The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
The Northwest Territory

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



By the treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain in 1783, Michigan became a part of the United States; but for various reasons the British forces did not evacuate Mackinac and Detroit. However, on the theory that the transfer of territory would prove permanent, the American congress organized a government for a vast western territory, including Michigan, under the famous Ordinance of 1787. This area was called the Northwest Territory, out of which have been carved the states of Ohio, Indian, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin; its first governor was General Arthur St. Clair, a veteran officer of the American Revolution. The Ordinance of 1787 gave to Governor St. Clair wide powers. Settlers would want assurance that they would be adequately protected in the western country, before they would leave their homes in the Eastern states. His government was strongly centralized, and he was able to act vigorously under the supervision of the national government. Of governor St. Clair, an able lawyer of that time has left the following estimate:

"During the continuance of the first grade of that imperfect government, he enjoyed the respect and confidence of every class of the people. He was plain and simple in his dress and equipage, open and frank in his manners, and accessible top person of every rank. * * * the governor was unquestionably a man of superior talent, of extensive information, and of great uprightness of purpose, as well as suavity of manners. His general course, though in the main correct, was in some respects injurious to his own popularity; but it was the result of an honest exercise of his judgment. He not only believed that the power he claimed belonged legitimately to the executive, but was convinced that the manner in which he exercised it was imposed upon him as a duty, by the ordinance, and was calculated to advance the best interest of the territory."

One of the most important events of Michigan history while St. Clair was governor, was the Indian treaty of Greenville, in 1795. In 1790-91 the confederated tribes south of Michigan inflicted defeats upon Generals Harmer and St. Clair,. but, in 1794, Gen. Anthony Wayne, at the "Fallen timbers," or Maumee Rapids, gave the combined Indian tribes of the Northwest a bloody defeat. This brought the savages to terms, and in August, 1795, General Wayne executed a treaty with them, at Greenville, Ohio, in which, among other sections, certain lands about the posts at Detroit and Mackinac were ceded to the United States.

In the meantime, John jay had negotiated a treaty with England, in which it was stipulated that on or before June 1, 1796, the British garrisons should be withdrawn from all the northwestern posts; and it was done. The American flag floated over Detroit for the first time July 11, 1796. In September the county of Wayne was organized, including within its limits portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Detroit, which contained at that time about three hundred houses, was the capital.

In 1800 the Northwest Territory was divided, by a north and south line, a part of which is not the boundary between Ohio and Indiana, and which, extending north to the boundary of the United States, cut Michigan in two halves. The western half was included in the new Indiana Territory, and when, in 1803, Ohio became a state, the whole of the lower peninsula of Michigan became a part of the new territory. Of William Henry Harrison, its governor, it is said: "He was a product of the West, and was thoroughly in sympathy with western ideas and institutions. He had served with distinction under St. Clair and Wayne, and was well trained in the methods of Indian warfare. As secretary of the Northwest Territory toward the latter part of St. Clair's administration, and as delegate to Congress from that territory, Harrison had gained much valuable experience in the management of territorial affairs. Energetic and courageous and at the same time prudent in his undertakings, he resembled St. Clair in the strict honesty with which he administered the duties of his office."


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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