Putnam Greys

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The Putnam Greys was a volunteer military unit in Putnam, Ohio during the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s.

Established in 1802, Putnam was a small community on the west bank of the Muskingum River. The community was situated just west of Zanesville, and today, Putnam is now part of this other city. During the early nineteenth century, many Putnam residents migrated to the community from New England. These residents tended to oppose slavery. Zanesville consisted of a large number of Virginians, who commonly supported slavery. Numerous confrontations erupted between the residents of these two communities over the slavery issue.

One such altercation occurred in 1839, when the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society held its yearly convention in Putnam. Zanesville residents who supported slavery pelted abolitionist speakers with eggs. They also burnt the barns of several abolitionists in Putnam. Finally, they also threatened to burn the entire town of Putnam. The Putnam mayor, Z.M. Chandler, several police officers, and various town residents blocked the bridge that connected Zanesville with Putnam. The Zanesville mob eventually fled the scene, and no violence occurred. To protect Putnam from further assaults, men in the community established the Putnam Greys, a volunteer military unit. The Putnam Greys remained in existence until the American Civil War, although membership declined during the 1840s and 1850s.

The establishment of the Putnam Greys illiustrates slavery's divisiveness among white Ohioans during the early nineteenth century. While many Ohioans believed African Americans should have their freedom, other white Ohioans, because of their racist beliefs or out of fear of economic competition from the former slaves, feared slavery's demise.