Southwest Territory: Wikis


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Territory South of the River Ohio
Organized incorporated territory of the United States

1790 – 1796

Flag of Southwest Territory


Capital Knoxville
Government Organized incorporated territory
 - 1790-1796 William Blount
 - Ceded by North Carolina April 2 1790
 - Southwest Ordinance May 26, 1790
 - Statehood June 1 1796
The territories north west and south west of the River Ohio are depicted on this map of the early United States (1783-1803).

The Territory South of the River Ohio, more commonly known as the Southwest Territory, was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 26, 1790, until June 1, 1796, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Tennessee.

The Southwest Territory was created by the Southwest Ordinance enacted on May 26, 1790, out of land that was ceded to the U.S. federal government by State of North Carolina. The name "Territory South of the River Ohio" suggests a much larger territory than modern-day Tennessee. Even though Kentucky was south of the Ohio River, it was still a part of Virginia when the Southwest Territory was organized in 1790, and it would stay part of Virginia until it became a state in 1792. The land south of modern-day Tennessee was either still claimed by Georgia or disputed with Spain. Part of it would be organized as the Mississippi Territory in 1798, two years after the Southwest Territory had passed from existence.

The Southwest Territory should not be confused with the modern Southwestern United States.



During the colonial period, land that would become the Southwest Territory was part of North Carolina's land grant, but the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains prevented North Carolina from pursuing any interest in the territory. Trade, political interest, and settlement came instead from Virginia and South Carolina.

Fort Watauga (at Sycamore Shoals) in present day Elizabethton, Tennessee was also the site of the Transylvania Purchase. In March 1775, land speculator and North Carolina judge Richard Henderson met with more than 1,200 Cherokees at Sycamore Shoals, including Cherokee leaders such as Attacullaculla, Oconostota, and Dragging Canoe. In the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals (also known as the Treaty of Watauga), Henderson purchased all the land lying between the Cumberland River, the Cumberland Mountains, and the Kentucky River, and situated south of the Ohio River. The land thus delineated, 20 million acres (80,000 km²), encompassed an area half as large as the present state of Kentucky. Henderson's purchase was in violation of North Carolina and Virginia law, as well as the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited private purchase of American Indian land. Henderson may have believed that a recent British legal opinion (the Camden-Yorke opinion) had made such purchases legal.

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (George Caleb Bingham, oil on canvas, 1851–52)

Before the Sycamore Shoals treaty, Henderson had hired Daniel Boone, an experienced hunter who had explored Kentucky, to travel to the Cherokee towns and inform them of the upcoming negotiations. Afterwards, Boone was hired to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road, which went through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky. Along with a party of about thirty workers, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he established Boonesborough (near present-day Lexington, Kentucky), which was intended to be the capital of Transylvania. Other settlements, notably Harrodsburg, were also established at this time. Many of these settlers had come to Kentucky on their own initiative, and did not recognize Transylvania's authority. A Daniel Boone Trail historical marker is found just outside the downtown Elizabethton business district.

Early during the American Revolutionary War, Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals was the attacked in 1776 by Dragging Canoe and his warring faction of Cherokee opposed to the Transylvania Purchase (also referred by settlers as the Chickamauga), and the surviving frontier Fort Watauga on the banks of the Watauga River.

North Carolina organized some of the territory into counties between 1777 and 1778 but continued to neglect the demands of settlers for basic services and defense against American Indians.

Fort Watauga served as the September 26, 1780[1 ] staging area for the Overmountain Men who were preparing to trek over the Appalachian Mountains, to both engage, and later defeat, the British Army forces at the Battle of Musgrave's Mill in South Carolina and later at the Battle of Kings Mountain in North Carolina.

Prior to the American Revolutionary War very little gunpowder had been made in the United States; and, as a British Colony, most had been imported from Britain. In October 1777 the British Parliament banned the importation of gunpowder into America. Five hundred pounds of black powder was manufactured for the Overmountain Men by Mary Patton and her husband at their Gap Creek powder mill, and the Overmountain Men stored the Patton black powder on that first rainy night in a dry cave known as Shelving Rock that is located nearby present day Roan Mountain, Tennessee.[1 ] During January 1781, the Overmountain Men also fought the British at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.

In 1784 several counties within the area of Northeast Tennessee formed the State of Franklin. John Sevier was named governor and the area began operating as an independent state not recognized by the U.S. Congress. At about the same time, settlers in the other parts of Tennessee were making overtures for an alliance with Spain, which controlled the lower Mississippi. North Carolina began to reassert control, and the State of Franklin quietly ceased to exist in 1788.

North Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1789. As a condition of joining the Union, it ceded its claim to territory west of the Smoky Mountains under an act passed by the North Carolina General Assembly. The deed to the land was submitted to the 1st U.S. Congress on February 25, 1790, and accepted by Congress on April 2, 1790. On May 26, 1790, the territory was formally organized as the "Territory South of the River Ohio". President George Washington appointed William Blount as territorial governor, and Rocky Mount was its first capital[2]. It was here, in late 1791, that Blount encouraged George Roulstone to bring his press and publish Tennessee's first newspaper in Rogersville, Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Blount decided to move the territorial capital to White's Fort and renamed it Knoxville[3]. Land speculation was a booming business in the new territory and most of the prominent politicians had a stake in things. Expanding white settlements inevitably encroached upon Native American lands, despite government prohibitions. In 1792, Cherokee and Creek warriors attacked settlements in the Cumberland area. Settlers in this area formed a local militia and in the Nickajack Expedition of 1794 took it upon themselves to raze several Chickamauga villages. Threats of similar actions against the Creek brought a period of reapproachment with the native tribes.

When Congress organized the Southwest Territory, it had legislated that all of the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance (except those restricting slavery) would apply mutatis mutandis to the Southwest Territory. In particular, section 12 stated that once a Territorial Legislature was formed, it could elect a non-voting delegate to the United States Congress. So, on September 3, 1794, the territorial government chose James White to be its delegate to Congress. This was much more controversial than it might at first appear: the Northwest Ordinance had been passed by the unicameral Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and it was not obvious whether this delegate would be a member of the House, Senate, or both. Moreover, there were doubts about the constitutionality of such a delegate. Nonetheless, on November 18, a week after White's credentials were presented to the House and after two days of debate, White became the first Delegate to the House of Representatives. He would be the only Delegate from the Southwest Territory.

In 1795, a census revealed there were enough people to petition for statehood and a referendum showed a three-to-one majority in favor of becoming a state. Governor Blount convened a constitutional convention and delegates drafted a state constitution. Voters elected Sevier as governor and the new legislature selected Blount and William Cocke as U.S. Senators and Andrew Jackson as the U.S. Representative.

The Southwest Territory was the first federal territory to petition to join the Union and there was some dissension in the U.S. Congress about how to proceed. Nonetheless, Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796 as the 16th U.S. state. The Southwest Territory ceased to exist at that point.

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