Sunday, December 20, 2015

GW: Dec. 20–Virginia Cedes Vast Area to Feds

State Land Claims Ceded, 1783-1802.
(Those who think that the United States of America cannot face the grave problems facing it today may not appreciate the huge obstacles it overcame in getting itself started.)

On this day in 1783, Virginia ceded territory north of the Ohio river to the new U.S. government.

Before that, it had strenuously claimed rights to the land dating back to a colonial charter from the Crown.

It was a crucial time for young America. The trading New Englanders, who derived their intellectual leadership from Cambridge dissidents, rebelled first against the Crown over taxes and monopolies.

The southern states, who were established mostly through grants from the Crown and tended to be more loyal to King George, joined in the rebellion largely over issues relating to land ownership in the West.

Americans at that time regarded the West as the lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. Beyond the Mississippi was unexplored and fought over by the European powers – Britain, France and Spain.

Britain and France had struggled for control of Western lands during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Then-Colonel George Washington attempted to secure Virginia’s Ohio Valley outposts in 1754.

At the end of the war, the British Proclamation line of 1763 banned further European settlement west of Appalachia. This was a major irritant for the colonies and extended the momentum for rebellion against the Crown from New England to the southern colonies.

By the early 1780s, after the War of Independence was won, seven states of the original 13 were claiming areas in the West. The Ohio Valley territory was claimed by four of them – Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Claims to the lands were usually rooted in vague wording of old colonial charters that were not based on precise land surveys.

The "landed" states assumed they would be enriched by future sale of western lands. The landless states feared that they would lose residents and dwindle into insignificance. Meanwhile, thousands of settlers were crossing the Appalachians into the new areas.

Congress gained a great victory in inducing the states over 20 years to surrender control of their claims to the central government. Congress and the states had both promised their soldiers land in payment for their service during the War for Independence. The new and fragile union remained at risk of dissolution until the land-claims issue was resolved.

The under-appreciated Pennsylvanian John Dickinson, a great settler of disputes during the Revolutionary era, first suggested in 1776 that the states cede their lands to the Continental Congress. Virginia argued against the idea at first, noting that their western claims were the oldest and therefore  trumped those of all the other states. But Virginia in the end had the foresight to see that the only possible way of resolving the claims swiftly was to throw the problem into the lap of the new Federal Government.

Four of the seven landed states were in the south–Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Two were in New England – Massachusetts and Connecticut. The remaining state was New York.

Virginia asserted its right to a huge tract that fanned out to the west and north, which encompassing  the Old Northwest (the Ohio country). But Virginia's business leaders preferred a viable confederation than the claims to western lands. Virginia surrendered its claim to land north of the Ohio, but held on to the area south of the Ohio until the new federal government made it the new state of Kentucky in 1792.

Connecticut land from its western boundary to the Mississippi. Connecticut and New York claimed lands in the Old Northwest, but New York gave up its claims in 1785 and Connecticut in 1786. Connecticut's claim to the Western Reserve was maintained until 1795, when it was purchased by the Connecticut Land Company.

Massachusetts claimed some of what is now Michigan and Wisconsin until 1785, and a weaker claim to an area in western New York until 1786. East of the Appalachians, Massachusetts vied with New Hampshire and New York to claim Vermont, which achieved statehood in 1791.

New York in 1782 ceded its frail claim to a tract that included much of present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky and portions of central Tennessee and western Virginia.

North Carolina surrendered claims in 1784 to what would later become Tennessee, particularly along the Watauga River. In 1790 the central government accepted North Carolina's cession.

South Carolina in 1787 gave up its claim to a strip of land running from its western boundary to the Mississippi River. Some of this was added to northern Georgia and the rest went to the central government.

Georgia, the weakest claimant, held out longest. The area that later was Alabama and Mississippi were given up in 1802.

So the event remembered today was important in keeping the newly formed union together. Virginia was the first state to cede significant holdings to the national government. Other states soon followed by giving up their smaller claims. In this way western expansion became a federal project that culminated in Jefferson’s inspired Northwest Ordinance.

See also other posts about George Washington or Young America: Dec. 18, John Wesley (birthday), Oxonian Colonizer of Georgia . The First Catholic Bishop (Baltimore) . Two Oxonians Create the Mason-Dixon Line

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