Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Pioneers by David McCullough

Title:  The Pioneers
Author: David McCullough
Read by:  John Bedford Lloyd
Publisher: Simon & Shuster Audio
Length: Approximately 10 hours and 24 minutes
Source: Review Copy from Simon & Shuster Audio.  Thank-you!

The Pioneers is an interesting story of the settlement of a community in the Northwest Territory.  After the end of the Revolutionary War, a group of men got together and created the Northwest Ordinance to start settlement of the vast territory that was ceded from Great Britain.  This territory included Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. 

The Pioneers mostly centers the story on the first settlement in Ohio, Marietta, through the eyes of early pioneers including Massachusetts minister Manasseh Cutler, Revolutionary War veteran Rufus Putnam, and Manasseh’s son, Ephraim.  They had early struggles and then built their community.  Manasseh helped pave the way for slavery not to be in the north by ensuring that slavery was not allowed in the formation of the State of Ohio.

I would by lying if I didn’t state that I was most fascinated by the section of this book on Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett.  Harman was an Irish nobleman who built a grand estate on an island in the Ohio River near Marietta.  While their marriage seemed perfect, the two had fled from Ireland to conceal the fact that Margaret was indeed Harman’s niece!  Harman got involved with disgraced ex-Vice President and murderer of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr in a treasonous plot.  Harman was soon fled from the federal government and their estate was taken over and later burned to the ground.  They never were able to come back again for the rest of their live.  I looked them up after reading this book and the estate has been reconstructed by West Virginia government as the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.  I’m filing this away with my future road trip ideas.

While I was fascinated by that segment of the story, in truth, I was overall disappointed in the direction of this book.  I thought it was going to focus on the actual pioneers that settled the Northwest, and not just include the long history of Marietta, Ohio.  I wanted more on the actual pioneer experience of traveling and the early settlement. I found it strange that the Native Americans in the area were not much included in the book.  I think if the title of the book and blurb would have been different and I would have realized the direction of this book, I would not have been as disappointed.  It was an interesting look at the settlement of one town.

Narrator John Bedford Lloyd has the friendly conversational tone of a grandfather telling this story to his grandchildren.  It’s a close version of author David McCullough’s narrative style.  It was enjoyable to listen to.

Overall, The Pioneers is an interesting audiobook about the settlement of one town in Ohio, but I wish it would have had more detail about the pioneer experience in general in the Northwest territory.


  1. My knowledge of American history is scant so I do like reading about it. Thanks for the review.

  2. When I saw the title and author, I naturally assumed I would be adding this to my TBR list, but it does sound like it doesn’t deliver on the premise that hooked me. Like you, I want to read about the pioneer experience not just one town’s history.

    Thanks for the review.