Territory of Minnesota
Organized incorporated territory of the United States

Location of Minnesota Territory within the U.S. including U.S. state boundaries
CapitalSt. Paul
 • TypeOrganized incorporated territory
• 1849–1853
Alexander Ramsey
• 1853–1857
Willis A. Gorman
• 1857–1858
Samuel Medary
LegislatureMinnesota Territorial Legislature
• Split from Iowa and Wisconsin territories
March 3, 1849
• Statehood
May 11, 1858
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Iowa Territory
Wisconsin Territory
Unorganized territory

The Territory of Minnesota was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 3, 1849,[1] until May 11, 1858, when the eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Minnesota and the western portion became unorganized territory and shortly after was reorganized as part of the Dakota Territory.


Further information: Territorial era of Minnesota

The nine original counties of the Minnesota Territory extended into what became North Dakota and South Dakota (left)
Minnesota Territory Centennial stamp, issued in 1949 in recognition of Minnesota's unique Métis oxcart traders.

The Minnesota Territory was formed on March 3, 1849, encompassing the entirety of the present-day state of Minnesota and the majority portions of modern-day North and South Dakota east of the Missouri and White Earth Rivers.[2] At the time of formation there were an estimated 5,000 settlers living in the Territory. There were no roads from adjoining Wisconsin or Iowa. The easiest access to the region was via waterway, of which the Mississippi River was primary. The primary mode of transport was the riverboat.

Minnesota Territory had three significant pioneer settlements: St. Paul, St. Anthony/Minneapolis, and Stillwater, plus two military reservations: Fort Snelling and Fort Ripley. All of these were located on waterways. A reservation for the Winnebago people had been created at Long Prairie in 1848. The Chippewa Agency, at Crow Wing, was founded in 1852. The Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies were created in 1853. All of these were also located adjacent to waterways. The primary territorial institutions were in the three main settlements. St. Paul was made the territorial capital, Minneapolis was selected as the site of the University of Minnesota, and Stillwater was chosen for the Territorial Prison.[3] The military reservations were federal land, of which the Fort Snelling Unorganized Territory still exists. Fort Ripley is now the Minnesota National Guard's Camp Ripley. The first school in the Territory was located at Fort Snelling, as was the first Post Office.[4][5] The first justice of the peace in Minnesota was at Mendota, as was the first church, St. Peter's Catholic Church, which was built in 1840.

The first territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, requested that Congress approve funds for five military roads in the Territory: Mendota/Fort Snelling to the confluence of the Big Sioux River with the Missouri River; Point Douglas to Fort Ripley; Fort Ripley Road/Swan River to Long Prairie Indian Agency; and Point Douglas to Superior.[6] A budget was approved in 1850 for four of these roads, with the Point Douglas–Fort Ripley Military Road being the first. Additional funds were later appropriated for a survey of the route to the Big Sioux/Missouri, the Fort Ridgely and South Pass Wagon Road and the Wagon Road from Fort Ripley to Fort Abercrombie. Private trails were cut as well, the most well known of which was Dodd Road from 1853. It was named after its builder, Captain William B. Dodd, and significant portions of it still exist.[6]

When the region was still part of the Wisconsin Territory, the Red River Trails were further developed by Joe Rolette.[6] There were three main trails, now identified as the West Plains Trail, East Plains Trail, and Woods Trails.[6] They connected Fort Garry and the Selkirk Settlement in British North America with Fort Snelling and the American Fur Trading Company at Mendota.[6] Later, the Oxcarts became synonymous with St. Paul's Kellogg Street and the riverboat landing on the Mississippi River. Fort Ripley lay along the East Plains Trail.

In 1850, 10 years after the end of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1840), of the three churches with regular services in the Minnesota Territory, 1 was Methodist, 1 was Presbyterian, and 1 was Catholic.[7] The Roman Catholic diocese of Saint Paul of Minnesota was established by Pope Pius IX on July 19, 1850, and consisted of the entirety of the Minnesota Territory. Because of this original territorial designation, to this day the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis continues to oversee the Catholic dioceses in the Dakotas within its ecclesiastical province.

In the 1850 United States census, the nine counties in the Minnesota Territory reported the following population counts:[8]

Rank County Population
1 Ramsey 2,227
2 Kittson 1,134
3 Washington 1,056
4 Dakota 584
5 Benton 418
6 Wabasha 243
7 Wahnata 160
8 Mahkahta 158
9 Itasca 97
Minnesota Territory 6,077

Territorial Governors

# Governor Took office Left office Party
1 Alexander Ramsey June 1, 1849 May 15, 1853 Whig
2 Willis Arnold Gorman May 15, 1853 April 23, 1857 Democratic
3 Samuel Medary April 23, 1857 May 24, 1858 Democratic

Territorial Secretaries

Territorial Attorneys General

Congressional Delegates

See also


  1. ^ Stat. 403
  2. ^ See The Student Page of the Minnesota Secretary of State Archived July 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine for an overview of how Minnesota's state boundaries were determined.
  3. ^ "History of the Minnesota Territory". Minnesota Territorial Pioneers. Archived from the original on July 24, 2016. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  4. ^ Colbruno, Michael "Lives of the Dead: Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland." December 12, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  5. ^ Patterson, J. W. (1966). "The Post Office in Early Minnesota" (PDF). Minnesota History. 40 (2): 78–89. JSTOR 20177825. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 19, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e A History of Minnesota's Highways Part One, Streets MN webpage, Monte Castleman, February 9, 2018 [1]
  7. ^ Selcer, Richard F. (2006). Balkin, Richard (ed.). Civil War America: 1850 to 1875. New York: Facts on File. p. 143. ISBN 978-0816038671.
  8. ^ Forstall, Richard L. (ed.). Population of the States and Counties of the United States: 1790–1990 (PDF) (Report). United States Census Bureau. pp. 85–87. Retrieved May 18, 2020.

Media related to Minnesota Territory at Wikimedia Commons

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