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Westward Migration Surges

They came pouring through the Cumberland Gap, men with the West in their eyes; they came across the Finger Lakes country of New York state and plunged into the heart of the Ohio country; some reached Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh), where they could build rafts and flatboats on which to float down the river.

It was a mass migration difficult to account for. No one pursued these men. They had not been exiled from the East. Religious intolerance had not caused them to seek new homes, as had been the case with their forefathers. Some moved to the sunset side of the Appalachian Mountains for the same reasons that had prompted their ancestors to cross the Atlantic—they simply couldn’t get along at home or they were fleeing from creditors or from officers of the law.

Most of them probably did not know why they moved. They had not been victims of crowded conditions, because there was yet plenty of land to be developed in the East. Still, they took up their axes, guns, livestock, bags of seed, and shovels and headed west. As people entered the newly opened public lands, they needed roads. These people were mostly farmers and needed transportation routes other than the rivers to get their crops, dairy products, timber, and livestock to market. New roads prompted more migration and settlement, thus the need for even more public land. In 1790 a law creating the Southwestern Territory, which consisted of Tennessee and, after 1802, Alabama and Mississippi, required the land to be surveyed and sold on the same basis as the Northwest Territory. The United States now consisted of all land east of the Mississippi River. However, that was about to change in a major way.

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