The Ohio Country (sometimes called the Ohio Territory or Ohio Valley by the French) was the name used in the 18th century for the regions of North America west of the Appalachian Mountains and in the region of the upper Ohio River south of Lake Erie. One of the first frontier regions of the United States, the area encompassed roughly the present-day states of Ohio, eastern Indiana, Western Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia. The issue of settlement in the region is considered by historians to have been a primary cause of the French and Indian War and a contributing factor to the American Revolutionary War.
In the 17th century, the area north of the Ohio River had been occupied by the Algonquian-speaking Shawnees. Around 1660, during a conflict known as the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois seized control of the Ohio Country, driving out the Shawnee and conquering and absorbing the Erie tribe. The Ohio Country remained largely uninhabited for decades, and was used primarily for hunting by the Iroquois.
In the 1720s, a number of Native American groups began to migrate to the Ohio Country. By 1724, Delaware Indians had established the village of Kittanning on the Allegheny River in present-day western Pennsylvania. The Delawares were migrating because of the expansion of European colonial settlement in eastern Pennsylvania. With them came those Shawnees who had settled in the east. Other bands of the scattered Shawnee tribe also began to return to the Ohio Country in the decades that followed. A number of Senecas and other Iroquois also migrated to the Ohio Country, moving away from the French and British imperial rivalries south of Lake Ontario.
With the arrival of the Europeans, the region was claimed by both Great Britain and France, which both sent merchants into the area to trade with the Ohio Country Indians. The region was also claimed by the Iroquois by right of conquest. The rivalry between the two European nations, the Iroquois, and the Ohio natives for control of the region played an important part of the French and Indian War in the 1750s. After initially remaining neutral, the Ohio Country Indians largely sided with the French. Armed with supplies and guns from the French, they undertook brutal raids via the Kittanning Path against British settlers east of the Alleghenies. After one such raid destroyed Fort Granville in the summer of 1756, colonial governor John Penn ordered Lt. Colonel John Armstrong to destroy the Shawnee villages west of the Alleghenies. The war ended with the defeat of the French and their allies. Meanwhile other British and colonial forces were driving the French from Fort Duquesne and building Fort Pitt, the origin of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 1763 Treaty of Paris gave control of the entire Ohio region to Great Britain, through the various colonies who laid claim to parts of it.
George III in his Royal Proclamation of 1763 placed Ohio Country in the vast Indian Reserve stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Newfoundland. Existing settlers (mostly French) were ordered to leave or get special permission to stay.
Despite its acquisition by Great Britain, the area remained officially closed to white settlement by the Proclamation of 1763, which arose in part of the British desire to regain peaceful relations with the Shawnee and other tribes in the region. This proclamation also effectively established that the Crown no longer recognized claims of the colonies made on the land. On June 22, 1774, the parliament passed the Quebec Act which annexed this region to the province of Quebec, and was referred to as one of the Intolerable Acts leading to the American Revolution.
Despite the actions of the Crown, frontiersmen from the Virginia and Pennsylvania colonies had begun crossing the Allegheny Mountains and coming into conflict with the Shawnee. The Shawnee referred to the settlers as the Long Knives, and the realization of the threat they posed led the Shawnee, as well as the other tribes of the Ohio Nations, to side with the British against the Americans during the American Revolutionary War.
The desire of the Americans to establish control over the region was strong. In 1778, after victories in the region by American General George Rogers Clark, the Virginia legislature organized the first civil government in the region, called the Illinois County, which encompassed all of the lands lying west of the Ohio River to which Virginia had any claim. The high-water mark of the Native American struggle to retain the region was in 1782, when the Ohio Nations and the British met in a council at the Chalawgatha village along the Little Miami River and planned the successful rout of the Americans at the Battle of Blue Licks south of the Ohio River two weeks later.
In 1783, following the Treaty of Paris, the area became part of the original territory of the United States and was immediately opened to legal settlement. The Ohio Country quickly became one of the most desirable locations for Trans-Appalachian settlements, in particular among veterans of the American Revolutionary War.
Several treaties such as the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785 and the Treaty of Fort Harmar in 1789 fixed boundaries between American and tribal lands. Some tribes such as the Shawnee however continued to resist the encroachment of settlement into their lands. This resistance led to the Northwest Indian War which lasted until 1795.
By 1800, many of the Shawnee had ceded their lands to control of the United States in exchange for lands in Missouri. The last great resistance to white settlement in the area was during the War of 1812, when Tecumseh led a disastrous war against the Americans. By 1817, the Shawnee, as well as the other Algonquian-speaking tribes in the region, had ceded all their lands to the United States.
The area was seen as highly desirable for settlement in the early years of the existence of the United States, which led to the area being subject to overlapping and conflicting territorial claims of several eastern states. These claims arose from existing colonial charters. Specifically:
Another result was that unlike the rest of the Northwest Territory, which was surveyed more or less uniformly under the Public Land Survey System, sections of the Ohio Lands were incrementally granted to various parties and were surveyed using disparate survey systems.
In 1784 the area was part of the Trans-Appalachian region that Thomas Jefferson proposed for the creation of future states to be admitted to the Union. Jefferson proposed that the states surrender their respective claims to the region. One of the most contentious issues was whether or not the area would be open to slavery.
In 1787, with the passage by the Congress of the Northwest Ordinance, the boundaries of the region were firmly established. Virginia was granted the land south of the Ohio and Pennsylvania was granted the area around the headwaters of the Ohio. The remaining area west of the Pennsylvania boundary and north of the Ohio became part of the newly formed Northwest Territory, the first organized territory in the United States, with a civil government under the jurisdiction of the Congress. Pioneers to the Ohio Country arrived at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, on April 7, 1788, and established Marietta, Ohio as the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory.
All the existing states surrendered all their claims to the Ohio Country land within the Northwest Territory. Connecticut and Virginia reserved the right to use land in the new territory as payment to veterans of the Revolutionary War, without claiming sovereignty over the reserved areas, known respectively as the Connecticut Western Reserve and the Virginia Military District.
The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the territory and adopted the Jeffersonian proposal that the territory should eventually be admitted as future states of the Union. The "Ohio Territory" is sometimes used in reference to the Northwest Territory. In 1802, the Enabling Act specifically provided for the admission of new states, the first of which, Ohio, was admitted to the Union on February 19, 1803, celebrated as March 1, 1803, the date of the first meeting of the Ohio state legislature.
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