Claiming the Near West: Territorial Expansion to 1812

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Claiming the Near West: Territorial Expansion to 1812

From the moment that Europeans set foot on the North American continent in the sixteenth century, they began to expand their influence westward. By the mid-eighteenth century that expansion had progressed to the point that there were thirteen British colonies poised on the eastern coast of North America. These colonies had established themselves over a period of years by fighting a series of skirmishes with the Native American inhabitants of the region. By the 1760s they had largely carved out their geographic boundaries, which generally stretched from the east coast of North America to the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. But the population of these colonies continued to grow, fed not only by internal population growth but also by a continued stream of immigrants from England and other European countries, including Germany, Holland, Ireland, and Scotland. This increased population as well as the deteriorating quality of the soil on eastern farms put pressure on the poorly defined western boundaries of these colonies. The colonies were poised to expand westward, but how would they do so?

Up until the end of the War of 1812 (1812–14), the westward expansion of the colonies into what is known as the trans-Appalachian frontier (the area of land stretching from the crest of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River) was conducted within a complex struggle among a variety of forces. The French, Spanish, British, colonial Americans, and Native Americans all sought to protect their interests in the area that stretched between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The story of how the colonies (which became an independent nation during this period) expanded westward in the years leading up to the War of 1812 is one of political maneuvering, fierce military confrontations, and a steady trickle of settlers carving their homes out of the wilderness. By the end of the War of 1812, the major political obstacles to U.S. control of the West had been removed, and a model was set for the continued expansion of the nation westward from the Mississippi River.

Disrupting the balance of power

During the first half of the eighteenth century, there was a three-way balance of power in North America. The British-backed colonies had extended their control up to the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, and the French boasted a lucrative fur-trading empire extending from the Appalachian Mountains westward into the Ohio River Valley (an expansive area west of the Appalachians that includes part or all of the present-day states of West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the far western parts of Pennsylvania and New York). The British and French, both of whom longed to gain complete control over North America, had to contend with the presence of significant Indian populations in the region, and for many years avoided direct military confrontation with each other. These Indian tribes largely supported the French, who lavished them with gifts and treated them like partners, but traded with the English when necessary.

Beginning in the 1740s, however, English traders began to venture out into the Ohio Valley, establishing relations with tribes that had previously traded only with the French. In the late 1740s the Ohio Company, a land-speculation company (a company that buys land with the intention of selling it for a profit), founded a settlement at the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. (The site is now known as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) French governors in Canada feared that this was the beginning of an English attempt to dominate the interior of the continent, and they began to build a series of forts to ward off English settlement. When they built Fort Duquesne (pronounced doo-KAYNE) near present-day Pittsburgh in 1754, the governor of Virginia (who claimed the land for the British colony) sent an armed force under the command of George Washington (1732–1799) to expel them from the area. The French defeated Washington and his men at the Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3 and 4, 1754, thus beginning the French and Indian War.

The French and Indian War (1754–63)

The French and Indian War began badly for the British. British and colonial forces led by General Edward Braddock (1695–1755) were soundly beaten by a combined French and Indian force when the British attempted to take Fort Duquesne in 1755, and they continued to suffer defeat after defeat between 1755 and 1757. American colonists resisted the burden of financing the war, which the British were forcing them to pay for. But the tide turned when the new leader of the British troops, William Pitt (1708–1778), committed his forces to a sustained campaign and began encouraging cooperation with American colonial forces. In a string of victories, the British and American forces captured the French fort at Louisbourg on the St. Lawrence River, Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario, and Fort Duquesne. British general James Wolfe led the defeat of the main French army at Quebec in 1759, but the war did not officially come to an end until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763. Under the treaty, France relinquished its claim to Canada and the Ohio Valley and turned over its holdings west of the Mississippi River to Spain.

"In 1763," writes historian Elliott West in The Oxford History of the American West, "England suddenly found itself the master of eastern North America. Just as quickly, it began to learn how success bred difficulties." Indian tribes that had long sided with the French remained hostile to the English, and they launched a series of attacks on British positions throughout the Ohio Valley. This loosely organized coalition of Indians, created in part by an Ottawa chief named Pontiac (c. 1720–1769), captured several British forts and harassed frontier settlers throughout the region. Seeking to avoid further bloodshed, the British issued an order known as the Proclamation of 1763 that recalled all settlers from west of the Appalachian crest and forbade further emigration into the area. The proclamation enraged many colonists and proved largely ineffective. The colonists thought that their victory in the recent French and Indian War entitled them to push farther into the interior. By disobeying the proclamation, the colonists took yet another step toward breaking their ties with the British.

Opening the West

To the British, slowing westward expansion made good sense. Further westward emigration could only bring continuing costly wars with the Indians, and the opening of more land for settlers would attract emigrants from England and deplete the labor force there. Moreover, the British feared that if the colonies grew further, they would become ever more difficult to govern. The colonists, however, had other needs and ideas. The rapid growth of the colonial population in the 1700s placed real pressures on the land. As land was divided among growing families, and as the fertility of the soil declined after more than a century of use, it became increasingly difficult to support a family on an eastern farm. Accustomed to open land, American farmers and potential settlers felt that they needed at least a hundred acres to support a family. The possession of this amount of land helped make good citizens, they believed, and was thus essential to colonial life. It only made sense to them that they take possession of the fertile land in the Ohio Valley.

Settlers began moving into the areas around Fort Duquesne (now named Fort Pitt) after 1760. Scotch-Irish farmers from North Carolina moved into eastern Tennessee around 1771, seeking to avoid the corruption, high taxes, and inadequate representation they complained of back home. Settlers in both these areas had to look out for the American Indians whose territory they were invading. The early settlers of Kentucky did not have such worries, for there were no permanent Indian settlements in the fertile valleys they occupied. Judge Richard Henderson (1735–1785) spearheaded the development of Kentucky when he "purchased" millions of acres in central Kentucky from some Cherokee Indians and in 1775 sent a company led by frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734–1820) to live in the area. (Henderson's "purchase" of Indian land, like many such purchases, played on the Indian's misunderstanding of land ownership; it never occured to many Indians that land could even be sold.) Such settlers overlooked the Proclamation of 1763 and ignored any previous claims to the land they desired. And despite further attempts by the British to halt emigration, settlers continued to move west.

The Revolutionary War (1776–83)

The clash between colonial desires and British demands on the frontier was just one of many factors that led to the war for independence that the colonies waged against England beginning in 1776. Indian tribes saw that their interests lay with the British, and they cooperated with the British in numerous battles along the western frontier. South of Kentucky, Cherokee leaders attacked white settlements in the summer of 1776. In western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, loyalists and Iroquois warriors conducted hundreds of raids against colonial settlements under the leadership of British colonel John Butler (1728–1796) and Mohawk warrior Joseph Brant (1742–1807). Counterattacks by colonial forces destroyed dozens of towns and left the area devastated. And in Kentucky, the Shawnee, the Delaware, and their allies terrorized white settlements, killing hundreds of settlers between 1777 and 1782. All such attacks were encouraged if not actually aided by the British.

Despite their setbacks in the West, colonial forces prevailed in their war for independence, and the British surrendered in 1783. The 1783 Treaty of Paris granted the newly formed United States of America its independence and all the territory from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachians west to the Mississippi River. (The Spanish, of course, still retained Florida and the area west of the Mississippi.) It was a vast and ungovernable territory, and the British hoped that, despite the treaty, they could continue to exert their influence in the trans-Appalachian area, profiting from the fur trade and disrupting American settlement. For their part, the Americans looked to the new territory as a land of opportunity, capable of providing the resources needed by the citizens of a growing nation—if only it could be claimed from the Native Americans.

The new nation had more than Indians to worry about as it surveyed its western territories. It also had to settle the conflicting claims of the different colonies (now states). When the colonies had first formed, they claimed vast stretches of unsurveyed land. As that land began to be settled, conflicting claims to territory brought many of the colonies into dispute. Following the Revolutionary War, however, Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts handed over their interior holdings to the national government. The holdings included all claims north of the Ohio River and west of Pennsylvania. This region, known as the Northwest Territory or the Old Northwest, allowed the new nation the opportunity to expand in an organized fashion.

Excerpts from the Land Ordinance of 1785

May 20, 1785

An Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of Lands in the Western Territory.

BE it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, that the territory ceded by individual States to the United States, which has been purchased of the Indian inhabitants, shall be disposed of in the following manner:

A surveyor from each state shall be appointed by Congress or a Committee of the States, who shall take an oath for the faithful discharge of his duty, before the Geographer of the United States....

...The Surveyors, as they are respectively qualified, shall proceed to divide the said territory into townships of six miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles, as near as may be, unless where the boundaries of the late Indian purchases may render the same impracticable....

The lines shall be measured with a chain; shall be plainly marked by chaps on the trees, and exactly described on a plat; whereon shall be noted by the surveyor, at their proper distances, all mines, salt-springs, salt-licks and mill-seats, that shall come to his knowledge, and all water-courses, mountains and other remarkable and permanent things, over and near which such lines shall pass, and also the quality of the lands.

There shall be reserved for the United States out of every township the four lots, being numbered 8, 11, 26, 29, and out of every fractional part of a township, so many lots of the same numbers as shall be found thereon, for future sale. There shall be reserved the lot No. 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within the said township, also one-third part of all gold, silver, lead and copper mines, to be sold, or otherwise disposed of as Congress shall hereafter direct....

(Journals of the Continental Congress, ed. by J. C. Fitzpatrick, Vol. XXVIII, p. 375 ff.)

The Ordinance of 1785

The national legislature soon passed two laws that were crucial to the history of westward expansion: the Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance. The Ordinance of 1785 established a pattern for the surveying and division of all territories westward from the point where the Ohio River leaves the state of Pennsylvania. "That first square inch of the first surveyor's stake," writes West, "was a kind of polestar of national development, the anchored point of reckoning for more than a billion acres. Nowhere else in the world would an area of such size be laid out in a uniform land system." The entire Northwest Territory was to be surveyed into sections (measuring one square mile, or 640 acres). These sections were to be grouped into townships (six square miles, or 36 sections), and one section was to be set aside for public schools. The effects of this ordinance on the landscape were and are incalculable, for the ordinance placed a gridwork pattern atop the tumult of natural features, leading to the creation of roads, towns, and farms that obeyed the logic of the surveyor's stake rather than the lay of the land. And though the land was offered for sale at one dollar an acre, the minimum sale of 640 acres put land prices out of reach for some potential settlers and made farm sizes unmanageable. (This element of the ordinance would later be changed.)

The Northwest Ordinance

While the Ordinance of 1785 provided for the orderly arrangement of the land, the Northwest Ordinance, also known as the Ordinance of 1787, provided for the orderly establishment of future states. It declared that the Northwest Territory would be divided into three to five territories. Such territories would first be ruled by a governor, his secretary, and three judges, appointed by the national government. When five thousand free males lived in the territory, elections could be held to form a legislature. When sixty thousand free inhabitants were counted, the territory could petition for statehood. The new state would enjoy all the rights and privileges of existing states. The Northwest Ordinance also established a system of laws in the territories, forbade slavery, and guaranteed certain civil rights. Thirty-one of the thirty-five states west of the Appalachians became states through this process.

The Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance attempted to impose order on the growth of the United States, but the actual growth of the nation was far from orderly. There were two problems: the land was already occupied by Native Americans, many of whom had lived there for centuries, and the rush of settlers and land speculators into the newly opened territory defied organization. In order for settlement to progress, the land first had to be claimed from the Indians, who would fight for their right to live in the territory. Then it had to be divided equitably among players of unequal power.

Taking Indian land

The third article of the Northwest Ordinance made the Indians a promise: "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded and disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them." The authors of the ordinance may have meant what they wrote, but in the years to come every element of their promise to the Indians was broken or severely distorted. Indian lands were systematically invaded; Indian property was ruthlessly destroyed; and the only laws made were intended to strip Indians of any claim to the land on which they had hunted and lived for years.

Though relations between whites and Native Americans had quieted just after the end of the Revolutionary War, after 1786 hostilities between Americans and Indians on the frontier began to heat up. Acting in concert, Indians led by Miami chief Little Turtle (c. 1752–1812) began to attack farm-steads in Kentucky, killing as many as one settler per week. State militias retaliated, heightening the tensions between the two sides. In 1790, concerned about the Indians' coordinated efforts and aware that they were receiving encouragement from British troops who had still not left the territory, President George Washington sent forces to strike against what he called "certain banditti [bandits] of Indians from the northwest side of the Ohio." The Indians had a score of triumphs, including a 1791 rout of forces led by territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair. In that battle, Little Turtle's forces killed 630 out of 1,400 men and captured hundreds of weapons. When treaty negotiations between the two sides failed, Washington sent General Anthony Wayne (1745–1796) on a more sustained campaign against the Indian forces. Wayne's troops scored a major victory over a combined force of eight hundred Indians at the battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The defeat was particularly dispiriting for the Indians, for they learned during the battle that they could not depend on support from the British forces stationed in nearby Fort Miamis. The battle of Fallen Timbers was not conclusive, but it indicated to the Indians that the Americans were willing to commit substantial resources to settling the Old Northwest.

Land sales

Despite their promises that Indians would retain claim to their land, the national and state governments were quick to sell off vast tracts of land on which Native Americans were still living. Such land sales brought immediate revenue to governments still struggling to pay off debts accumulated during the Revolutionary War (1776–83), but they didn't bode well for the lone settler hoping to buy a small chunk of land on which to start a farm. Land speculators proved to be the biggest purchasers of land. The Ohio Company of Associates bought five million acres of land in southern Ohio at a cost of about nine cents an acre; New York sold more than five million acres at an average price of twenty cents an acre. The worst case of land speculators getting land cheaply occurred when the Georgia legislature was bribed into selling thirty-five million acres at just over a penny an acre. Wealthy land speculators held on to the land until the prices rose and then sold it for a large profit.

Unable to purchase land, some settlers, called squatters, simply claimed a patch of land that they liked. Others paid the prices demanded by the land speculators but complained loudly to their representatives. Popular uproar over the excesses of the land speculators soon persuaded legislators to change land-sale policies. The Harrison Land Act of 1800 allowed settlers to purchase land in parcels as small as 320 acres (down from 640 acres), a size more suited to family farming. The act also allowed land to be purchased on credit, with a fourth of the cost as a down payment and the remainder due in four years. This act helped encourage an everincreasing number of emigrants to commit to the difficult life of the pioneer settler.

Carving farms from the forests

The stream of emigrants (people who leave an area to settle in a new area) began to work its way west during the last years of the eighteenth century. Settlers tended to move due westward from their present locations. Thus the upper Ohio Valley was settled primarily by the former residents of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, while the southern Ohio Valley and the Gulf frontier were settled by Virginians, Carolinians, and Georgians. The majority of the settlers intended to farm, but first they had to carve their farms out of the dense forest that carpeted most of the land. Most such families were self-supporting: They grew beans, squash, and corn; hunted for the game that abounded in the woods; and fished in the lakes and streams. Farming families usually kept some domestic animals, the most common being pigs. Pigs require no pastures, rooting for their food wherever they find it, and settlers found uses for every last bit of the animal, from snout to hooves.

The first settlers in the northern areas were subsistence farmers (farmers who produce just enough to support themselves), scratching a living from the land for a few years and then moving on when the soil began to wear out. Later farmers practiced more sustainable agriculture, plowing the land, rotating crops, and fertilizing with manure. On cleared lands many farmers began to harvest wheat, which by the early 1800s had become a major cash crop. On the southern frontier, cotton quickly became the dominant crop. After the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, it became very profitable to grow cotton. As in the north, the first settlers cleared the land and moved on. But in the south, wealthy planters bought up property and combined it into large plantations. Rich in capital and slaves, these plantation owners produced goods for a global economy (to be sold around the world). Their example encouraged others to believe that the frontier was not just a place for "backwoods farmers" but could provide real economic opportunity. Cattle ranches also proved profitable enterprises on the southern frontier; prior to the War of 1812, more land was dedicated to cattle raising than to any other economic activity.

Though the American frontier is often depicted in terms of farms and plantations, in truth towns and cities were important centers of frontier life. Most towns formed along major rivers, which provided easy transportation of goods to market. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Lexington, Kentucky; and Cincinnati, Ohio, all became important centers of trade and even manufacturing. New Orleans, Louisiana, at the mouth of the Mississippi, was of course a major shipping and trading center. These cities were lively and even dangerous places. They served the needs of many different people—farmers, fur trappers, Indians, and merchants—many of whom sought in the city amusements they could not find elsewhere. Gambling houses, brothels, and saloons thrived in these wide-open towns. Not all was wild, of course. A variety of Protestant churches thrived on the frontier, with the Methodists making particular efforts to reach people and establish congregations, especially in the northern territories.

Obstacles to expansion

In the years following the Revolutionary War (1776–83), much changed in the trans-Appalachian West. Kentucky became a state in 1792, and Tennessee followed in 1796. Many thousands of settlers moved out into territory that only a few years earlier had been largely possessed by Indians. The white people in the trans-Appalachian West soon outnumbered the Indians, and they had behind them the force of the national government and the solid weight of public opinion in favor of moving ever westward. Yet the growing nation still faced major obstacles. British forces remained in place throughout the Northwest Territory, and they encouraged Indians who wished to battle the intrusive Americans. Equally important, the nation was becoming increasingly dependent on the Mississippi River and its principal port of New Orleans, but both the city and the Louisiana Territory (the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains) were controlled by the Spanish. Should the Spaniards turn against the United States, all of the western settlements would be threatened. As the century turned, the fate of westward expansion was still in doubt.

The Louisiana Purchase

The problem of Spanish control of the Louisiana Territory and New Orleans was removed in a strange twist of diplomatic fate. The United States had long feared that the Spanish would restrict trade along the Mississippi, and their fears were confirmed in 1802 when Spanish authorities barred American traders from using the port of New Orleans. When American authorities protested the closure of the port, they learned that the Louisiana Territory had actually been given to France in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso two years earlier. President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) instructed diplomat Robert Livingston (1746–1813) to negotiate with France for the reopening of the port. In the process of these negotiations, Livingston and James Monroe (1758–1831) soon learned that France was interested in doing far more than opening the port—it was willing to sell the entire territory. The two negotiators, surprised by the offer from French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) and acting without authorization from President Jefferson, negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory for about fifteen million dollars. In April 1803 the French government accepted the offer.

The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory put Jefferson in a difficult position. There was no public support for the acquisition of this territory, and the U.S. Constitution made no provision for the purchase of territory from a foreign country. Jefferson feared that purchasing the land was not even legal. Yet Jefferson and Congress could not pass up the opportunity to nearly double the size of the country with a single, inexpensive purchase (the land cost about four cents an acre). Though no one knew exactly how far the borders of the Louisiana Territory extended, the Congress approved the Louisiana Purchase on December 20, 1803. With that one acquisition, the United States gained 800,000 square miles of territory.

The coming of the War of 1812

All of the territory in the world would do Americans no good if they could not control it, and in the years leading up to the War of 1812 the United States came to realize that it must once again fight England to defend its rights as a sovereign nation (a country that is free to determine its own destiny). The War of 1812 is often called the Second War for Independence, for despite granting the United States its independence in 1783, the British continued to station British forces in the Northwest Territory and encourage Indian attacks on U.S. settlements. And, after 1805, as part of their war effort against the French, the British repeatedly disrupted U.S. shipping to France. Though the shipping and trade issues became the subject of diplomatic negotiations, many historians agree that the real cause of the war between the United States and Britain was the United States' desire to secure control of its western territories and prevent further British meddling on the continent. The so-called "War Hawks," members of Congress from the western states, even hoped that they could wrest control of Canada from the British, thus further expanding American control. Those in the West also saw war as a legitimate way to drive troublesome Indians off the land Americans wanted.

Tecumseh and Indian resistance

The greatest threat to American lives in the years leading up to and including the War of 1812 came from Indians determined to stop westward expansion. Surveying the steady encroachment of white men onto Indian lands in the present-day states of Ohio and Indiana, a Shawnee chief named Tecumseh (1768–1813) spearheaded the formation of a confederation of Indian tribes that hoped to stop the white advance. He was aided by his brother, Tenskwatawa (c. 1768–1834), a one-eyed prophet who had stirred excitement among Indian tribes with his visions of a unified and triumphant Indian nation. Tecumseh's influence spread far to the south as well, where he had secured the cooperation of the Creeks, Cherokee, and Choctaw. In a speech to these tribes quoted in Ray Allen Billington's Westward to the Pacific, Tecumseh called for "War now. War forever. War upon the living. War upon the dead; dig up their very corpses from the graves; our country must give no rest to a white man's bones."

By 1808 Tecumseh's confederation was organizing to oppose the land grabs of territorial Governor William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) and had formed a village called Prophetstown in north-central Indiana. Harrison had negotiated a treaty with a fragment of a tribe, and he believed this treaty gave him the right to take over three million acres of prime Indiana land. The stage was set for a confrontation. Harrison's forces met a group led by Tenskwatawa on November 7, 1811, at Prophetstown and routed the Indian forces. When the actual war with England began in 1812, Tecumseh allied himself with the unreliable British forces and participated in some 150 battles with American forces. Tecumseh himself was killed, and his followers demoralized, when Indian forces protecting the retreating British were thoroughly beaten at the Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813).

The Battle of New Orleans

Ironically, the most important battle of the War of 1812 (1812–14) was fought after the Treaty of Ghent was signed (though neither side knew it). British commander Sir Edward Pakenham led a force of seventy-five hundred British troops in an effort to capture the city of New Orleans and thus cripple American trade. After easily defeating a tiny American naval fleet, Pakenham ordered his men to march on the city on January 8, 1815. Awaiting him was a band of western frontiersmen, six thousand strong, led by the famous Indian fighter General Andrew Jackson. The strategically placed U.S. forces rained bullets on the British, killing two thousand soldiers in less than an hour and losing only a few American lives. The battle secured the Mississippi Valley, made a hero of Jackson (who would later become president), and sparked a wave of pride among American citizens.

Tecumseh's southern allies, who called themselves Red Sticks, fared no better. In an early battle, they succeeded at slaughtering five hundred people who had taken refuge in Fort Mims on the Alabama River. American retaliation was swift. Led by Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), a military force cornered and killed more than eight hundred Indian warriors, effectively ending Indian resistance on the southern frontier. As a result of these and other confrontations during the War of 1812, organized Indian resistance to westward expansion ended. Leaderless and with their best warriors killed, the Indians signed treaties that granted white men access to vast tracts of land.

Though the war against the Indians was conducted on the western frontier, American forces met the British in the east, on the sea, and on the Great Lakes. The British navy defeated the Americans on the seas and burned Washington, D.C. American forces triumphed on the Great Lakes, thanks to the heroic efforts of Captain Oliver Perry (1785–1819), and drove the British from the interior of the United States. In the end the war was something of a stalemate, but as with the Revolutionary War, the British simply didn't have the will to conduct a long war across the sea. The Treaty of Ghent, signed late in 1814, gave the United States undisputed claim to the inland Northwest and restored American shipping rights.


With its triumph in the War of 1812, the United States surveyed the vast western landscape without having to worry about European meddling or organized Indian resistance. Finally able to take advantage of the Louisiana Purchase, the nation expanded westward quickly, establishing states throughout what became known as the Midwest and the South, and sending settlers out on a network of trails that would take them all the way to the Pacific coast. There would certainly be obstacles in the years ahead—battles with Indians, war with the Mexicans over Texas, and a long-simmering conflict over the expansion of slavery into new territories—but after 1812 the United States was far more confident and aggressive in staking its claim to a land that stretched from sea to shining sea.

For More Information


Billington, Ray Allen, with James Blaine Hedges. Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier. New York: Macmillan, 1949.

Edwards, Cheryl, ed. Westward Expansion: Exploration and Settlement.

Lowell, MA: Discovery Enterprises, 1995.

Erdosh, George. Food and Recipes of the Westward Expansion. New York: PowerKids Press, 1997.

Mancall, Peter C., ed. Westward Expansion, 1800–1860. Detroit: Gale, 1999.

Wexler, Alan, ed. Atlas of Westward Expansion. New York: Facts On File, 1995.

Web sites

The American West. [Online] (accessed April 4, 2000).

National Archives and Records Administration. "The Louisiana Purchase." American Originals. [Online] (accessed April 4, 2000).

The West. [Online] (accessed April 4, 2000).


Billington, Ray Allen. Westward to the Pacific: An Overview of America's Westward Expansion. St. Louis: Jefferson National Expansion Historical Association, 1979.

Faber, Harold. From Sea to Sea: The Growth of the United States. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992.

Milner, Clyde A., II, Carol A. O'Connor, and Martha A. Sandweiss, eds. The Oxford History of the American West. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Smith, Carter, ed. The Conquest of the West: A Sourcebook on the American West. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.

White, Richard. "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A New History of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

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Claiming the Near West: Territorial Expansion to 1812

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