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Old Northwest (1600-1860)

The Old Northwest included six states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  Below is a timeline of historical events for the Old Northwest up to the time of statehood for each state.

Historical Timeline for the Old Northwest

1614-1615 Ohio Country. Samuel de Champlain, governor of New France and the founder of Quebec, was believed to be the first of the French explorers to visit the Ohio country. He is believed to have seen the Maumee River in 1614 or 1615.

1668 Great Lakes region. Jacques Marquette and Claude Dablon establish the first mission at Sault Sainte Marie.

1670 Great Lakes region. Rene-Robert Cavelier explores and claims the Ohio country for France.

1673 Mississippi River. French explorers Marquette and Jolliet discover the upper portion of the Mississippi River. They then descend the Mississippi to the Arkansas River and return to present-day Wisconsin via the Illinois River.

1675 Illinois Country. Marquette founds a mission at the great Village of the Illinois River, near present Utica, Illinois.

1680 Illinois Country. French traders Cavelier, LaSalle, and deTonti build Fort Crevecoeur on the Illinois River, near present-day Peoria.

1696 Illinois Country. Jesuit priest Pierre Francois Pinet establishes a mission at present-day Chicago.

1699 Illinois Country. Quebec priests found a mission at Cahokia, the first permanent settlement in the Illinois country.

1717 Illinois becomes part of the French colony of Louisiana.

1721 Indiana. Fort Philippe, later called Fort Miami, was built on the St. Mary's River, near present Fort Wayne, where the St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and Maumee Rivers meet.

1732 Indiana. Vincennes established, becoming Indiana's first permanent settlement.

1750 Ohio Country.  The Ohio Company of Virginia asserts the British claim to the Ohio region for England, and begins sending fur trading parties to the area. The British encroachment into "New France" leads to a war between England and France.

1756-1763 French and Indian War in North America. In Europe, it was called the "Seven Years War." Britain was declared the winner at the Treaty of Paris of 1763. As a result, the French surrendered all land in North America to Britain. Britain's ally Spain, receives Louisiana from France in compensation for its loss of Florida during the Seven Years War. Great Britain wins and retains its claim to all of Canada and all of the rest of North America east of the Mississippi River. The Brits rename the entire area "British North America."

1764 Wisconsin Country. Charles Langlade settled at Green Bay, the first permanent settlement in present-day Wisconsin.

1774 Quebec Act. After deciding not to repeat the evacuation of all French Acadians from Nova Scotia in the mid 1750s, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, permitting the French Canadians to retain French laws and customs, and allowing the Catholic Church to maintain all its rights. The early French settlements in present-day Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, were by the act included in the Province of Quebec, under British rule.

1783 - Post-Revolutionary War. The 1783 Treaty of Paris recognizing the United States of America as an independent nation defined its borders from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Although the settlements in the Great Lakes region (formerly part of the Province of Quebec) were to be included within the United States, British military forces continued to maintain control of much of the Great Lakes area for several years after the Revolution.

1781 Wisconsin Country. First American settlement at Prairie du Chien, on the Mississippi River.

1784 Ohio Country. Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts relinquish their claim to lands in the Ohio Country. Title transferred to the "public domain" of the United States Government. Connecticut retains ownership of the "Western Reserve" on Lake Erie, then sells the tract to the Connecticut Land Company in 1795.

1787 Northwest Territory. The Ordinance of 1787 establishes the "Territory Northwest of the River Ohio," and defines the procedure for any territory to obtain statehood. Present states carved out of the original area of the Northwest Territory include Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and that part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River.

1787-1812 Flatboat Travelers. The main transportation on the Ohio River beginning at Pittsburgh or Wheeling was flatboats and rafts constructed of lumber and nails that could be disassembled by a migrating family when they arrived at their new home site along the Ohio River and tributaries. The flatboat era continued until steamboats were first introduced on the Ohio River in 1812.

1788 Ohio Country. Marietta was Ohio's first permanent settlement. It was founded in 1788 by General Rufus Putnam and named in honor of Marie Antoinette. Putman's New Ohio Company purchased a large tract of land above the Ohio River and sold parcels to the first settlers of Ohio, most of whom arrived at Marietta by flatboat via Pittsburgh.

1795 Treaty of Greenville ends the Indian Wars in Ohio. The "Greenville Line" defined the extent of areas opened to settlement by whites (about three-fourths of present-day Ohio).

1796 Great Lakes Region. The British evacuate Detroit and abandon their posts on the Great Lakes, the last of the British hold-outs in the Old Northwest.

1800 Indiana Territory was established from the Northwest Territory with William Henry Harrison as the first Governor and Vincennes the capital. Area included all of the present-day Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the western half of Michigan. The Northwest Territory was reduced to the present-day area of Ohio and the eastern half of Michigan.

1803 Ohio admitted to the Union as the 17th state, with Chillicothe as the state capital. The portion of Michigan included in the Northwest Territory 1800-1803 became part of Indiana Territory. Upon Ohio's statehood, the name Northwest Territory was dropped.

1804 Louisiana District (Minnesota Portion). The United States purchases Louisiana from France in 1803, land described as "drainage of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers." Louisiana District, created in 1804, included that portion of present-day Minnesota west of the Mississippi River.

1805 Michigan Territory separated from the Indiana Territory. The original area was between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, as today, but did not include the Upper Peninsula, which was still under control of Indiana Territory.

1809 Illinois Territory separated from Indiana Territory, with Kaskaskia the capital. The original area included present-day Illinois, Wisconsin, a portion of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and that portion of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River.

1810 Ohio. Zanesville named state capital of Ohio.

1811 Battle of Tippecanoe (Indiana). Tecumseh defeated at the Battle of Tippecanoe. American forces were led by William Henry Harrison, who later gained the presidential nickname "Tippecanoe." The victory over a large force of Indians opened up much of Indiana for settlement.

1812 Ohio. Fort Meigs constructed to protect Ohio from invasion during the War of 1812.

1812-1815 Steamboats. First introduced in 1812, by 1815 steamboats had quickly become the main mode of transportation on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

1813 Indiana Territory. Capital moved to Corydon.

1814 Treaty of Ghent. The war of 1812 ended, freeing up American settlement of the Old Northwest.

1816 Indiana becomes the 19th state with the same boundaries as today. The state capital was at Corydon.

1816 Ohio. Columbus named state capital of Ohio.

1816 Wisconsin Country. The establishment of Fort Howard at Green Bay and Fort Shelby rebuilt at Prairie du Chien (renamed Fort Crawford), opens the region to settlement.

1818 Illinois becomes the 21st state, with the same boundaries at today. Kaskaskia was the first state capital.

1818 Minnesota Country. By treaty with Britain, the northern boundary of Minnesota was set at the 49th parallel.

1825 Indiana. Indianapolis becomes the state capital of Indiana.

1825 Erie Canal opened. This New York route from the Hudson River to Lake Erie provided direct access to the Ohio Country. Western New York and the State of Ohio were impacted the most, with many settlements attributed to the early Erie Canal travelers.

1830s Wisconsin Country. Heavy settlement began along the Lake Michigan shoreline at the sites of present-day Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha.

1835 Toledo War. Boundary disputes cause the "Toledo War" over the Michigan-Ohio boundary. Michigan was not admitted to the Union because she would not surrender her claim to the Toledo strip. The area was finally surrendered in exchange for the western section of the Upper Peninsula. Ohio gained the Toledo strip from Michigan, and Michigan gained the Upper Peninsula (from Indiana). Ohio gave up nothing and was the clear winner of the "Toledo War."

1836 Wisconsin Territory created, which included unpopulated lands west of the Mississippi River to the Missouri River until 1838 (when Iowa Territory was created). The first Wisconsin Territory capital was at Belmont.

1837 Michigan is admitted to the Union as the 26th state.

1839 Illinois. Springfield becomes the state capital of Illinois. Also in this year, the National Road was completed from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois. It became the most heavily traveled highway in America. (The National Road followed the same general line that Interstate 70 follows today).

1846 Mormons leave Nauvoo, Illinois for the Great Salt Lake Basin in Utah.

1846 Donner party leaves Springfield, Illinois by wagon train for California; forty-two perish in Sierra Mountains snowstorms.

1848 Wisconsin admitted into the union as the 30th state, leaving residents of the area between the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers (present-day eastern Minnesota) without a territorial government or legal system.

1849 Minnesota Territory formed with present day eastern and southern boundaries set. The original area included present Minnesota, extending from the Mississippi River to include that portion of present North and South Dakota east of the Missouri River.

1858 Minnesota becomes the 32nd state admitted to the Union.

(This information was compiled by William Dollarhide in the Genealogy Bulletin from Heritage Creations (Issue Number 65, October 2004).

  • Northwest History and Men of Progress  1901. Ancestry.com. This database contains a history of the Great Northwest with "Northwest" being the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. It also contains biographical sketches and portraits of the more prominent and representative people of those states.

  • Old Northwest Historical Society
    PO Box 62635
    Cincinnati, Ohio 45262