The Northwest Territory, or Old Northwest, refers to the area that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a portion of Minnesota. The region comprises more than 260,000 square miles.
The area was hotly contested by the major European colonial powers, France and Britain. The French needed access to the area to conduct their fur trade and ship their wares over the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The British viewed the region as the focus of the natural expansion of their seaboard colonies. American colonists formed the Ohio Company in 1747 to profit from the fur trade and western land speculation. The rivalry between the two great powers had been contested in a series of colonial wars, the last of which was the French and Indian War.
The British victory in the Seven Years War was confirmed in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, in which, among many other things, the French surrendered their claim to the Old Northwest. Later, during the War for Independence, American interests in the area were advanced by the military exploits of George Rogers Clark. Control of the area passed from Britain to the new United States in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.
One major bone of contention among the newly independent states in the 1780s was the fact that some of them maintained claims to portions of the West. The so-called landless states resented the potential advantages of the landed ones. Reluctantly, the landed states surrendered their claims during the 1780sNew York in 1781, Virginia (the Virginia Military District south of the Ohio River) in 1784, Massachusetts in 1785 and Connecticut (the Western Reserve in northern Ohio) in 1785.
Once these lands were placed in federal hands, an effort was made to provide for establishing governments in the regions and setting the rules for future statehood. These aims were accomplished in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Despite the promises of Britain to withdraw from the Northwest following the War for Independence, many fur traders and trappers remained behind. During the 1780s, there were far more British citizens on this American soil than Americans. The natives, naturally enough, did not recognize the region as anyones possession but their own. The British frontiersmen, who did not present the major threat of widely settling the region, were highly successful in stirring up animosity between the natives and the American frontiersmen, who were a major threat. In the early 1790s, the Washington administration tried and failed to tame a growing Indian confederation effort in the Northwest, but Mad Anthony Wayne quieted matters with a victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794) and the ensuing Treaty of Greenville (1795).
By George Rogers Clark I have given the United States half the territory they possess, and for them to suffer me to remain in poverty, in consequence of it, will not redound much to their honor hereafter. Letter to his older brother in 1792
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