mother remarried, the boy was reared by relatives. In 1754 he was apprenticed to a millwright in Brookfield. Three years later he enlisted as a private in the Massachusetts provincial service during the French and Indian War. He was a sergeant by 1759 and an ensign in 1760. Six feet tall and noted for his strength and activity, he had "a peculiar oblique expression" caused by a childhood eye injury (DAB). He lacked formal schooling, but his efforts at self-education supplemented his practical training, which he put to good use in the construction of defensive works around Lake Champlain. Back in Brookfield after the war, he farmed, built mills, and—having taught himself geometry—was supporting himself as a surveyor when the war broke out. In 1773 he helped survey lands granted to veterans along the Mississippi River.

He had just passed his thirty-seventh birthday when he became lieutenant colonel of Colonel David Brewer's Massachusetts Regiment on 19 May 1775. He became involved in military engineering during the Boston siege and made the valuable suggestion that timber frames (chandeliers) be used to solve the problem of erecting fortifications on frozen ground, a technique that contributed to the American success at Dorchester Heights on 4-5 March 1776. Meanwhile, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Twenty-second Continental Infantry (Connecticut) on 1 January 1776. After he had worked on the defenses of New York City, Congress promoted him to colonel on 5 August and named him acting chief engineer. Putman resigned this appointment when Congress would not establish a corps of engineers, but in November 1776 he accepted a commission as colonel of the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment for 1777. He served at Saratoga under Horatio Gates, in John Nixon's First Massachusetts Brigade, but saw no important action. He served in the Hudson Highlands for much of the rest of the war, working on the defenses of West Point and its supporting posts. On 7 January 1783 he was appointed brigadier general. Putnam was prominent in presenting officer grievances to the state and Confederation authorities, and in June he chaired the board of officers that framed the Newburgh petition asking Congress for some definite provision to be made to give veterans land bounties in the Ohio territory, something Congress refused to do. On 3 November 1783 he retired from the army. "As a soldier he was brave and resourceful, but he was neither a great strategist nor an eminent military engineer" (DAB). He was limited by his lack of education, particularly in mathematics.

Between the summer of 1784 and the fall of 1785, Putnam surveyed lands in Maine (then a part of Massachusetts) and administered their sale as the state's superintendent of Surveys of Eastern Lands. In early 1786 he and Benjamin Tupper took the lead in organizing the Ohio Company of Associates, a joint-stock venture that attracted many veterans who were interested in moving west. Congress sold 1.5 million acres on the north bank of the Ohio River to the company in 1787. Putnam reached Adelphia (later Marietta, Ohio) on 7 April 1788 as superintendent of the company. President Washington appointed him a judge for the Northwest Territory in March 1790. As a brigadier general in the regular army (4 May 1792), he took part in negotiating Indian treaties and participated in the operations of Anthony Wayne. He became the first surveyor general of federal lands in Ohio, holding this post from 1 October 1796 until 1803. He died at Marietta on 4 May 1824.

SEE ALSO Dorchester Heights, Massachusetts; Ohio Company of Associates; Wayne, Anthony.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Putnam, Rufus. The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam. Edited by Rowena Buell. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1903.

                              revised by Harold E. Selesky

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