Friday, September 26, 2014

On this day in history: Acts of the Southwest Territory

220 years ago, on September 27, 1794, as part of the "Acts of the Southwest Territory," Territorial Governor William Blount and Secretary David Wilson signed this six-page, unnumbered handwritten document creating a lottery to pay for a wagon road from the Southwest Point to the settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District. Entitled, "An Act to Cut and Clear a Waggon Road to the Settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District," this document is one of many featured on the Tennessee State Library and Archives Tennessee Founding Documents page on the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) website.

"An Act to Cut and Clear a Waggon Road to the Settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District."
Tennessee General Assembly. Acts, Public and Private, 1790-[ongoing]
Tennessee State Library and Archives, Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).

On May 26, 1790, President George Washington signed into law an act of Congress passed earlier in the month that established the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio (Southwest Territory). Embracing the western lands ceded by the state of North Carolina on December 22, 1789, the new territory was to be governed under the terms of the Ordinance of 1787, which created its predecessor, the Northwest Territory.

President Washington appointed North Carolina businessman, William Blount as territorial governor. Blount, a land speculator, had already claimed title to approximately one million acres of the land inside its boundaries. Blount was also given a second responsibility as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Southern Department, an office that placed him in contact with the neighboring Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Creek Nations. Relations with the latter two were so difficult that Blount had to devote more time to Indian matters than to the office of governor.

Portrait of William Blount (1749-1800). Governor of the Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796; U.S. Senator from Tennessee.
Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The extent of the new territory was well defined. Containing about 43,000 square miles of land, it was restricted to North Carolina’s western district bounded on the north by the boundary of North Carolina and Virginia; on the west by a line in the middle of the Mississippi River, on the south by the parallel 35 degrees north and on the east by a jagged line running from the northeast to southwest connecting some dominant mountain peaks. It was this territory that in 1796 would become the state of Tennessee.

The act ordering a wagon road to the settlements in the Mero District was one of the varied acts passed by the territorial assembly. Responding weakly to the governor’s request for assistance to pay for “the cutting and clearing” of the wagon road after the failure of a lottery for that purpose, the assembly diverted all monies that might be collected from the sale of public lands in Mero District to the use of the road commissioners. It is interesting to note that the land used for the road was coerced from the Cherokees thus causing a series of Creek and Cherokee incursions into the district.

For a more detailed account of the history behind this document and the Acts of the Southwest Territory, visit our "Introductory Material" page associated with this act. You may also view more pages of this historically significant document on the TeVA website. TeVA's Tennessee Founding Documents website features other important records, from King George’s Proclamation of 1763 to the earliest purchase of land from Native Americans to the first Constitutions of the State of Tennessee. Visit the TeVA website for access to these and other images from our vast collection.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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