The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820 documents the travels of the first Europeans to enter the trans-Appalachian west, the maps tracing their explorations, and relations with Native American people. Books and letters in the collection record land acquisitions, agricultural development, navigation, trade, and political affairs in the early Federal period including western conspiracies. The collection of documents draws upon the interconnected holdings of the University of Chicago Library and the Filson Historical Society, named after John Filson who, in 1784, published “The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke,” a promotional tract recognized as the first history of the state. The collection provides a diverse picture of the early exploration and settlement of the trans-Appalachian west.
The First American West supplements the study of early American history and provides insights into the settlement of the first westward frontier. Documents in the collection explore the numerous hostile encounters between Europeans and Native Americans from the Seven Years’ War through the War of 1812. A number of travel accounts shed light on the economic opportunities in the western Appalachian territory acquired by the Treaty of Paris of 1783, including a two-volume history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The collection also explores the political intrigues spawned in the Ohio Valley during the early Federal Period through personal correspondence, state papers, and court records. The abundant records in the collection further enrich the study of the economic, social, and political values and institutions from the late colonial period through the War of 1812.
The Special Presentation “Encountering the First American West” provides a useful introduction to the collection, organized around five themes: contested lands, peoples and migrations, empires and politics, western life and culture, and constructing a western past. These themes could provide one avenue for exploring the collection in the classroom; the topics in the subheadings below could provide another.