How the (First) West Was Won: Federalist Treaties that Reshaped the Frontier

Postwar Conflict (>1783)

December 29, 2022
by Brady J. Crytzer Also by this Author


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From November 1794 to October 1795, President George Washington’s administration brokered three separate treaties with Britain, Spain, and the Confederated Tribes of the Ohio Country. Besides establishing America’s place on the global stage, these treaties served to fundamentally alter the fortunes of the nation’s western frontier. Since the era of the Seven Years War, the primary obstacles to western expansion and the region’s overall economic health centered around the lack of access to the Mississippi River, foreign soldiers operating in disputed territory, and hostile relations with Native nations throughout the western backcountry. In that single, eleven-month period, President Washington’s diplomats addressed and resolved each of these problematic situations. As a result, the American West experienced an age of unprecedented growth and expansion that set the stage for future dreams of its own “Manifest Destiny.”

No Gateway to the West

Since the earliest days of settlement in the Ohio River valley, the region had been one of unrealized potential. Although it was rich in natural resources, it had been considered limited by the realities of contemporary geopolitics. When British settlers first began moving into Western Pennsylvania, they were immediately stymied by hostile economic competition with the agents of New France. Despite the region being claimed by Britain’s allies, the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, that reality rarely manifested as a benefit. In their highly competitive villages, the Iroquoian subjects of the Ohio Country often favored trade terms set forth by Quebec, and the “Covenant Chain” that bonded the British and Iroquois was superficial at best. At the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756, the previously unspoken alliance between the Ohioans and King Louis became official, and the Ohio River valley swiftly transformed from a trade zone to a war zone in spectacular fashion.[1]

Although the French were defeated in 1763, the war revealed one of the most glaring obstacles to Britain’s financial exploitation of the west—they were not alone. France’s prior control of the Ohio Country was a major step in a vast plan to control the whole of the American frontier. With its occupation of the region, France had unified it into a pre-existing sector of influence that included the St. Lawrence River valley, Great Lakes, Illinois Country, and Louisiana. To be truly realized, Britain’s fortunes in the west required an accessible outlet for the raw materials that it harvested there. When France connected its continent-wide network, it linked the Mississippi River, Ohio River, and Great Lakes in a way that effectively blocked any of Britain’s potential future growth. Without controlling those rivers and their treasured outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, Britain was forced to lug its wares over the Appalachian Mountains to the major cities of the coast. This cumbersome and expensive system was profitable, but not nearlyas much as simply shipping them west and south along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.[2]

In the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War these problems were not removed, only slightly altered. With the expulsion of New France, the Treaty of Paris (1763) declared that the entire eastern bank of the Mississippi River, and all of the Ohio River, was ceded to Great Britain. As an unexpected wrinkle, the western bank and New Orleans had been furtively given to Spain a year earlier. When the American Revolution began Spain proved itself to be a strong ally of the Patriots, and their aid proved essential for victory in the western theater. Following the brokered peace between the warring sides, Spain flexed its diplomatic muscles in 1784 by closing New Orleans to American commercial traffic flowing from the west. In response, western residents prepared for violent reprisal against Spain, writing:

There now seems a greater call for the people here to appeal to justice and to arms, for the defence of their just rights, than was ever known in America.—The five western counties of Pennsylvania are sensibly affected . . . In Kentuckey, Liberty or Death are in every one’s mouth!–all is in confusion—and God only knows where it will end . . . America is ruined! inevitably ruined! “Blow ye the trumpet—sound it aloud—spare not—for wo is come upon Israel![3]

In short, twenty years after the Seven Years War, the economic future of the frontier remained uncertain for many of the same reasons as before it: a foreign adversary dominated the west. Without access to the Mississippi River, the economy of the Trans-Appalachian frontier was locked in a perpetual stall.[4]

War and Trade

Foreign policy had always been a critical component to the economic viability of the western frontier. At first glance, the Trans-Appalachian West appeared to be far removed from the global geopolitics of the Atlantic World. In truth however, the constant grappling and jockeying of the Old World was ever-present in the backcountry. While European settlers often blurred the lines of national identity, the west’s Indian peoples were incredibly adept at capitalizing on the competing ambitions of the superpowers in the region. For most of the 1750s, the Great Lakes and Ohioan peoples kept the British and French at bay by playing the sides off one another in a continual cycle of trading negotiations. As the natives sold their valuable furs to the highest bidders, colonial administrators in the east were racked with anxiety over the true nature of their loyalties. The French enticed native traders with abundant, albeit lesser quality, trade goods, and the British recoiled at the imminent danger presented by the transactions. Hoping to turn the tide of the competition that was slipping away from them, English-speaking agents traversed the backcountry laden with mass-produced ceremonial wampum belts promising not just trade opportunities, but natural and perpetual alliances. By 1755 the realities of war and trade had convinced the Great Lakes and Ohioan nations to align with New France, and Britain determined that relying on their traditional native alliances with the Iroquois were the most practical course of action.[5]

As British and French agents negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1763, influential sachems such as Pontiac in the Great Lakes and Guyasuta in the Ohio Country preached that colonial influence should be contested at all costs. Although the French had made peace, their native allies had not, and the frontier was destabilized by the conflict. In 1763 and 1764 the west was ravaged by organized raids on colonial settlements and fortifications in an event known colloquially as “Pontiac’s Rebellion.” As native warriors attacked, hundreds of British settlers were slain, and thousands more fled for the safety of the east in a mass refugee crisis. The rebellion would eventually flame out, but it became very clear that any economic future in the west would require peaceful relations with native peoples to reach its full potential.[6]

For a decade after Pontiac’s Rebellion, a relative peace prevailed over the backcountry. Many settlers enjoyed lucrative trade with their Native neighbors, and the economic potential of the west was visible for the first time. It was a small sample, but the results were undeniable; barring an unforeseen and dramatic turn in the politics of North America, it seemed that Pax Britannica was the key to future prosperity on the frontier. With the coming of the American Revolution, however, those gains were soon erased and the region was hit with a geopolitical earthquake of almost unseen magnitude. Just as before, America’s native peoples adeptly played the British and their Patriot counterparts against one another, and soon took sides in the conflict. With the weight of recent history on their side, the agents of King George were able to broker alliances with many of their traditional Indian allies. With all the heft of a global empire, the British made promises of land and concessions that the fledgling American revolutionaries could not match. War engulfed the west yet again, and once more the region was torn apart. Homes were burned, families destroyed, and entire settlements were razed in a devastating scorched earth strategy employed by Britain’s Indian allies.[7]

Throughout the duration of the war the United States faltered in its efforts toward Indian diplomacy. Most attempts were marred by violent assaults and soured by distrust, and any success was tepid at best. The Patriots had not proven themselves to be trustworthy allies in the eyes of the west’s native peoples, and raids scarred the frontier for the duration of the war. While the victory at Yorktown was celebrated as a dramatic “final act” of the war, British allied Indians continued to destroy western settlements for another two years. The war may have been over in the east, but it was as fiery as ever across the frontier.

At the conclusion of the American Revolution, the major issues between native peoples and their American counterparts had not been resolved. There was never a brokered peace of any consequence, and the Indian warriors of the Great Lakes and Ohio Country had little reason to hope for one. While citizens of the east attempted to embrace their new identity as free peoples, Americans in the west grappled with the same realities that their parents had a generation prior. The west was believed to be America’s by right of conquest, and the British had given it over to them as part of the Peace of Paris, but the reality on the ground proved to be very different. The new “Northwest Territory” was no more American than it had been British or French, and the great prosperity that was promised seemed a distant fantasy. Until the United States could reconcile its differences with the native nations of the west, it would never be so.

New Nation, Old Challenges

In the years immediately following the American Revolution, the nation’s western frontier remained in doubt. Policy makers in Philadelphia took measured steps to ensure its viability, most notably by a policy of transferring land to war veterans. Known as “Donation Lands” and “Depreciation Lands,” the system was designed to both compensate veterans for their service and jumpstart settlement in the west. Citizens happily accepted these Pennsylvania land deeds but were mostly reticent to begin investing in the region due to the factors previously discussed. They could certainly grow abundant crops in the west’s fertile soil and harvest its many natural resources, but with the Spanish closure of the Mississippi they struggled to make ends meet. Moving their resources eastward would be expensive and cumbersome, and the ever-present threat of attack by hostile native warriors loomed large in their minds.[8]

Policy makers made attempts at settling these Indian-American disputes through a number of treaties. In 1784 they signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, a year later the Treaty of Fort Macintosh, and finally in 1786 the Treaty of Fort Finney. Each was designed to transfer land peacefully from Native control into American hands, but they all suffered from the same undeniable weakness. The agreements were signed by aging sachems or Indian leaders of waning influence. Though they claimed to speak for all their respective peoples, few Indian leaders of actual influence recognized their legitimacy. In short order a resistance movement arose in the Ohio Country to push back against these feeble treaties, and its leaders were determined to plunge the west into violent chaos once again.[9]

The resulting conflict has become known as “The Northwest Indian War,” but in so many ways it was merely a continuation of a conflict that was already decades old. This new phase was led by a wave of ambitious leaders like Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, and Buckongahelas who valued Pan-Indianism over loose alliances, and the resulting victories were stunning in their brutal effectiveness. As Ohioan warriors razed settlements along the frontier, an American force under the command of Gen. Josiah Harmar responded by marching deep into modern Ohio in the fall of 1790. Over a series of three days, October 19 through 21, Harmar’s men engaged the confederated tribal warriors and were soundly defeated. Fearing that the resistance movement would spread, President Washington responded a year later by sending Gen. Arthur St. Clair into the west to subdue the warring Ohioans. On November 4, 1791 St. Clair suffered one of the worst defeats in the history of the American Military at the Battle of the Wabash. Of the 1,400 men that St. Clair marched into battle, approximately 918 were killed and 276 were wounded in the affair. The result was a humiliating disaster for the Washington Administration that led to the resignation of St. Clair and the first congressional investigation in United States history.[10]

Further complicating the deteriorating situation in the west was that, contrary to the Treaty of Paris, the British had not fully evacuated the frontier. With a strong base of support in Canada, British agents continued to operate in America’s Northwest Territory and actively supported the confederated tribes by providing the material support necessary for war. Although the British adopted an official stance of neutrality, they regularly supplied gunpowder, shot, weapons, and intelligence to Little Turtle and his warriors throughout the duration of the conflict. Frontier settlers balked at the notion of British troops operating with impunity on American soil, and they clamored for the Federal Government to remove the threat and even the scales. As the war dragged on it seemed to Westerners that George Washington’s administration was unable, or unwilling, to respond.

Breaking the West

In the spring of 1790 Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton published his Report on the Public Credit that laid out his visionary new plan to correct America’s failing economy. Among his many recommendations was an unprecedented excise tax on whiskey designed to raise funds by taxing goods produced domestically on the frontier. While Hamilton framed the tax as a mere revenue stream, he also specifically crafted the law to bring the backcountry to heel and impose federal sovereignty over the region in which it proved so elusive. Since its earliest settlement decades prior, pioneering families across the west had expressed an affinity for localized self-determinism and a distaste for government intrusion into their lives. It was this sentiment which made the Ohio Country settlers strong supporters of the Patriot cause, and this same feeling which proved so frustrating to Washington’s administration.[11]

Farming in the Ohio Country was an exercise in patience and disappointment. The fields of western Pennsylvania and western Virginia were rich and grew an abundance of corn and grain. While farmers could often produce a bountiful crop, the only meaningful way to transfer their harvest was by carting it on a weeks’ long voyage over the Allegheny Mountains. An entirely impractical and expensive exercise, western farmers soon found that manufacturing their crop into whiskey made the system much more efficient. Whiskey was a valuable commodity, and could be transported to distant, thirsty markets with ease. Whiskey production became a reliable means of scratching out a living in the face of enormous obstacles, and Hamilton’s new tax was viewed as an intentionally harmful attack on the frontier’s way of life.

The new excise, on top of the government’s seeming inability to protect frontier families from Indian attacks, led to a collusion of events that history has recorded as “The Whiskey Rebellion.” As a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the United States lasting from 1791 into 1794, the event was one of the most persistent threats to the young nation during the Federalist Era. Known in its time as “The Western Insurrection,” the event was about far more than whiskey and taxation. The unique challenges of frontier life swirled together to produce a period of terrible unrest, and soon led to talks of open sedition and separation across the western frontier. All the factors previously discussed coalesced in the minds of western citizens that led to an extraordinary distrust of the federal government. Just as the government could not open the Mississippi River for trade, it likewise could not defend its citizens from Indian war. To exacerbate matters, the passage of the Whiskey tax appeared to be a targeted piece of legislation designed to attack the very core of their economic structure.[12]

At the outset of the resistance, farmers petitioned Congress via prescribed channels as set forth by the new constitution. Local officials signed petitions and delivered passionate speeches in their assemblies, but their efforts mostly failed. Except for a one cent reduction of the Whiskey Tax, Federalist representatives seemed disinterested in the woes of the poor westerners living hundreds of miles away. By the end of 1791 local militants comprised of mostly Revolutionary War veterans began assaulting tax collectors with boiling tar, hot branding irons, and razor blades. Treasury agents saw their homes burned and their families terrorized, and in the ensuing months extra-legal courts developed across the west as well as unsanctioned, armed militias. By the summer of 1794 the rebels threatened to destroy Pittsburgh, the west’s largest federal city, prompting President Washington to respond militarily. Amassing an army of over thirteen thousand men, Washington led troops himself into the west as commander-in-chief; it was the first and only time in American history that a sitting president ever personally commanded troops in the field. No great battle ever came, and the rebel leadership of “the Western Insurrection” fled into the wilderness as fugitives upon the arrival of Washington’s federal army.[13]

1794 was a banner time for President George Washington in his quest to bring order to the American frontier. One year prior, Washington sent peace commissioners to negotiate with the Western Confederated tribes. As insurance, he also ordered Gen. Anthony Wayne to prepare a military force to engage the warriors if negotiations failed. Originally operating out of Pittsburgh during the tenuous Whiskey Rebellion, Wayne moved his troops approximately eighteen miles up the Ohio River due to the raucous nature of city life. He drilled his army for months and succeeded in creating an elite strike force known as the Legion of the United States. Known as “Legionville,” the site holds the noble distinction of being the first basic training ground of the modern United States Army. While Wayne drilled his troops, government agents saw diplomacy with sachems of the west disintegrate. Those discussions would break down, and Wayne mobilized his Legion for combat along the distant western edges of the Ohio Country. By the summer of 1794 Wayne had begun a full-scale military occupation of the west by constructing a line of forts that penetrated deep into the Confederacy’s home territory including Fort Greenville and Fort Recovery. Much like Gen. John Forbes had done during his conquest of Fort Duquesne in 1758, Wayne created a permanent line of communication into the frontier that would keep future uprisings at bay and enforce federal sovereignty over the backcountry. In August 1794 Wayne’s Legion battled Little Turtle’s warriors on a field strewn with trees and debris from a storm known as “Fallen Timbers.” Relying on the training of his men and strength of his position, Wayne delivered a convincing defeat to the confederated warriors. As the Indian forces fled in retreat, they hurried for the gates of nearby British Fort Miami, only to find them locked; they were denied entry. With this victory Wayne fractured the Confederacy’s resistance and set the stage for an agreement that would fundamentally transform the racial and ethnic composition of the Ohio Country.

The defeat of the Western Confederated tribes and the submission of the Whiskey Rebels were amongst President Washington’s most impactful achievements. “The Whiskey Rebellion” still stands as the second largest domestic rebellion in American history, topped only by the Confederate Secession of 1861. While it is often treated as an epilogue of sorts to the Revolutionary Period, many of its participants were Patriot veterans fighting for the same issues that were contested over the previous four decades. For policy makers in Philadelphia it had become clear that until the matters of Indian conflict, trade on the Mississippi, and foreign occupation were addressed, the violence was likely to manifest again in the years to come.

With those two victories George Washington’s administration succeeded in taming the violent, reactionary instincts of the Ohio Country, and allowed for the forceful implementation of federal sovereignty over the area. Although it calmed the region, it did not yet fully address the problems that made it so volatile, and Washington relied on his diplomats to ease those burdens.

The Treaties that Won the West: The Jay Treaty

In November 1794 Washington sent his trusted ally John Jay to Britain to negotiate what was called “The Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America.” As Britain warred with Revolutionary France, so too did America take sides. Alexander Hamilton and George Washington saw a treaty of friendship with the Crown as the best way to avoid conflict, while Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican allies tended to sympathize with France. As part of the treaty negotiations, Jay pursued a variety of concessions from the British Empire with mixed results. He sought relief from Revolutionary debts, a more clearly defined Canadian border, and a halt to the impressment of American sailors, but he achieved none of those. Overall, the British seemed to gain more from the agreement in the form of valuable trading rights, but Jay did achieve one meaningful compromise: the abandonment of western posts. Since the end of the Revolution the British had retained a strong military presence in America’s Northwest Territory and aided Little Turtle’s warriors both politically and materially. With the ratification of “The Jay Treaty,” the native nations of the west lost a valuable ally that hampered their future attempts at waging war against American settlers along the frontiers of the Ohio Country.

In accordance with the treaty, Britain relinquished its posts in Forts au Fer, Niagara, Ontario, and Oswegatchie (New York), Fort Miami (Ohio), and Forts Lernoult and Mackinac (Michigan). In an effort to codify the rights of Americans, Canadians, and Natives in the continent’s border regions, Article III of the treaty stated that

It is agreed, that it shall at all times be free to His Majesty’s subjects, and to the citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of the said boundary line, freely to pass and repass, by land or inland navigation into the respective territories and countries of the two parties on the continent of America . . . and freely carry on trade and commerce with each other.[14]

With the removal of the British threat and all the intrinsic destabilizing forces that came with it, the frontier saw one of its greatest obstacles to growth eliminated. While the Jay Treaty was a reasonable compromise between the two contentious powers, American partisans balked at its passage. Washington saw it as a positive alternative to war, but the agreement was viewed by Democratic-Republicans as too favorable to Britain, and deleterious to America’s standing in the world. Resistance to Federalist policies hardened in the wake of its passage. Even in the west, it was widely criticized across the frontier despite the inherent benefit that it provided. While the Jay Treaty was a point of major contention in the hyper-partisan realm of American politics, its passage cleared the way for a period of major expansion across the Ohio Country and its neighboring regions.

The Treaties that Won the West: The Treaty of Greenville

In the aftermath of Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers and Washington’s suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion, peace was restored to the Ohio Country. Many of the most prominent leaders of the insurrection were arrested and released, and their previously seditious grievances were legitimized into the platforms of Thomas Jefferson’s new Democratic-Republican Party. The core of their complaints was central to Jefferson’s major political theme: the Federalist Party was intrusive and overbearing and needed to be restrained. Likewise, the political motives that drove Little Turtle’s Western Confederacy were also changing. While the aging sachems of the west advocated peace with the United States, younger warriors demanded that the war continue. Men like the Shawnee Tecumseh advocated a continuation of the struggle and would eventually become the voice of a new generation of resistance along the frontier.

Despite this divide, peace was defined on a generational level. The elder sachems of the Ohio Country had fought for decades dating back to the 1770s and saw conflict as a political dead end. Against the protests of their younger warriors, the aging power brokers agreed to treat with Gen. Anthony Wayne in the summer of 1795 and sealed the fate of the Ohio Country. Meeting at Fort Greenville in modern Ohio, Wayne orchestrated negotiations with dozens of native leaders from seventeen confederated tribes of the frontier. Included in their ranks were the Miami Little Turtle, the Shawnees Black Hoof and Blue Jacket, and the Ottawa Egushawa. Among the other nations represented were the Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Wyandot, and twenty-three members of the powerful Potawatomi nation. As per their agreement, the warring parties agreed to “put an end to a destructive war, to settle all controversies, and to restore harmony and friendly intercourse between the said United States and Indian tribes.” Per Wayne’s demands the sachems ceded all Indian lands east and south of a line stretching from the Cuyahoga River to Fort Recovery, and southward to the Kentucky River. Along with this cession, the Confederated leadership also waived any native rights to strategic parcels of real estate including modern Detroit, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Toledo, and Mackinac Island.[15]

The Treaty of Greenville forever altered the ancient demographic composition of the Ohio Country. While most of its signatories were relative newcomers to the region, the cession brokered by Wayne guaranteed that they would be the last generation of natives to inhabit it. In the wake of Fallen Timbers, an older generation of defeated sachems signed away the lands that many younger warriors believed to be theirs. By 1796 the native families of the Ohio Country flooded towards the Mississippi River in a mass migration, and their vacated lands were made available for American settlement. Over the next two decades a new wave of Indian nationalists would rise and begin the war again, but the fight would be for an entirely new frontier in the Indiana Territory. Because of the Treaty of Greenville, an Indian Ohio Country became a distant memory of the eighteenth century, long lost and never to return.

The Treaties that Won the West: Pickney’s Treaty

By 1794, the Spanish Empire found itself at a crossroads. While it still hoped to maintain its status as a global superpower, economic stresses and European war had greatly weakened its position. In North America, Spain had hoped to combat American expansion, but the venture was proving to be increasingly problematic. To hem in the United States’ zone of influence, Spanish officials restricted trade on the Mississippi River. Along with this limitation, the waning empire also maintained forts in disputed territory along the Gulf Coast in the lands of present-day Mississippi and Alabama. As a final measure, Spanish agents also empowered local Indian nations to resist the encroachment of American settlers through strategic raids on their settlements.

As the French Revolution rocked the European continent, Spain joined alongside many neighboring nations to combat its rise to prominence. Even though the war forced Spain into an alliance with its traditional enemy of Great Britain, Spain saw dramatic defeats in the Caribbean and European Theaters. After months of losses, the Spanish monarchy empowered Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy to manage its foreign affairs, and a new sense of urgency became the driving force of the empire’s scattered political activities. For Godoy, the newfound alliance with Britain was proving to be an albatross around Spain’s neck. By 1794 he immediately sought to divorce the two superpowers and restore the alliance traditionally reserved for France. That fall word reached the Prime Minister that the American diplomat John Jay had arrived in England to begin negotiations with the Crown, and Godoy sprang into action.

Shortly after Anglo-American discussions began, Godoy requested a new treaty with the United States. For the Spanish, the Jay Treaty could only mean that a new alliance between Britain and the United States was imminent, and such an agreement was certain to jeopardize all of Spain’s colonial holdings in North America. President Washington selected the South Carolinian Thomas Pickney to serve as his chief diplomat, and he arrived in June 1795. In an unusual turn from America’s previous negotiations in Europe, Pickney operated from a position of strength from the beginning of the discussions. Pickney insisted on the 31st parallel as the new border between the United States and Florida, as well as free navigation of the Mississippi River. Manuel de Godoy conceded to both with little argument, and only demanded an official alliance with Spain in return. In a show of diplomatic force, Pickney refused the alliance and threatened to abandon talks altogether; it was a gamble, but one that paid off spectacularly. The bluff was received as designed, and the Prime Minister waived his previous demand. As a final effort Pickney further asked that the Spanish dissolve any existing Indian alliances and eliminate any duties on American goods that passed through New Orleans.

The American terms presented by Pickney were diplomatically emasculating for the Spanish, but their urgency to ratify the treaty revealed just how far the once-mighty empire had fallen. With the signing of the Treaty of San Lorenzo on October 27, 1795 President Washington had completed a massive reorganization of the American frontier. The young nation scored a stunning victory on the world stage, and allowed for the full might of the western economy to be fully realized for the first time.[16]

The Seeds of Manifest Destiny

With the ratification of these three treaties, President George Washington solidified the gains that he had made along the Ohio frontier in 1794. While the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion and the defeat of the Western Confederacy was a forceful showing of federal sovereignty, they alone did not win the west. The treaties with Britain, the Confederated tribes, and Spain revealed that America was still dependent on the greater geopolitics of the Atlantic World, and showed that her diplomats could adeptly engage with other superpowers at the highest levels. Prior to 1794 and 1795, the United States remained huddled along the eastern seaboard, unable to capitalize on the territory handed to it following the American Revolution. Several Old World powers viewed the young republic as fleeting, and unable to sustain itself if it could not even command its own lands and people. On November 1, 1794 Washington penned a letter to John Jay relating these same concerns, stating:

the insurrection in the western counties of this State has excited much speculation, and a variety of opinions abroad; and will be represented differently according to the wishes of some, and the prejudices of others; who may exhibit it as an evidence of what has been predicted ‘that we are unable to govern ourselves.’ Under this view of the subject, I am happy in giving it to you as the general opinion, that this event having happened at the time it did, was fortunate, although it will be attended with considerable expence.[17]

Indeed, it was fortunate. In the months immediately following the Whiskey Rebellion, land speculators (including Washington) saw the value of their holdings increase by as much as fifty percent in the Ohio Country. With peace came prosperity, and new settlers flooded the region with aims of participating in the newly liberated western economy. Within seven years of these treaties’ ratification, the bustling state of Ohio was granted full statehood. Although the Ohio Country had been home to pioneering families since the 1750s, those hardscrabble frontiersmen were quickly replaced by enterprising landowners from the eastern seaboard. Cities like Pittsburgh, Morgantown, and Wheeling soon emerged as regional commercial centers, and the days of cheap land disappeared.

The frontier did not vanish, it just moved west and south to Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and beyond. The challenges of land, power, native war and native trade would always be hallmarks of American life in the west, but those obstacles been vanquished in the Ohio Country. By 1796 George Washington and his Federalist administration had succeeded in taming the first frontier, and setting America on a permanent trajectory of westward expansion and manifest destiny.


[1]David L. Preston, Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2015),81.

[2]Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America (New York: Vintage Books, 2000),72.

[3]Responses to the Spanish closure of the Mississippi, including calls for violent reprisal, can be read in Maryland Journal, 3 July, 1786, in Commentaries on the Constitution, Volume XIII: Commentaries on the Constitution, No. 1.

[4]Colin G. Calloway, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 8.

[5]Brady J. Crytzer, War in the Peaceable Kingdom: The Kittanning Raid of 1756 (Yardley: Westholme Publishing 2016), 64-70.

[6]For a detailed study of Pontiac’s Rebellion, see David D. Dixon, Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Uprising and the Fate of Empire in North America (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005),118-120.

[7]Eric Sterner, Anatomy of a Massacre: The Destruction of Gnaddenhutten, 1782 (Yardley: Westholme Publishing 2020),88-90.

[8]John E. Wimer, “The Depreciation and Donation Lands,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2.

[9]Brady J. Crytzer, Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America (Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2013),228-230.

[10][10]Colin G. Calloway, The Victory with No Name: The Native American Defeat of the First American Army (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015),129-139.

[11]Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit, January 9, 1790,

[12]Leland D. Baldwin, Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press 1967), 69.

[13]William Hogeland, The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006),220-221.

[14]“Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, between His Britannick Majesty; and The United States of America, by Their President, with the advice and consent of Their Senate,” Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America,Volume 2, Documents 1-40: 1776-1818 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1931).

[15]“Treaty of Greenville,” Indian Affairs: Laws and TreatiesVol II (Treaties) ed. Charles J. Kappler (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904).

[16]“Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation Between Spain and The United States; October 27, 1795,” Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States.

[17]George Washington to John Jay, November 1-4, 1794,


  • Thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Learned some history, as the article pulls together some fragments of my understanding of early western expansion by providing an informed big picture and context of specific events and key movers and shakers during the timeframe discussed.

  • Mr. Crytzer,

    Thank you, but our article barely scratches the surface on Arthur St, Clair

    Thank you for reminding me that the American Government never made a treaty with the American Native Tribes in good faith. Arrogance and over confidence was published in the newspapers prior to St. Clair’s defeat:

    The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: September 28, 1791

From Lieut. Colonel Commandant JAMES WILKINSON, to the INDIAN NATIONS living on the River Wabash , 9th August, 1791.

    To the Indian Nations living on the River Wabash, and its Waters.

    THE arms of the United States are again exerted against you, and again your towns are in flames, and your wives and children made captives: Again you are cautioned to listen to the voice of reason, to sue for peace, and to submit to the protection of the United States, who are willing to become your friends and fathers; but at the same time, are determined to punish you for every injury you may offer to their children. Regard not those evil counsellors, who, to secure to themselves the benefits of your trade, advise to measures which involve you, your women and children, in trouble and distress. – The United States wish to give you peace; because it is good in the eyes of the Great Spirit, that all his children should unite and live like brothers: But if you foolishly prefer war, their warriors are ready to meet you in battle, and will not be the first to lay down the hatchet. You may find your squaws and your children under the protection of our great chief and warrior General ST. CLAIR, at Fort Washington, to him you will make applications, for an exchange of prisoners, or for peace.

    Given under my hand and seal, at 
Kenapacomaqua, the 9th day of
 August, 1791.
Lieut. Col. Comdt.”

    The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Date: December 14, 1791

    “The following are the communications made yesterday by the President, to the House of Representatives.

    UNITED STATES, Dec. 12, 1791.

    Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives,

    IT is with great concern, that I communicate to you the information received from Major-General St. Clair , of the misfortune which has befallen the troops under his command… (skipping through most of it)…

    “With every sentiment of respect and regard, I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient servant, ARTHUR ST. CLAIR . The Hon. Major General Knox, Secretary of War.

    P.S. Some orders that had been given to Col. Oldham over night, and which were of much material intelligence was communicated by Captain Slough to General Butler, in the course of the night, before the action, which was never imparted to me, nor did I hear of it, until after my arrival here.

    LIST of the killed and wounded Officers in the battle of the 4th Nov. 1791.

    Major General Richard Butler.

    Colonel Oldham, Kentucky Militia. Majors , Ferguson, Clarke, and Hart.

    Captains , Bradford, Phelan, Kirkwood, Price, Van Swearingin, Tipton, Smith, Purdy, Platt, Guthrie, Cribbs, and Newman. Lieutenants , Spear, Warren, Boyd, Mac Math, Burgess, Kelso, Read, Little, Happer, and Lickins. Ensigns , Cobb, Balch, Chace, Turner, Wilson, Brooks, Beatty, and Purdy.

    Quarter-Masters , Reynolds and Ward. Adjutant Anderson. Doctor Grasson.


    Lieutenant-Colonels , Gibson, Darke, and Sargent, adjutant-general.

    Major Butler. Captains , Doyle, Trueman, Ford, Buchannan, Darke, and Slouth.

    Lieutenants , Greaton, Davidson, De Butts, Price, Morgan, McCrea, Lyste, and Thompson.

    Adjutants , Whistler and Crawford. Ensign Bines.

    The Viscount Malertie, volunteer aid de camp to major-general St. Clair.”

    Thank You Again Mr. Crytzer, I never get tired of reading about Arthur St. Clair first antagonizing the Indians before losing his arse. This “chicken hawk” was lucky to have escaped with his scalp intact.


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