American Frontier Essay, Research Paper
Westward movement in America carried settlers across America, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The westward movement began in the early 1600’s with European settlements along the Atlantic Coast of North America. It continued until the late 1800’s. By that time, the western frontiers of the United States had been conquered.
An abundance of land and other natural resources lured America’s pioneers westward. Fur traders, cattle ranchers, farmers, and miners led the push to the west. Merchants and other business people followed. These hard-working men and women faced great dangers, endured severe hardships, and suffered loneliness and boredom in the hope of making a better life for themselves and their children. Some of them looked to the west for wealth or adventure. Others sought to improve their social position or increase their political power.
The pioneers struggled westward across hills, mountains, and prairies on foot and on horseback. Some floated through the Erie Canal on barges or traveled down rivers on flatboats and steamboats. Others crossed the rugged wilderness in covered wagons. For many pioneers, the Cumberland Gap, the Oregon Trail, and other roads west became paths to opportunity.
The American frontier shifted westward in stages. The first American frontier ran along the Atlantic Coast. Settlers began to cross the Appalachian Mountains after territory west of the mountains came under British control in 1763. During the early 1800’s, the next push westward took settlers into the Great Lakes region, the Mississippi River Valley, and the plains along the Gulf of Mexico. By the mid-1840’s, adventurous pioneers had reached what are now California and Oregon in the Far West. The last frontier was the Great Plains between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. The settlement of that region began in the 1860’s.
In 1890, the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported that no frontiers remained in the United States. The pioneers had conquered the West.
Settlers from different lands brought their own customs and way of life to the frontier. In the process, they helped create American culture. For example, Scandinavian settlers brought the log cabin to America. Other settlers copied the log cabin throughout the Old West. German gunsmiths in Pennsylvania adapted a European rifle to pioneer needs. The result–the Kentucky rifle–proved essential on the frontier for shooting game and for defense against wild animals.
As each frontier became settled, tensions developed between western settlers and colonial governments in the east. The westerners resented paying taxes to distant governments that provided them with few benefits. The easterners viewed the west as a backwoods inhabited by people incapable of governing themselves. At times, disputes between the two groups turned violent. In 1764, Pennsylvania frontiersmen known as “the Paxton Boys” marched on Philadelphia, the colony’s capital. But Pennsylvania statesman Benjamin Franklin persuaded them to turn back. In the Carolinas, a group of westerners known as the “Regulators” assembled to protest high taxes, insufficient representation in colonial government, and other injustices. A battle was narrowly avoided at the Saluda River in South Carolina in 1769. The Regulators fought and lost the Battle of Alamance in North Carolina in 1771.
A vast territory west of the Appalachians lay open for settlement after the French and Indian War. However, Indians were prepared to defend their hunting grounds on that land. The British hoped to prevent costly Indian wars by keeping white settlers east of the Appalachians. For that reason, Britain issued the Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation drew a line through the mountains and forbade white settlements west of the line. It also ordered settlers already there to move back east and required traders in the region to have licenses. Investors in land, farmers, and traders–all eager to take advantage of the new territory–resented the restrictions.
The Proclamation of 1763 halted westward expansion for only a short time. Investors and colonists clamored for more land as the population in the East increased and the amount of available farmland decreased. Treaties negotiated with the Indians in 1768 shifted the proclamation line westward and opened the way for the settlement of what are now West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. Pioneers settled at Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) and in river valleys nearby.
Some pioneers marched farther west into what are now eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Daniel Boone was one of the most famous of those adventuresome pioneers. In 1775, he led a group of woodsmen from Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. The trail they carved out became known as the Wilderness Road. In Kentucky, Boone founded a settlement called Boonesborough. Other pioneers, such as James Robertson and John Sevier, established frontier communities along the Holston, Watauga, and Clinch rivers in eastern Tennessee. By the time the Revolutionary War began in April 1775, this frontier region swarmed with land speculators and the settlers they had attracted.
During the Revolutionary War, the British encouraged Indians to attack American settlements along the western frontier. Many western settlers fled back east. In 1778 and 1779, Virginia sent troops under Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark to strike at the British. Clark captured several settlements under British control in what are now Illinois and Indiana. As a result of Clark’s victories, the United States claimed the area between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes.
After the United States won its independence from Britain in 1783, it acquired British lands extending west to the Mississippi; north to Canada; and south to Florida, which was then a Spanish territory. Settled areas west of the Appalachians soon became part of the United States. Kentucky joined the Union in 1792, and Tennessee followed in 1796.
After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the westward movement carried settlers onto two new frontiers. They were the Old Northwest and the Old Southwest. The Old Northwest extended from the Ohio River north to the Great Lakes and from Pennsylvania west to the Mississippi River. The Old Southwest at first consisted of Kentucky and Tennessee. It gradually expanded south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Congress, eager for revenue from the sale of land in the Old Northwest, adopted the Ordinance of 1785. That law required the government to survey the Old Northwest before selling the land to the public. The territory was divided into townships of 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) square. These townships were further divided into 36 sections, each 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) square, an area that equals 640 acres (259 hectares). The 640-acre units were then auctioned off to the public for a price of at least $1 an acre. Few farmers could afford to buy as much as 640 acres. Land speculators, such as the Ohio Company and the Scioto Company, grabbed up most of the land. These companies then divided the land into smaller sections and sold them at a profit.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established a government for the Old Northwest, which then became known as the Northwest Territory. Congress appointed the first officials of the territory–a governor, a secretary, and three judges. When the territory reached a population of 5,000 adult males, it could elect an assembly and send a nonvoting delegate to Congress. When any division of the territory reached a population of 60,000, it could apply for statehood.
The ordinances of 1785 and 1787 paved the way for full-scale migration to the west. The laws also established guidelines for the administration of all U.S. territories. Treaties with Britain and Spain further encouraged westward migration. Under the terms of the Jay Treaty, signed with Britain in 1794, the British agreed to abandon the military posts they still occupied in the Northwest Territory. In 1795, the United States signed the Pinckney Treaty with Spain, which then controlled Florida and the mouth of the Mississippi River. The treaty settled a dispute over the northern border of Florida, and it opened the Mississippi River to American traders.
America’s rapid westward expansion led to warfare between white settlers and Indians. During the early 1790’s, British traders in the Northwest Territory encouraged Indians to attack frontier settlements. Native American tribes were defeated by Major General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near what is now Toledo, Ohio, in 1794. In the Treaty of Greenville, signed in 1795, the Indians gave up their claim to the southern two-thirds of what is now Ohio and the southeastern part of what is now Indiana. Pioneers rushed into the area. By 1800, the Ohio region had 45,000 settlers. In 1803, Ohio became the first section of the Northwest Territory to achieve statehood.
White settlers soon disregarded the line drawn by the Treaty of Greenville to separate their land from Indian land. As land-hungry pioneers advanced westward, the Indians were forced to sign many additional treaties, each time giving up more land. In the early 1800’s, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh–aided by his brother, known as the Shawnee Prophet–tried to halt the invasion of white settlers. They worked to organize an alliance of Indian tribes from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. But Tecumseh’s plans for an alliance were largely destroyed when his forces were defeated at the Battle of Tippecanoe in the Indiana Territory in 1811.
The War of 1812 briefly interrupted America’s westward expansion. During the war, many tribes in Tecumseh’s alliance sided with the British against the United States. The Indians hoped that a U.S. defeat would allow them to keep their lands. However, two American victories hastened the downfall of Indian civilization east of the Mississippi River. In 1813, a combined British and Indian force suffered defeat at the Battle of the Thames in southern Canada. In 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson led soldiers to victory over the Creek Indians in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in what is now Alabama.
By the mid-1800’s, the U.S. government had moved almost all of the eastern Indians to the Indian Territory, an area set aside for the Indians west of the Mississippi River. That territory later became almost identical in area with present-day Oklahoma. Thousands of Indians died of starvation and disease on the march to the Indian Territory.