Advancing beyond the Alleghenies. Settlement rather than exploration or exploitation. Experiences of the pioneers. Their way to the sea blocked by Spanish control of the mouth of the Mississippi. How the Spaniards ruled New Orleans.

After the long periods of desultory Spanish exploration, of French trading expeditions and attempts at military and commercial occupation which have been sketched in the preceding chapters, the history of Louisiana shows the influence of Americans bent upon actual settlement of the country to the westward of the Alleghenies.1The downfall of French power on this continent brought the beginning of another era in the history of Louisiana. George Rogers Clark But the operation of the forces represented in the American westward pressure was delayed, first by the Revolution, and then by the fierce opposition of the southwestern and northwestern Indian tribes who fought to hold the Middle West. In spite of all obstacles the way was opened by the rifles of the soldiers and frontiersmen who followed George Rogers Clark, Anthony Wayne, and other leaders in the winning of the West. Close behind them came a swelling tide of migration across the Alleghenies. The sound of the axes and rifles of the American pioneers along the eastern tributaries of the Mississippi marked the opening of a new epoch in the history of the West.

Clark's expedition

Up to the end of the Revolution the possession of Louisiana territory by one foreign power or another had Anthony Wayne not touched Americans closely. But now the conditions were changed. In the western migration of the later eighteenth century and the demands of these frontiersmen for a free route to the seaboard lay influences which finally resulted in the acquisition of Louisiana.2

The growth of this movement is shown by the returns of the census for Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Northwest Territory, which then represented our West. In 1790 there were 73,677 people in Kentucky, and in 1800 there were 220,955. Tennessee showed 35,691 people in 1790, and 105,602 in 1800. The census of 1790 gives no population for Ohio and Indiana territories, but ten years later there were 44,678. Before these stalwart pioneers the forests were swept aside to make room for farms. Rude log cabins were built with chimneys of logs plastered with mud. The settlers made their simple furniture with their own tools. Their hunting shirts and trousers were of homemade linsey, a mixture of linen and wool, and of deerskin. Most of their food was gained by their rifles and their traps. Corn was pounded or ground in rude stone mortars to make meal. But the vigor and energy of these hardy pioneers soon bettered their condition. They began to raise tobacco and wheat and to cure hams and bacon. Then came the question of trade.3

1 McMaster’s "History of the People of the United States," Vol. II, and Roosevelt’s "Winning of the West" give picturesque accounts of the pioneers and the significance of their movement. Hinsdale’s "The Old Northwest," Winsor’s "The Mississippi Basin (1697—1763)" and "The Westward Movement (1763—1798)" may be consulted with profit.
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2 "In 1784 Pittsburg numbered one hundred dwellings and almost one thousand inhabitants. It was the centring point of emigrants to the West, and from it the travellers were carried in keel-boats, in Kentucky fiat-boats, and Indian pirogues down the waters of the Ohio, . . . to the filthy and squalid settlements at the falls of the Ohio, or on to the shores of the Mississippi, where La Clede, twenty years earlier, had laid the foundations of St. Lonis. . . . The boat was at every moment likely to become entangled in the branches of the trees that skirted the river, or be fired into by the Indians who lurked in the woods. The cabin was therefore low, . . . and lined with blankets and with beds to guard the inmates from Indian bullets. From St. Louis rude boats and rafts floated down the river to Natchez and New Orleans. . . . The current was so rapid that it seemed hopeless to attempt a return. The boats were therefore hastily put together and sold at New Orleans as lumber." — McMaster’s History, Vol. 1, pp. 69—70.
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3Certain economic phases of this pioneer life have been summarized as follows: "Currency was very scarce and was replaced by articles of general value, such as skins and jugs of whiskey. Cowbells were also such a necessity that they became an acceptable tender. Small currency was scarce, and a silver dollar was often cut into half dollars or quarters with an axe or chisel. . .. Salt was worth six cents a pound. Beef sold at four cents a pound and deer meat at three. Corn was sold at fifty cents a bushel. A single log cabin could be built for $150. Feather beds were a great luxury and readily brought six dollars each. The family washing was done on the river bank." — Sparks's " Expansion of the American People."
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman