Wednesday, January 23, 2008

License for the Marriage of Winthrop Sargent and Rowena Tupper

On January 20, 1789, Governor Arthur St. Clair issued a license for the marriage of Winthrop Sargent and Rowena Tupper. Supposed to have been the first marriage in the Northwest Territory (now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin), the ceremony took place on February 6, 1789, in Marietta. It was performed by Rufus Putnam, who was a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, as well as superintendent of the Ohio Company. The bride was the 22-year-old daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran, General Benjamin Tupper, and his wife Huldah (White) Tupper. Winthrop Sargent was 13 years older than his new wife and held the very prestigious position of secretary of the Northwest Territory. Both were natives of Massachusetts.

Benjamin Tupper was one of the original founders of the Ohio Company, and the Tuppers were among the first families to arrive at the new settlement of Marietta in August of 1788. While their own quarters in the Campus Martius stockade were being prepared, they lived for a short time with Winthrop Sargent. Perhaps this is where the marriage plans first began to form, as Rowena Tupper’s brother-in-law, Ichabod Nye, noted that “Serjant began his courtship with Miss Tupper the first fall.” General Tupper and Sargent also became partners in Ohio Company business, and matters seemed to proceed very pleasantly for awhile.

In a letter to a friend back in New England, dated November 18, 1788, Rowena described her new life on the frontier with enthusiasm:

You doubtless have had various conjectures concerning our situation. I wish my Dear it was possible to give you an exact idea of it. This I am persuaded, that we are much happier than you Conceive of. The Country has been so often spoken of that it is needless for me to say more than that it answers every expectation. The society far exceeds whatever my ideas had formed and I think should Heaven but spare my life, I shall spend a very sociable Winter. The inhabitants increase very fast, our Buildings are decent & Comfortable. The Indians appear to be perfectly friendly. Their encampments are in sight of our Buildings but not withstanding their professed friendship we are not unguarded. There is a guard placed every night.

The winter of 1788-89 was an eventful one for the new settlers at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. In December, about 200 Indian warriors arrived at Fort Harmar to participate in the negotiations for a treaty. The treaty was concluded on January 9, and a feast, highlighted with wine and speeches, was held in the hall at Campus Martius. Before the winter was over, however, many Marietta residents were in a state of near starvation. The weather was extremely cold and the rivers were clogged with ice, preventing travel for supplies. Even turkeys, venison, and bear meat were scarce, and the pioneers ate little more than boiled corn for weeks on end. If Rowena had a wedding celebration, the fare must have been very meager, indeed.

The sociable times that Rowena (Tupper) Sargent had anticipated before her marriage may never have come to pass. Although Winthrop Sargent was a man of high position, his personality and temperament seem to have been lacking. In his memoir, Ichabod Nye describes Sargent as “a consummate Tyrant & Raskale – no body loved him tho some bowed to him; he could be a Gentleman outwardly.”

Shortly after his marriage to Rowena, Winthrop Sargent cut off contact with her family. Ichabod Nye commented as follows:

General Tupper’s situation was rendered farther verrey unpleasant after Serjant married his daughter, he Serjant, put on his True Character – he became very imperious & haughty & treated the general oute of Characture – left comming into his house & Broke off all civil & Social Intercourse with the fameley, which was a most mortifying & trying to the Gen’ls feeling, he doted much on his daughter.

Rowena endured these conditions for nearly a year, until she died at the age of 23. A neighbor, Thomas Wallcut, reported in his journal that “Mrs. Sargent died about one of the clock of childbed sickness,” on Friday, January 29, 1790. Walcutt attended her funeral on the afternoon of January 31, and said that the “obsequies were performed with decency and respect.”

Although Rowena’s death was sadly lamented by her family, their broken relationship with Winthrop Sargent was not. Rowena’s nephew, Horace Nye, recalled Sargent as “a proud arristocratic man fond of stile & good living. He left home while my Aunt was sick to attend to duties at Cincinnati. I do not recollect seeing him afterward.”

The following year, Sargent served with Governor Arthur St. Clair in an unsuccessful campaign against the Indians in western Ohio, where he was wounded twice during the conflicts. In 1798, Sargent resigned as secretary of the Northwest Territory to become the first governor of the Mississippi Territory, and he married the widow Mary (McIntosh) Williams the same year. He was removed from his office by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801, and died near New Orleans in 1820.


Hildreth, S. P. Pioneer History: Being an Account of the First Examinations of the Ohio Valley, and the Early Settlement of the Northwest Territory. Cincinnati: H. W. Derby & Co., 1848.

Nye, Horace. Unpublished document written for S. P. Hildreth in 1844, Hildreth Papers, Vol. 1, No. 162, Marietta College Library.

Nye, Ichabod. “A Biographical Sketch of the Origin & Descent of Gen’l. Benjamin Tupper and the Memoirs of Ichabod Nye." Unpublished typescript, Marietta College Library.

Tupper, Rowena. Transcription of unpublished letter, November 18, 1788, Tupper Family Papers, T-18, Marietta College Library.

Wallcut, Thomas. Journal of Thomas Wallcut, in 1790. Ed. by George Dexter. Cambridge: University Press, 1879.