The Beginning Journey West

Advertisements

After the American Revolutionary War, vast amounts of new land became available for settlement. Families could now travel west, past the Appalachian Mountain chain and explore new opportunities. You can imagine the conversations around the evening meals as considerations were discussed. The prospect of leaving the current family home and settling elsewhere would entice excitement and anxiety. Many of these families held memories of traveling the Great Wagon Road to the southern colonies. These families were experienced with traveling long distances and the dangerous situations that would imply. War veterans were weary after struggling through battles of war, sickness and loss. Many veterans and their families longed for new beginnings in a new area with peace. Veterans received land grants in these new locations to reimburse them for their services that were carried out through the war. The new land was the hot topic of conversation after the war. It brought excitement to many communities in Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina and all of the remaining northern states. Local meetings were held in homes, churches and taverns. The majority of the population that were most interested in these meetings and conversations were farmers, wealthy entrepreneurs and young males between the ages of 21 and 30.

The 1783 map above can be used as an excellent reference point for distinguishing which state submitted land warrants, surveyed and operated land purchases, etc. As you can see, originally, the entire upper northwestern territory was once operated and claimed by the state of Virginia. For genealogists, this information is vital to research data and proof of lineage. For the early pioneers pondering on traveling to these areas, it was of little significance on statehood operations. Good road conditions, rich soil and open opportunities were much more important to the 18th century citizen. Regardless of the state, location or area, the farmer families suffered the most economically. Acquiring large land tracts were essential for any farmer to prosper within his community. Next seasons crops were planned for growth which provided the family with more. For instance, the money would provide for additional schooling for the children, visits to relatives who lived elsewhere, updates to the family home, etc. If a family suffered from several failing crops over a short span of a few years, this would greatly impact the family. Overtime, many of these families believed that the opportunities within the new western frontier would allow them to finally prosper. Farming families were close to their neighbors, especially the smaller farms. They relied on one another during harvesting, plowing the fields for spring planting and so much more. If one member of the community decided to leave, this would also greatly impact the remaining neighbors living in the vicinity.

Photo of 18th Century home and farm landscape.

Pioneers Traveled in Organized Groups

A few people knew someone personally who traveled to the new area and sent word back that they made it and the area was promising. Many families were encouraged to move based on the words and letters of others. All of these items did not hold truths about the area such as pamphlets, wagon guides, etc. The dangers however; were numerous. In addition to these dangers, the needed supplies to ensure survival were also numerous. It was unheard of for families to travel alone to areas west of the Appalachians. Even scouts and mountain men preferred to have a travel companion. With this being said, if you have a family ancestor who migrated during this time period to the northwestern territory, you may be able to locate their former neighbors as well. Many genealogists have been able to locate their own families by following the trails of their ancestor’s neighbors. Groups of pioneers traveled west. These groups usually consisted of at least one or more of the following: a guide, farmers, storekeepers, physicians and a pastor.

Once the decision was made to travel west, the family would prepare for the journey. The group would organize itself and combine materials to ensure safety and survival along the trail. A good reference for this would be local early church records. Documents have been discovered within church records that hold data of church members leaving the congregation to travel west. Personal information such as departure date and the names of the members who left the area. Depending on what the family owned, greatly depended on what the family took with them as far as personal items. During this time period, very little furniture items were placed on the wagon due to the weight and available space for it. Tools, cooking utensils, food and money were the essentials that would ensure the family’s survival on the journey and settling the new area. A weighted down wagon on good open roads with a good team pulling it could travel 25 miles a day. This will give you an idea on the length of the trip for your ancestor if you know both the departure and arrival locations. Of course, factors did hamper with the scheduling and the day to day routines of the journey. These factors were weather, sickness, lame horses or steers, wagon failures and more. Some of these could delay a family for days and/or even weeks.

The essentials for any journey west would have included a wagon, horses or steers, harnesses, saddles, tools and provisions. The tools would have been an axe, handsaw, chisels, hammer, shotgun and a knife. Also, wrought nails, coil of wire, 4 yards of rope or strap, hoop iron, cooking utensils and buckets for water. Fishing hooks, line and horseshoes would have been added to the list. Provisions would have included soap for washing garments and personal hygiene. Pickled foods as well as dried fruits, vegetables and meats. Cured ham and bacon as well as jerky. Flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and various spices. Coffee and tea were also loaded. The wagons were packed basically the same with each family and over the years this method became the normal procedure for loading a wagon. The food provisions as well as the garments and linens were laid upon the centered flooring section of the wagon. This was the area where the family would sleep if necessary in the wagon. Other items were strapped to the interior or placed along the sides of the wagon walls.

The Genealogy Journey of the Western Territories can be Discovered Using Local Resources

If you are researching your ancestors along the western trail of the late 18th century and the early 19th century, several surprising resources are available for you. The number one source that comes to mind is early church records. These records are historical documents that can reveal vast amounts of details regarding church members and their lives. Departures to the western frontier engulfed a community. As stated earlier in this segment, pioneer families traveled in organized groups to the western territory. Many genealogists have used church records to not only prove lineage, but to bring to light the details of their ancestor’s lives. The second top source would be the local historical/genealogical societies. These organized groups can range greatly with the amount of documents on hand. Journals, personal letters, ledgers and community news have been located from the time period mentioned in this article. Ledgers located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina have been able to provide exact details on the last purchases from the local businesses prior to a citizen’s departure for the west. The state archives would be a great resource as well. These archives can provide you with veteran service, land grants and the property’s history such as sale date, etc.

Never limit your resources for genealogy or history. Understanding the western migration is one of the most extraordinary subjects of our history. The opening of the northwestern territory affected so many families in so many different ways. To learn more about early wagon trails and research links, please visit the Migrations Page and the United States Genealogy Links Page. If you are having difficulty finding a local resource for your research, let Piedmont Trails know on the contact page. I wish you well on your research and hope you find fascinating treasures along your trails. Enjoy Your Journey !!

Northwest Territory Migration

A Brief History

The Northwest Territory consisted of a vast amount of land located west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River. This land became a territory of the United States after a treaty signed with Paris, France in 1783. It was then known as the Northwest Territory of the River Ohio and the Northwest Land Ordinance was established during the year of 1787. During this time period, land was available for purchase to entice new settlements in the region. Land was also available to American Revolutionary War veterans for their services during the war. Prior to 1787. there were several settlements located within the present day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan areas. These settlements were filled with citizens who migrated before and during the onset of the American Revolutionary War for various reasons. This blog will discuss the brief history of this area prior to statehood of these states. The Northwest Territory Migration was the 2nd largest to occur with the United States. The first being the Great Wagon Road migration from Pennsylvania to the southern colonies. Many of these same families who traveled the Great Wagon Road also traveled the trails for the new territory of the northwest.

Seal of the Territory of the US NW Territory River of Ohio

The Land Ordinance text reveals the initial setting of the land boundaries and the establishment of townships within 6 square miles with lines running north and south. This ordinance also proclaimed the need of public schools and each township was to set aside a tract of land for the purpose of a school. The ordinance also prohibited slaves upon the land. Unlike the early settlements of the colonies prior to the independence, our fore fathers were organizing the western sections by land sales and education of the future. These two elements were vital for the security of the new nation. The committee overseeing the operations of this ordinance was divided primarily between two known groups, the New England land system and the Southern land system. The first concentrating on the townships and how they would be surveyed and charted. The Southern land system focused on the frontiersman and larger tracts of land opposed to the original smaller tracts. The Southern land system wanted to expand it’s way of life known in the southern colonies with large plantations and slavery. Both of these groups played an important role in the new territory and both displayed attractions to the citizens thinking upon the idea of relocating to the area.

This diagram demonstrates the method in which land was charted and surveyed in the new territory. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Land settlement was prohibited west of the Appalachian Mountain chain since 1763. Although several families did indeed travel to these areas, especially present day Kentucky and Tennessee from 1763-1785. When the pioneers of the original colonies heard word of the new land available legally in the northwest, they also learned of the new laws proposed within the territory. This was accepted and viewed upon with the early pioneers in both a positive manner and a negative manner. Land in the new territory must be titled, chartered and surveyed in accordance to the law. This means that a family could not travel to the area, select a parcel of land, live upon the land and later submit to a survey and have the land titled correctly. There were new procedures to follow in order to acquire land ownership in this new territory. An example of this is a family migrates to the Ohio valley and lives upon 600 acres for 5 years. They do not apply for a survey, pay fees or submit for a title of land proving ownership. Years later, another family moves to the same parcel, applies for title, abides the laws and therefore owns the land legally. Until the new laws were respected, many land disputes resulted with boundaries and ownerships.

The sale of these land tracts would enable the new nation to settle portions of debt that occurred after the American Revolutionary War. However; before these parcels could be sold, the land squatters and the Indian villages had to be removed. The governor of the territory, Arthur St. Clair organized signed treaties with several of the Indian tribes located within the area. 80% of the Indian population participated with these treaties, the remaining were subject to the Northwest Indian’s War or otherwise known as Little Turtle’s War. It wasn’t until 1795 with the signing of the Greenville Treaty that the entire territory was open for settlement. Please note, that an Indian Reservation did exist along the northwestern portion of Ohio. This reservation existed until circa 1821 when the Indians were removed to a new location outside of Ohio.

Indian Country Map of 1834

Majority of families traveling to the Northwest Territory during the late 18th century would have traveled along the Wilderness Trail through North Carolina through Kentucky to reach the National Road through Ohio and onward to Indiana. Marietta, Ohio was the first settlement in this region dating to 1788. Colonel Rufus Putnam led a group of early settlers to the area and established the Ohio Company of Associates. Putnam’s original house still stands within the walls of the Ohio River Museum. The first settlers built a fort to prevent Indian attacks. They named the fort Campus Martius. By 1840, nearly 2,000 citizens were living in the community. Marietta was also known as the Riverboat Town during the mid 19th century.

The National Road was the main route into the Northwest Territory during the later portion of the 17th century. Before this, Indian trails and portions of Hunter trails were traveled to reach the area. Also known as the Cumberland Road, this trail was filled with pioneers traveling west. The federal government funded the road beginning in 1811. This allowed normal maintenance on the road which was very popular among the travelers.

Portions of the Nation Road in Washington County, Ohio

If you are currently researching your ancestor into the Northwest Territory, it would be best to determine the timeline prior to researching. Also, for those settlers who did not acquire a title for the lands, their records will not exist. These early settlers were known as squatters and only lived upon the land until it was sold legally to someone else or purchased by the squatter’s themselves. Very limited records exist for the period prior to 1788. But, if you are researching your ancestors, don’t give up on the search. The rewards are so priceless when you find documentation and proof that your ancestors did indeed settle the frontier known as the Northwest Territory.

As always, Piedmont Trails appreciates your support and hope each of you discover great treasures among your genealogy journey.

Western Migration 1785-1820

During the years following the American Revolutionary War, many families began settling back to a normal life and reflecting upon the days of conflict. Settlement was discouraged beyond the Appalachian Mountains prior to the war, but now that independence was achieved, the original nation boundaries were beginning to expand in an overwhelming way. Genealogists and historians alike struggle with the research of these early migration routes. Documents pertaining to these roads are rare including maps displaying the exact location of the trails. The first western migration occurred between the years of 1785 and 1820, this in accordance to population records of the National Archives. The fascinating facts are attributed to the pioneers who traveled the routes and why they ventured to these new territories.

They Traveled by Land and By Water to Reach Their New Western Home

The reasons why families traveled west of the Appalachian Mountains varies from one cabin to another. A number of families decided to move west prior to the Revolutionary War to seek peace or to restrain from fighting in the war. Nevertheless, early trails allowed these families to enter present day Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. After the war, the settlers migrated due to the freedom they acquired from the war. They also migrated due to the vast amounts of land that was readily available. Many sought small settlements with no courthouses, no law and less neighbors. Some of the settlers were seeking a new start with no debt or perhaps changing their name and forgetting the events of the past. Understanding these reasons allows us to experience the migration in a different format. Money was extremely scarce after the war and many families were unable to pay the taxes due. Commodities such as coffee, tea, salt and sugar were expensive and prices for livestock, tobacco and other items were down for several years following the war.

For the researchers of these trails, where do you begin to document the facts? The recordkeeping varies with each territory and each new state as new land grants are distributed through the areas. The trails were the Wilderness Trail or Cumberland Gap Road and the National Road. Other Indian trails were known to be followed especially through the Appalachian Mountains and into Tennessee. Land grants were designed in six different categories, Purchase, Military, Pre-Emption, Surveyor, Commission and Legislative. The individual states began records in accordance to statehood. With this being said, your journey now begins with research first taking place on the history of the area in question in order to pinpoint the documents location on your ancestor.

Research the history of the area in question to determine how & where records were kept

Statehood dates for the original 13 colonies are listed below. Each link will take you directly to the individual state archives website. Pennsylvania-1787, New Jersey-1787, Delaware-1787, Maryland-1788, Virginia-1788, South Carolina-1788, Georgia-1788, New York-1788, Massachusetts-1788, Connecticut-1788, New Hampshire-1788, North Carolina-1789 and Rhode Island-1790. By 1791, these states were well settled and processing their own method of recordkeeping in accordance to the new nation’s guidelines.

Tennessee gained statehood in the year of 1796, but land grants were issued in North Carolina until 1806. During the war, North Carolina controlled the lands of Tennessee and protected them from the British Army. In doing so, North Carolina proclaimed documentation and recordkeeping for the lands until the year of 1806. Statehood date does not prove that records were kept and processed in that particular state. To understand how Ohio lands were distributed, read the Complete Guide of Ohio Lands. Ohio gained statehood during the year of 1803. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and Indiana in 1816. Illinois became a state in 1818 and Alabama in 1819.

Early Kentucky land records can be found in Virginia prior to 1792. Learning the early colony boundaries will enable you to distinguish the correct boundaries during your ancestor’s arrival to the area. For many war veterans who received land from the Northwest Territory, later learned that the land they held was also held under another name. Many judges rendered final decisions on these disputes from early land records. War veterans were entitled to free land in the new territory. This was approved in order to induce settlement in these areas. But, due to boundary lines and other state’s involvement, these lands were given to one person and sold to another. The free lands encouraged thousands of pioneer families to travel the routes and settle on the western frontier. Eventually, the new state boundaries were formed for Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois which then proved population percentage. This enabled the territories to become states as they grew.

The best method to tracking your early ancestor’s western migration is to create a timeline that proves your ancestor’s location for each year. Then follow the tax list records for the missing years. Each year, taxes were paid and this list will show you location and amount of tax paid. Check each year for your ancestor and if you still are unable to locate them, check wills/probates for their possible death in these areas. Once you have determined the location, you can track backwards to the available routes during that time from point of origin to final destination. This is a time consuming task but it is well worth the journey.

To fully understand the depth of research involved with each state as it became settled would require a segment on each one. This is a goal of Piedmont Trails as we move forward to this summer. The updates on individual state links can be viewed on the United States Genealogy Research page. Also for more information on the migration trails, we have added a new page, Early Migration Routes. Piedmont Trails will be adding more and more details involving research links, maps and more to this site as time allows. The records involving early settlement can be confusing, but the journey is well worth the time and effort. This allows you to discover your ancestor with a totally different approach. The main objective is to enjoy your research and don’t be bombarded with information that is not relevant to your criteria. Majority of the families who traveled west during the years of 1785 to 1820 were enjoying their freedom to wander and settle in new lands. The hope that dwelled within them carried on mile after mile. Carrying only what they needed along the trail, they moved slowly towards the setting sun. Once they arrived, the home was declared and building started immediately. Some families lived the remainder of their lives there while others moved further west to new frontiers. Our ancestors left an amazing trail to follow. Enjoy your journey to the past !!