The Ohio Country (sometimes called the Ohio Territory or Ohio Valley by the French) was a name used in the mid- to late 18th century for a region of North America west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the upper Ohio and Allegheny rivers, extending to Lake Erie. The area encompassed roughly northwestern West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, all of the present-day state of Ohio, and a wedge of southeastern Indiana.
Control of the territory was disputed in the 17th century by the Iroquois and other Native American tribes, particularly for hunting and the fur trade (see Beaver Wars). In the early 18th century, New France claimed this area as part of its administrative district of La Louisiane. France and Great Britain fought the French and Indian War (1753–1763) over this area in the mid-18th century, as the North American front of their Seven Years' War. After the British won, France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi River to the British in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
During the following decades, several minor frontier wars, including Pontiac's Rebellion and Lord Dunmore's War, were fought in the territory. In 1783 the Ohio Country became part of unorganized U.S. territory under the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the American Revolutionary War. It was one of the first frontier regions of the United States. Several states had conflicting claims to portions of it, based on their colonial charters. In 1787, the states' claims were largely extinguished after negotiations with the federal government, and it became part of the larger, organized US Northwest Territory. Most of the former areas north and west of the Ohio River were organized as the state of Ohio, admitted to the Union in 1803.
In the 17th century, the area north of the Ohio River was occupied by the historic Algonquian-speaking Shawnee and some Siouan language-speaking tribes, such as the Omaha and Ponca. Around 1660, during a conflict known as the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois nations seized control of the Ohio Country, driving out the Shawnee and Siouan peoples. Those tribes moved further northwest and west, with the latter two eventually settling west of the Missouri River in present-day Nebraska. The Iroquois conquered and absorbed the Erie, who also spoke an Iroquoian language. The Ohio Country remained largely uninhabited for decades, and was used primarily as a hunting ground by the Iroquois.
In the 1720s, a number of Native American groups began to migrate to the Ohio Country from the East, driven by pressure from encroaching European colonists. By 1724, Delaware Indians had established the village of Kittanning on the Allegheny River in present-day western Pennsylvania. With them came those Shawnee who had historically settled in the east. Other bands of the scattered Shawnee tribe began to return to the Ohio Country in the decades that followed. A number of Seneca and other Iroquois peoples also migrated to the Ohio Country, moving away from the Anglo-French rivalries and warfare south of Lake Ontario. The Seneca were the westernmost of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois based in New York. In 1722, the Tuscarora, an Iroquoian-speaking tribe from the Carolinas, completed a migration to the area and were allowed to settle near the Oneida. They were considered cousins to the Iroquois and became the sixth nation in the confederacy, known as the Haudenosaunee.
In the late 1740s and the second half of the 18th century, the British and French angled for control of the territory. In 1749, the Crown, via the government of Virginia, granted the Ohio Company a great deal of this territory on the condition that it be settled by colonists from the Thirteen Colonies. The English intended to gain control by number of settlers on the ground.
With the arrival of the Europeans, both Great Britain and France claimed the area and sent fur traders into the area to do business with the Ohio Country Indians. The Iroquois League claimed the region by right of conquest. The rivalry among the two European nations, the Iroquois nations, and the Ohio natives for control of the region played an important part in the French and Indian War from 1754 through 1760. After initially remaining neutral, the Ohio Country Indians largely sided with the French. Armed with supplies and guns from the French, they launched raids against their enemies via the Kittanning Path east of the Alleghenies. After they destroyed Fort Granville in the summer of 1756, John Penn ordered John Armstrong to destroy the Shawnee villages west of the Alleghenies to put an end to their raiding activities.
The British defeated the French in the war via a series of campaigns. Meanwhile, other British forces drove the French from Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. They built Fort Pitt, which developed as the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at this confluence, forming the Ohio River. After being defeated by Britain, in the Treaty of Paris, France ceded control of the entire Ohio region without consulting its native allies. Colonies such as Pennsylvania and Virginia claimed some of the westward lands by their original charters.
The area was officially closed to European settlement by the Crown's Royal Proclamation of 1763. The Crown no longer recognized claims that the colonies made on this territory and attempted to preserve the lands as territory for Native American peoples.
On June 22, 1774, Parliament passed the Quebec Act and annexed the region into the province of Quebec. Colonists in the Thirteen Colonies considered this one of the Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament, contributing to the American Revolution.
Despite the Crown's actions limiting westward expansion, frontiersmen from the Virginia and Pennsylvania colonies began to cross the Allegheny Mountains and came into conflict with the Shawnee. The Shawnee referred to the settlers as the Long Knives. Because of the threat posed by the colonists, the Shawnee and other nations of the Ohio Country chose to side with the British against the American colonists during the American Revolutionary War. They hoped to expel the colonists permanently from their lands.
In 1778, after victories in the region by the General George Rogers Clark, the Virginia legislature organized the first civil government in the region. They called it Illinois County, which encompassed all of the lands lying west of the Ohio River to which Virginia had any claim. The high-water mark of the Native American struggle to retain the region was in 1782: the Ohio nations and the British met in a council at the Shawnee Chalawgatha village along the Little Miami River. They planned what was the successful rout of the Americans at the Battle of Blue Licks, south of the Ohio River, two weeks later.
In 1783, following the Treaty of Paris, Britain ceded its claims in the area to the United States, which gained independence after the war. The federal government immediately opened this area to settlement by American pioneers, considering it unorganized territory. The Ohio Country quickly became one of the most desirable locations for Trans-Appalachian settlements, in particular among veterans of the Revolutionary War. They were often granted land in lieu of pay for their war service.
In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and Treaty of Fort McIntosh, the United States fixed boundaries between American territory and tribal lands. The Shawnee and other tribes continued to resist American encroachment into their historic lands. This resistance led to the Northwest Indian War as the Northwest Territory was being organized.
Considered highly desirable, the area was subject to the overlapping and conflicting territorial ambitions of several eastern states:
After negotiation with the federal government, these states ceded their claims to the United States between 1780 and 1786. In July 1787, most of Ohio Country, the southern peninsula of what is today the state of Michigan, and western Illinois Country were incorporated as the Northwest Territory. In 1803, most of what was formerly Ohio country north and west of the Ohio River was admitted to the union as the state of Ohio.