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Why an American City is Named for Marie Antoinette

Taryn Smee

France and America have a long history of fraternity and alliance, most famously France gifted the Statue of Liberty to America in 1886.

Like every relationship, there are periods of conflict, but in the late 18th Century, France was the biggest supporter of American Independence which sparked a wave of pro-French sentiment across the newly forming country.

The French were expelled from their American colonies in 1763 after losing the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) to the British.

In the decade that followed, the British were taxing their newly acquired colonies unfairly, and the call for independent rule could be heard echoing across the land.

Downtown Marietta in July 2007, including the Muskingum River (foreground) and the Ohio River (background right). Photo by Tim Kiser CC BY-SA 2.5

Downtown Marietta in July 2007, including the Muskingum River (foreground) and the Ohio River (background right). Photo by Tim Kiser CC BY-SA 2.5

By the time of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, America was in open revolt against its British rulers and the French were secretly forging a special relationship with the rebellion.

The Thirteen Colonies declared war on the British in 1775, in what would become known as the American War for Independence.

Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party.

The French officially allied itself with the Thirteen Colonies in 1778 but it is generally agreed that the French were supplying arms, tactical assistance and military support even before this date.

The 1778 alliance between the newly formed American Congress and the French government proved pivotal in the defeat of the English and in 1782 peace negotiations were opened in Paris.

These talks were a convoluted affair, and in the end, the French were frozen out when the Americans reached a private agreement with the British. In the agreement, the British recognized America as a sovereign nation and agreed to a trade pact with the new continent.

Campus Martius fort at Marietta, with the conical Great Mound visible in background.

Campus Martius fort at Marietta, with the conical Great Mound visible in background.

Post-war America was a place of wild frontiers and possibilities; Congress had made it easier to buy large pieces of land and being short of cash, they paid their soldiers in warrants which could be used against the purchase of land.

The Ohio Company of Associates was a group of industrious revolutionary war officers who formed together and used their warrants to buy up a large tract of land in Ohio on the banks of the Muskingum river.

The site was not chosen at random but had been surveyed by the future president George Washington in 1770 who discussed plans to settle the area with a fellow officer by the name of Rufus Putnam, a founding member of the Ohio Company.

George Washington statue erected outside The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK, presented by ‘The Commonwealth Of Virginia’ in 1921, this is a duplicate, the original being in Richmond, Virginia.

George Washington statue erected outside The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK, presented by ‘The Commonwealth Of Virginia’ in 1921, this is a duplicate, the original being in Richmond, Virginia.

Of the settlement, George Washington later said: “No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum.”

The site has become famous as the first permanent settlement of the new United States and was originally named Adelphia, meaning brotherhood, in 1788.

The town name was changed the same year to Marietta in honor of Marie Antoinette of France to recognize the contribution of the French in the fight for independence.

Marie Antoinette in a court dress.

Marie Antoinette in a court dress.

Legend has it that Marie Antoinette was flattered by the gesture and sent a commemorative bell to honor the town. Unfortunately, the gift was lost at sea and never made it to Marietta.

During the unrest of the French Revolution, the city of Marietta offered land and shelter to the beleaguered monarch, the offer was declined, and the site is now home to the Mound Cemetery of Marietta.

Due to its location along the banks of the Muskingum river, Marietta was a strategic port during the first half of the 19th century.

Read another story from us: Karl Marx was a Foreign Correspondent for one of America’s Largest Newspapers

The Marietta town council had hopes of being named the central city of Ohio, but with the advent of new forms of transportation, such as the railway, the city became less important but has maintained its position as the country seat. There are now eighteen cities called Marietta situated in the United States, the largest of these being in Cobb County, Georgia.