Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.
Northwest Territory,first possession of the United States, comprising the region known as the Old Northwest, S and W of the Great Lakes, NW of the Ohio River, and E of the Mississippi River, including the present states of Ohio, Ind., Ill., Mich., Wis., and part of Minn.
Exploration and Early Settlement
Men from New France began to penetrate this rich fur country in the 17th cent.; in 1634, the French explorer Jean Nicolet became the first to enter the region. He was followed by explorers and traders—Radisson and Groseilliers, Duluth, La Salle, Jolliet, Perrot, and Cadillac—as well as by missionaries such as Jogues, Dablon, and Marquette. The Great Lakes region was controlled by a few widely scattered French posts, such as Kaskaskia, Vincennes, Prairie du Chien, and Green Bay; links were established between the Northwest settlements and those in French Louisiana (St. Louis, New Orleans). The two chief posts of the Old Northwest were Detroit and Mackinac (Michilimackinac), but French influence spread among the Native American groups east to the Iroquois country.
In the 18th cent. the Northwest was coveted not only by the British colonists in Canada, but also by those in the American seaboard colonies, who organized the Ohio CompanyOhio Company,
organization formed (1747) to extend settlements of Virginia westward. The members were mostly Virginia planters interested in land speculation and the fur trade.
..... Click the link for more information. in 1747 for the purpose of extending the Virginia settlements westward. At the same time, the French sought to strengthen their hold on the Northwest by building forts. The clash of British and French interests culminated in the expedition led by George Washington that resulted in the loss of Fort Necessity and the outbreak of the last of the French and Indian WarsFrench and Indian Wars,
1689–1763, the name given by American historians to the North American colonial wars between Great Britain and France in the late 17th and the 18th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. . The wars ended in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, by which the British obtained Canada and the Old Northwest.
Almost immediately after the British acquired the region, Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, led an uprising against them (see Pontiac's RebellionPontiac's Rebellion,
or Pontiac's War,
1763–66, Native American uprising against the British just after the close of the French and Indian Wars, so called after one of its leaders, Pontiac.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The Ottawa were somewhat appeased by the British Proclamation of 1763 that closed the region W of the Allegheny Mts. to white settlement in an attempt to protect the Native American fur trade and lands; yet this action caused resentment among the American frontiersmen and contributed to the American RevolutionAmerican Revolution,
1775–83, struggle by which the Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic seaboard of North America won independence from Great Britain and became the United States. It is also called the American War of Independence.
..... Click the link for more information. . The mysterious machinations of Robert RogersRogers, Robert,
1731–95, American frontiersman, b. Methuen, Mass. As a child he moved with his family to the New Hampshire frontier. In King George's War (1744–48) he served briefly as a scout.
..... Click the link for more information. , an American frontiersman, further endangered the British hold on the Old Northwest. During the Revolutionary War, an expedition led by the American general George Rogers ClarkClark, George Rogers,
1752–1818, American Revolutionary general, conqueror of the Old Northwest, b. near Charlottesville, Va.; brother of William Clark. A surveyor, he was interested in Western lands, served (1774) in Lord Dunmore's War (see Dunmore, John Murray, 4th earl
..... Click the link for more information. penetrated deep into the region in 1778–79, in one of the most daring and valuable exploits of the war.
An American Territory
The Old Northwest became U.S. territory in 1783 by the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolution and soon was one of the most pressing problems before the U.S. Congress. The four so-called landed states—Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut—claimed portions of the Old Northwest, while states with no western land claims, especially Maryland, argued that if the claims of the landed states were recognized, the wealth and population of the other states would be attracted to the western lands. The final solution was the cession of all the lands to the U.S. government, which was thus greatly strengthened; New York made its cession in 1780, Virginia in 1784, Massachusetts in 1785, and Connecticut in 1786. Two reserves were kept, the Virginia Military District and the Connecticut Western ReserveWestern Reserve,
tract of land in NE Ohio, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, retained by Connecticut in 1786 when it ceded its claims to its western lands (see Northwest Territory).
..... Click the link for more information. in Ohio. The Ordinance of 1785 established the Township System for surveying, which used a rectangular grid system in order to divide the land.
The Ordinance of 1787 set up the machinery for the organization of territories and the admission of states. Its terms prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory, encouraged free public education, and guaranteed religious freedom and trial by jury. The Ohio Company of AssociatesOhio Company of Associates,
organization for the purchase and settlement of lands on the Ohio River, founded at Boston in 1786. Its organizers were a group of New England men, most of them former American Revolutionary army officers. In July, 1787, one of the directors, Dr.
..... Click the link for more information. , the most active force in early colonization, was followed by later companies that brought settlers into the territory.
British traders, however, opposed American expansion, and the Native Americans were also hostile to their encroachment. A series of campaigns against the indigenous tribes culminated in 1794, when Gen. Anthony Wayne won an American victory at Fallen Timbers; his victory was solidified by the Greenville Treaty of 1795. Meanwhile, Jay's TreatyJay's Treaty,
concluded in 1794 between the United States and Great Britain to settle difficulties arising mainly out of violations of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 and to regulate commerce and navigation.
..... Click the link for more information. and subsequent negotiations smoothed out some of the British-American difficulties. The Northwest posts were transferred to Americans in 1796, although British influence remained strong among the Native Americans.
Settlers poured into the southern part of the Territory, and in 1799 a legislature was organized. In 1800 the western part was split off as Indiana Territory, and by 1802, the eastern portion was populated enough to seek admission as a state; it was admitted as Ohio in 1803. Other territories were then formed—Michigan in 1805, Illinois in 1809, and Wisconsin in 1836.
The surviving British traders, however, wanted the Northwest set aside as Native American land, and continued unrest led Tecumseh and Shawnee Prophet to seek a permanent foothold for the Native Americans. Some western Americans, meanwhile, sought to extend the Northwest to Canada. The quarrel over the Northwest was a major cause of the War of 1812War of 1812,
armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain, 1812–15. It followed a period of great stress between the two nations as a result of the treatment of neutral countries by both France and England during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars,
..... Click the link for more information. . The Treaty of Ghent (see Ghent, Treaty ofGhent, Treaty of,
1814, agreement ending the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. It was signed at Ghent, Belgium, on Dec. 24, 1814, and ratified by the U.S. Senate in Feb., 1815. The American commissioners were John Q. Adams, James A.
..... Click the link for more information. ), which ended the war, solved the problem of the Northwest. Despite opposition from British merchants in the region, Great Britain irrevocably gave the Northwest to the United States.
See H. N. Scheiber, The Old Northwest (1969); H. Bird, War for the West (1971); H. B. Johnson, Order Upon the Land (1976).