Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
VIRGINIA AND THE WEST, 1780-1781

BEFORE the year 1780 was far spent the vexed question of conflicting claims to Western lands raised its head once more in Congress, and soon it became evident that some progress was being made toward its settlement. On December 15, 1778, Maryland had adopted resolutions instructing her delegates in Congress to notify that body that she would never accede to the Articles of Confederation unless the States claiming Western lands should surrender them to the control of Congress. In 1775, however, she had helped to defeat a proposal that Congress provide for the defense of Pittsburgh, leaving Virginia and Pennsylvania to do so alone.1

On February 13 New York provided for the cession to Congress of the tract of Western lands which she claimed by virtue of her pretended jurisdiction over the Six Nations. This tract included all the Western parts of that vast and indefinite area to which the Six Nations had set up claims during the colonial period. Beside taking in the Shawnee and Delaware country north of the Ohio River, it extended over that tract south of the Ohio--in what is now Tennessee and Kentucky--which the Six Nations had ceded to the Crown at the treaty of Fort Stanwix and which the Cherokee also claimed. Thus it covered practically all of the Western country which Virginia claimed under her charter of 1609.2

As to New York's claim that she owned this territory because the Six Nations were subject to her jurisdiction, it is hard to see how any one could have taken it very seriously. It is true that the Iroquois had made a limited submission to New York during the colonial period, but it was admitted that this did not involve ownership of the soil, nor did it make the Six Nations a part of the colony of New York. During the later years of the colonial period these Indians were under the jurisdiction of Sir William Johnson, Indian agent for the Northern Department, and the governor of New York was consulted by him no more than were

____________________
1
Journals of the Continental Congress, XIV, 619-622; Pendleton to James Madison, Sept. 25, 1780, Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, series 2, XIX, 112-114; Craig, The Olden Time, I, 557ff.
2
Herbert B. Adams, Maryland's Influence upon Land Cessions to the United States, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, series 3, I, 32.

-242-

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