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Northwest Territory

The Northwest Territory was the first organized territory created by the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. The territory was defined as east of the Mississippi River, northwest of the Ohio River, south of the Great Lakes, and west of Pennsylvania. The Northwest Territory included what is now Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and the northeast part of Minnesota.

History of the Territory:
After France’s defeat in the French and Indian War, the territory of New France was relinquished to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ceded the land west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River to the United States by the Great Britain. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia made claims over parts of the territory to Congress. Between 1780 and 1802 the states surrendered their claims and the western territory eventually came under the public domain of the United States.

Congress developed a national policy and enacted three ordinances, 1784 Land Ordinance, 1785 Land Ordinance, and the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. The 1784 Land Ordinance was the first ordinance introduced by Thomas Jefferson and it provided a procedure for dividing the territory into multiple individual states. The 1785 Land Ordinance established a standardized a method of surveying and subdividing the land. The Northwest Ordinance was passed on July 13th, 1787 and established a territorial government and made General Arthur St. Clair the first Governor. The ordinance also proposed that the territory should be divided into no less than five states. It was also decreed that when the adult male population reached 5,000 the residents could elect their own legislature. Also, when the population reached 60,000 territories would be granted statehood. On July 15th, 1788, General St. Clair formed a government and established Marietta as the territorial capital. In 1790 however, the administrative capital and military center was shifted to Fort Washington in Cincinnati.

The Northwest Territory was divided into two parts in 1800. The larger portion was known as Indiana Territory and included states now known as Wisconsin, Illinois, parts of Michigan, Minnesota, and a major part of Indiana. The smaller portion retained the name Northwest Territory and included parts of Ohio, Michigan, and a small portion of Indiana. On March 1st, 1803, Ohio became the first US state formed out of the Northwest Territory. This was followed by the creation of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.


Ghosh, Diptarka. “Northwest Territory.” WorldAtlas. WorldAtlas, April 21, 2021. https://www.worldatlas.com/geography/northwest-territory.html.

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