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Imposing the Border: The Detroit River from 1786 to 1807

Lisa Philips Valentine, Allan K. McDougall


In 1783, a border was imposed across the Old Northwest by the newly-formed United States and Great Britain through the Treaty of Paris. That division down the center of the southern Great Lakes waterway was reconfirmed by the Jay Treaty of 1794. Despite these treaties, control of the borderland region remained in contention. This paper addresses the impact that the imposition of the border had on life in this region as a step on the way to understanding the impact of borders more generally. This historical case study focuses on aspects of social and political transformation in the contested borderlands of the Old Northwest, highlighting both the macrolevel strategy of states, which moved to conclude treaties with the indigenous population in order to control the territory and to deploy settlement, and the microlevel accommodations of settlers, traders, corporations and Native American communities. This paper traces the transformation of the Detroit hinterlands, the specific events around the imposition of the border, and the interdependence of community, commerce and the state. This brief historical overview illustrates immediate outcomes of the creation of a border and outlines some of its social, political, economic and legal consequences in the period.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229