The following excerpts are from Shall We Gather at the River? with permission of the author:
When the Revolutionary War came to a close, there were just over three million people living in the United States. The first reliable census was in 1790, and the count was 3,900,000. There was little change in the way of life from Captain John Smith to John Adams; John Smith would have felt right at home in the new century. Folks settled from Maine to Georgia and to the western descent of the Appalachian Mountains, extending into Kentucky and Tennessee.
New Englanders of 1790 were pleased with themselves. They had overcome the sparse offerings of nature, produced a pleasant society, and won a war. Gentlemen and their ladies from South Carolina summered in Newport. In 1774, Rhode Island had taken a stand on slavery. The independence cherished by Rhode Islanders would be extended to slaves subsequently brought into the commonwealth.
New England was the most progressive region of the country. Boys attended school for two months in the winter while their sisters attended for two months in the summer. Books were expensive. In most homes, two books could be found—the Bible and an almanac.
Heading west would mean moving into territory heavily forested and home to wild beasts and Indians, much as the backwoods of Washington County, Ohio, in the last two decades of the 1700s. Looking to the East, Americans contemplated the civilized world, a source of culture and fine products as well as a market for products made in America. Most Americans lived contentedly within 50 miles of the coast.
The majority of Americans along the seaboard lived outside of cities. Philadelphia was the largest city with a population of about 40,000. Perhaps [pioneers] needed more elbow room and had a romantic image of clearing a small plot in the forest and setting to work with an ax and auger to construct their furniture. They would plant corn and count on the ever-handy musket for hunting and defense.
In 1770, George Washington began his travels west of Virginia to the picture-perfect land of the Ohio Valley. France had claimed this land as part of Louisiana until the peace treaty of 1763 when the land east of the Mississippi River was ceded to Great Britain. Several states laid claim to this land during the Revolutionary War, but the land was turned over to our nation as part of the peace treaty of 1783. It was during the war when Washington told his friend General Rufus Putnam of this glorious land.
The young country was short of cash but rich in land. The settlement at Marietta in Washington County, Ohio, [and downriver along the Ohio River] had its conception in an act of Congress in 1776 which provided for land for officers and soldiers with the amount determined by rank. In June of 1783, army officers petitioned for land in the Northwest; the petition was dispatched to Washington who sent it to Congress with a letter of endorsement. In 1785, Congress ordered a survey of the seven ranges in the Northwest Territory, and the result was very flattering.
Squatters crossed from Kentucky into Ohio during the Revolutionary War. The army was sent to evict squatters and burn cabins in an effort to placate the Delaware Indians. Army soldiers came to know the Ohio valley and recognized the land was destined to be settled either by squatters or by pioneers. Without an orderly plan of settlement, the land could fall under the control of a foreign government.