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Documents from Great Lakes History – Free Online

Documents from Great Lakes History Free Online

Documents from the early history of the Great Lakes region, known as the Old Northwest Territory. Primary sources, digital archives, Treaties with Indian tribes, Collections of government records, Northwest Ordinance, Ohio Company, military records

Collections of Great Lakes Historic Documents

83 Digitized Portraits of American Indians

Manuscript and Visual Collections
Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society

American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Exploration and Settlement: A Digital Library and Learning Center

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society

American Journeys contains more than 18,000 pages of eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
Read the words of explorers, Indians, missionaries, traders and settlers as they lived through the founding moments of American history. View, search, print, or download more than 150 rare books, original manuscripts, and classic travel narratives from the library and archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
– Summary from the American Journeys website.

American State Papers: Legislative and Executive Documents of Congress 1789-1838

American Memory Project
Washington: U.S. Library of Congress

This collection of 6,278 documents contains legislative and executive documents of Congress during the period 1789 to 1838 in ten topical classes or series. Every volume contains an index and all but one has a table of contents.

I. Foreign Relations – II. Indian Affairs – III. Finances – IV. Commerce and Navigation – V. Military Affairs – VI. Naval Affairs – VII. Post Office Department – VIII. Public Lands – IX. Claims – X. Miscellaneous

Northwest Territory Collection, 1721-1825

Manuscript and Visual Collections
Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society

550 Documents.
“The bulk of the papers are from the period 1780 through 1801 and relate to the U.S. Army in the West; the campaigns of generals Josiah Harmar, Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne against the Indians; Indian relations; French settlers at Vincennes and elsewhere in the territory; the Ohio Company and other American settlers; and the administration of the territorial government. “
– From the Northwest Territory Collection website

Guide to Records in the National Archives – Great Lakes Region

National Archives
Washington: National Archives and Records Administration 1989

“The National Archives of the United States holds the permanently valuable records of the three branches of the federal government. These records, which were created or received in the course of transacting official business, document American history from the First Continental Congress.”
“The National Archives—Great Lakes Region is the depository for records created in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The National Archives—Great Lakes Region has custody of more than 51,000 cubic feet of records created by 41 federal agencies or U.S. courts. In this guide, the descriptions of these records are arranged numerically by record group (RG) number with a list of agencies and subjects on page 2.” -Introduction

Papers of the War Department 1784-1800

Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
George Mason University

42,882 documents. Some are transcribed.
“Between 1784 and 1800, the War Department was responsible for Indian affairs, veteran affairs, naval affairs (until 1798), as well as militia and army matters. During the 1790s, the Secretary of War spent seven of every ten dollars of the federal budget (debt service excepted). The War Office did business with commercial firms and merchants all across the nation; it was the nation’s largest single consumer of fabric, clothing, shoes, food, medicine, building materials, and weapons of all kinds. The War Department operated the nation’s only federal social welfare program, providing veterans’ benefits (including payments to widows and orphans) to more than 4,000 persons. It also provided internal security, governance, and diplomacy on the vast frontier, and it was the instrument that shaped relations with Native Americans.”
– from the Papers of the War Department website

The Territorial Papers of the United States

Carter, Clarence Edwin and Bloom, John Porter, eds.
Washington: National Archives 1934 – 1975

“The subject matter of this series of volumes is concerned with certain western tracts of land, acquired at various times and in various ways by the United States, which were governed by Congress and the National Executive as colonies or territories. During the period bracketed by the dates 1787-1912 Congress created out of these lands some twenty-eight organized territories which, after an average existence of nearly twenty years in the territorial form, have entered the Union as States. The Territorial Papers of the United States consist of the official records of those Federal territories which ultimately became States of the Union.” -Introduction to the Series.
Volumes for the Great Lakes region are:

Vol 1. General
Vol 2. The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787-1803
Vol 3. The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787-1803 continued
Vol 7. The Territory of Indiana 1800-1810
Vol 8. The Territory of Indiana 1810-1816
Vol 10. The Territory of Michigan 1805-1820
Vol 11. The Territory of Michigan 1820-1829
Vol 12. The Territory of Michigan 1829-1837
Vol 16. The Territory of Illinois 1809-1814
Vol 17. The Territory of Illinois 1814-1818
Vol 27. The Territory of Wisconsin, Executive Journal, 1836-1848; Papers, 1836-1839
Vol 28. The Territory of Wisconsin 1839-1848

William Henry Harrison Papers and Documents, 1791-1864

Manuscript and Visual Collections
Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society

Some Historic Great Lakes Documents

“Treaty of Fort Macintosh between the US and the Wyandots, Delaware, Ojibwe, and Odawa. Jan 21, 1785”

Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol 2, page 6 and page 18.

Oklahoma State University Library

“The Treaty of Fort McIntosh was a treaty between the United States government and representatives of the Wyandotte, Delaware, Chippewa and Ottawa nations of Native Americans. The treaty was signed at Fort McIntosh (present Beaver, Pennsylvania) on January 21, 1785. It contained 10 articles and an addendum. Essentially, the treaty carved a large Indian reservation out of Ohio Country, whose boundaries were the Cuyahoga and Muskingum rivers in the east, a line between Fort Laurens and Fort Pickawillany (Piqua) in the south, the Great Miami River and St. Mary’s River in the west, and Maumee River and Lake Erie in the north. The area comprised about 1/3 of modern day Ohio in the northwest, and a wedge of eastern Indiana extending to Kekionga (future Fort Wayne).” -Wikipedia
At page 18 of this volume see also the “Treaty with the Wyandot, etc., 1789”, which amends some of the terms of the 1785 treaty.

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“An Ordinance for Ascertaining the Mode of Disposing of Lands in the Western Territory: 1785 Land Ordinance”

Road to Indiana Statehood

Continental Congress
Purdue: Indiana University Library

“The Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted by the United States Congress of the Confederation on May 20, 1785. It set up a standardized system whereby settlers could purchase title to farmland in the undeveloped west. Congress at the time did not have the power to raise revenue by direct taxation, so land sales provided an important revenue stream. The Ordinance set up a survey system that eventually covered over 3/4 of the area of the continental United States.” -Wikipedia

The Washington-Crawford Letters. Being the Correspondence between George Washington and William Crawford, from 1767 to 1781, concerning western lands

Butterfield, Consul Willshire
Cincinnati: R. Clark, 1877

William H. Crawford (1732-1782) learned surveying from George Washington in 1749 and Crawford served under Washington in the British army in the French and Indian War and again during the early part of the Revolution. Between the wars Crawford was employed as a farmer and surveyor, and also traded with the Indians. In 1782 Crawford was leading an expedition against Indians in Ohio country when his army was surprised and routed. Crawford was captured and tortured to death.

This correspondence, mainly written by Crawford, spans 1767 to 1781. It begins with a letter from Washington to Crawford in 1767, asking Crawford to try to acquire about 1500 to 2000 acres near Crawford’s property in western Pennsylvania in the vicinity of Fort Pitt. There follows a number of letters mainly concerning land tracts, but also including other news. By 1774 the letters begin to be dominated by news of the conflict in western Pennsylvania between Lord Dunmore (the British governor of Virginia) and many of the residents of the area.

See our collected documents in Illinois history

“An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States North West of the River Ohio: 1787 Ordinance”

Road to Indiana Statehood

Continental Congress
Purdue: Indiana University Library

This is often referred to as the “Northwest Ordinance”, and it created the Northwest Territory. “Considered one of the most important legislative acts of the Confederation Congress, it established the precedent by which the Federal government would be sovereign and expand westward with the admission of new states, rather than with the expansion of existing states and their established sovereignty under the Articles of Confederation. It also set legislative precedent with regard to American public domain lands.” -Wikipedia

“A View of the Present State of the Military Force of the United States, submitted to the President of the United States George Washington by Henry Knox, Secretary of War”

Indiana Memory Digital Collections

Knox, Henry
Indiana State Library

Document #4 in the Indiana Historical Society’s “Northwest Territory Collection, 1721-1825”. This free online collection contains 551 digitized documents concerning military operations in the region. This document is Knox’s report to the President of 19 March 1891, and discusses the coming year’s goals of peace in the frontiers and explains in detail how best to meet those goals, using both peaceful and military measures.

“Use of Scouts to Provide Security for Local Inhabitants”

Papers of the War Department

Knox, Henry
George Mason University: Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

“29 Dec 1791. The Secretary of War informs the Lieutenants of the Pennsylvania Counties of Allegheny, Westmoreland and Washington that a detachment of recruits of regular troops has been marched for Fort Pitt in order to provide security for the inhabitants, presumably from Indians. In addition, Knox gives the authority to call into service a number of expert hunters and woodsmen to serve as scouts in order to warn inhabitants of the approach of any danger. He recommends that the Scouts be carefully chosen on the basis of character. He goes on to provide details on inducements; pay is to be five sixths of a dollar per day; muster procedures are outlined; actions to be taken at the expiration of service and submission of accounts to the War Office.” -Papers of the War Department

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“Treaty of Greeneville”. (Transcript) 1795

Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia

Columbus: Ohio Historical Society

A treaty between the United States and a number of Ohio tribes, in the wake of General Anthony Wayne’s victory against Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The battle and treaty made it possible to open up most of Ohio to white settlement.

See our page of books about U.S. History 1789-1809

“Harrison Land Act of 1800” (Transcript)

Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia

Columbus: Ohio Historical Society

A critical step in opening the Northwest Territory to settlement. “Under this law, people had the opportunity to buy land in the Northwest Territory directly from the federal government. The purchasers also could use credit to make part of their purchase.” -Ohio History Central

“The Act Creating Indiana Territory: An Act to divide the territory of the United States north-west of the Ohio into two separate governments” 1800

Road to Indiana Statehood

U.S. Congress
Purdue: Indiana University Library

Signed by President John Adams May 7, 1800. On March 20, 1800, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives providing for the division of the Northwest Territory into two separate governments. The bill’s supporters urged that the existing situation was too unwieldy for good government, that the growth of population justified the change, and that popular sentiment made it highly desirable. The passage of this act left the present state of Ohio, approximately half of Michigan and the “gore” in southeastern Indiana in the Northwest Territory and constituted the remainder of the original Northwest Territory as Indiana Territory.

“Treaty at Vincennes Aug 7, 1803 between William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and Chiefs and Warriors of the Eel River, Wyandot, Piankashaw Kaskaskia and Kikapo nations”

Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol 2, page 66

Oklahoma State University Library

“The purpose of the treaty was to get the native tribes to formally recognize the American ownership of the Vincennes Tract, a parcel of land captured from Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War.” -Wikipedia

“Land Act of 1804”

Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia

U.S. Congress
Ohio Historical Society

The United States Congress passed the Land Act of 1804 to create terms for the sale of federal lands in Ohio. This act replaced the Harrison Land Act of 1800, which applied to federal land in the Northwest Territory.

“Treaty with the Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Senecas, and Miamis” (Transcript) 1814

Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia

Ohio Historical Society

“Treaty with the Senecas, Shawnees and Wyandots” 1831 (Transcript)

Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia

Ohio Historical Society

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