in 1766 the British military was concentrated in areas acquired from France and Spain, and there were no forts in Virginia
Source: Library of Congress, Cantonment of His Majesty's forces in N. America according to the disposition now made & to be compleated as soon as practicable taken from the general distribution dated at New York 29th. March 1766
The Proclamation Line of 1763 was one of many attempts to define a boundary that would separate colonists from Native Americans. The intent of a separation boundary was to reduce conflict and the costs to maintain peace in the border zone between two cultures. The Proclamation Line of 1763 was intended to minimize the need for new forts in the contact zone between colonists and Native Americans, and the need for expensive troops to be stationed and supplied on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Virginia officials in Jamestown, Williamsburg, and finally Richmond never solved the problem of how to expand settlement and maintain peace with the Native Americans. The 1763 edict from King George III was the last of multiple attempts by colonial officials in England and Virginia to establish a border separating colonists from the original occupants of the land. It was no more successful than other limit-of-settlement lines defined as far back as 1619.
After Virginia relinquished its claims to the Northwest Territory across the Ohio River to the Congress in 1781 and Kentucky became an independent state in 1792, Virginia no longer claimed lands that were still occupied by Native American tribes. Making peace with the Native Americans became a problem for Federal officials - but since seven of the first twelve presidents were born in Virginian, the state's perspective remained significant even after cession of western land claims.
Starting in 1607, John Smith and other colonial leaders sought to extend England's control over territory and to reduce the power on the Native Americans. Competition over land led to three Anglo-Powhatan wars during 1609-1646, as the English displaced the Algonquian-speaking Native Americans living on the Coastal Plain.
Starting with the first Jamestown Fort in 1607, followed in 1611 with construction of a palisade to fortify the site of Henricus, the colonists sought to isolate "English" territory from "Native American" territory. In 1613 Bermuda Hundred was blocked off by a wooden wall, distinguishing colonists-only territory and excluding Native Americans.
To minimize the potential for individuals in the colony to irritate the Native Americans and trigger retaliation, the first meeting in 1619 of what became the House of Burgesses required colonists to stay within a limited territory. The legislature passed laws that mandated:1
After the 1622 uprising, the General Assembly considered building a wooden barricade between Martins Hundred and Chiskiack (now the Naval Weapons Station at Yorktown). Colonists reinforced their individual houses, rather than build the wall. In 1633 at the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Powhatan War, a palisade was constructed further upstream between College Creek (called Archer's Hope at the time) and Queens Creek. That forced the Chiskiack tribe to migrate north across the York River.2
location of proposed 1622 palisade (blue) and 1633 palisade (red),
excluding Algonquians from Peninsula
Source Map: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) MyWaters
The first Native American "preserve" to be established in Virginia was Indiantown Neck on the Eastern Shore. 1,500 acres were designated for use by the Accomac (Gingaskin) tribe in 1640, establishing a model used to create reserved lands (reservations) for other tribes.
The 1644 uprising led to the Third Anglo-Powhatan War and the end of the paramount chiefdom in eastern Virginia once led by Powhatan. The victorious colonists forced the putative "emperor," Necotowance, to sign a 1646 peace treaty that restricted Native Americans to lands west of the Blackwater River and north of the York River.
Theoretically English settlement was prohibited north of the York River, except for the land south of Poropotank Creek (current boundary of Gloucester-King and Queen counties). All trade was to be channeled through specific forts, and Native Americans were required to wear "a coat of striped stuff" when inside the restricted zone.3
Despite the promises, English settlement was quickly authorized in the territory north of the York River that was supposedly reserved for the Native Americans. Rather than live in compact towns, the colonists established scattered tobacco plantations and isolated "quarters" that intruded into traditional hunting territories.
As colonial settlement expanded, the English sought to minimize conflict by designating areas reserved for Native American occupation:4
Creating a boundary to separate "English" from "Native American" territory did not succeed in limiting conflict. Indentured servants who completed their term of service moved to the edges of English occupation to establish new farms where rights to land were easiest to acquire, expanding the zone of settlement and intruding deeper into Native American territory.
Borderland conflicts based on the land hunger of colonists finally erupted into Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. Though the backcountry raids were led by Dogue and Susquehannock, Nathaniel Bacon's forces did not distinguish between good and bad Native Americans. Peaceful Pamunkey and Occaneechee living where they were "supposed to be" were attacked, and their furs and accumulated wealth were stolen.
the rebels under Nathaniel Bacon attacked the Occaneechee, 100 miles from Jamestown
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Bacon's Rebellion was followed by the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1676. The English gradually abandoned the idea that towns occupied by "tributary tribes" could serve as a buffer against raids by the Iroquois or Susquehannock.5
"Outrages" in the border area were perpetrated by both sides for another century. Isolated groups of Native Americans or settlers were attacked/murdered with little or no provocation, retaliatory raids created more hostility, and the cycle of violence and vengeance continued intermittently.
Raiders on both sides justified their actions based on a philosophy of collective responsibility. If a colonist was attacked by a Native American, it was not required to identify and punish the individual perpetrator; colonists could respond by attacking any Native American. Similarly, if settlers attacked Native Americans, then it was legitimate for that tribe to balance the score by burning, capturing, and killing at whatever settler farm was convenient.
Native American groups living within Tidewater Virginia were effectively suppressed after Bacon's Rebellion, but problems continued with tribes on the borders. Throughout the 1700's, multiple treaties sought to separate the Native Americans from the English while legitimizing settlement on more territory. Each treaty expanded the area for colonial occupation and reduced the land base of different tribes.
In the 1722 Treaty of Albany, Governor Spotswood negotiated with the Iroquois based in New York to push their hunting expeditions (and raids on the Cherokees) west of the headwaters of the rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. In 1744 in the Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois agreed to stay west of the Shenandoah Valley. In 1768 in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois abandoned their claims to lands south of the Ohio River.
In 1768 and 1770 treaties and informal agreements, the Cherokee ceded their claims to Virginia as far west as the mouth of the Kentucky River.
the Iroquois relinquished their claims to Virginia in the 1722 Treaty of Albany, the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, and the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
As settlers sought cheap farmland, colonial settlement extended west of the Appalachian Mountains. English and colonial officials recognized that the European population in North America (and the population of slaves imported originally from Africa) would grow substantially. Native Americans on the western boundaries of the colonies would have to be expelled, and their land claims would have to be extinguished or finessed.
Massive land grants to the Ohio Company in 1748 and the Loyal Land Company in 1749 reflected the understanding that a critical mass of farmers would begin to produce crops beyond the Eastern Continental Divide. Once the lands in the watersheds of the Ohio, Kanawha, Greenbrier, and Tennessee rivers were settled, agricultural trade would go down the Mississippi River rather than directly to the Atlantic coastline.
The expected shift of population to the west had substantial political ramifications. The French claimed the Ohio River watershed, and Spain controlled New Orleans and the Mississippi River trade.
In 1763, the English victory in the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years War) eliminated the power of the French to supply Native Americans who resisted Virginia's colonial expansion into the watersheds of the Ohio River and other drainages that flowed west to the Mississippi River.
In the treaty negotiations, France chose to retain its sugar-producing, profitable Caribbean islands that had been captured by the English. Canada, which had required subsidies rather than produced a profit, was granted to the victors. The English agreed to allow Catholics to continue to practice their religion in Canada, and France did retain two islands and fishing rights near Newfoundland.
The 1763 treaty also reshaped Spanish claims in North America. Spain had joined France in the war, and the British had captured Havana. Spain reclaimed Cuba by granting Florida to the British. To make Spain whole, France gave to Spain all its claims to lands west of the Mississippi River (the Louisiana Territory) in the Treaty of San Ildefonso. At the end, New France disappeared from the map of North America.6
at the end of the French and Indian War, French negotiators at the Treaty of Paris traded away Canada and the Ohio Valley in order to retain sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean, and Virginia gentry with land grants expected to profit by selling western lands to new settlers
Source: Library of Congress, An accurate map of North America. Describing and distinguishing the British, Spanish and French dominions on this great continent; according to the definitive treaty concluded at Paris 10th Feby. 1763 (Emanuel Bowen, 1767)
After the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the Virginia gentry with existing land grants, and other colonial leaders who saw the potential for getting a government-granted windfall, expected easier access to the unsettled lands claimed by Virginia based on the Second Charter of 1609.
Unfortunately for the land-hungry gentry, defeat of the French did not bring peace to the western edge of colonial settlement. Until 1755, the European rivals had fought in North America primarily through proxies by recruiting different Native American tribes (or the same tribes at different times) to attack traders associated with the other side. After the French were expelled, the fighting continued.
after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French retained two islands near Newfoundland but no lands on the North American continent, thus eliminating the opportunity for Native American tribes to use potential French alliances when negotiating with the British
Source: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Possessions of European States in East North America after the Treaty of Paris, 1763 (Plate 41a, digitized by University of Richmond)
In 1763 the Native Americans launched desperate attacks on the western settlements from New York to Virginia, recognizing that the English would grow stronger over time and the Native Americans would no longer have access to French support. During "Pontiac's Uprising" in 1763-64, all the British forts west of the Ohio were captured except Detroit and Fort Pitt.
It was clear to the political, business, and military leaders in London that the expensive Seven Years War to defeat the French would be followed by expensive peacekeeping operations on the edges of the colonies. The regiments raised for the war could not be demobilized or withdrawn completely, so soldiers kept in North America would have to be supplied and paid. Taxes in England would have to stay high in order to subsidize the military occupation of lands newly acquired from France.
The colonists on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean would be the primary beneficiaries of the continuing military presence. The gentry in Virginia and leaders in other colonies anticipated the western lands would become available immediately for unrestricted settlement. The French claim had been extinguished and the Native Americans had lost the one European ally providing guns and supplies, so a wave of settlers could move west to create new farms on parcels sold by the land speculators.
The Board of Trade in London viewed the prize of victory in North America differently. British officials knew their expanded empire required funds for military protection, but Great Britain could not afford to perpetuate an unending series of wars with Native Americans in North America. A low-cost solution was required for managing the borderlands; colonial land hunger would have to be curbed.
To the dismay of colonial leaders, George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. It created new provinces (Quebec, West Florida, East Florida and Grenada) out of lands acquired from the French, plus a huge "Indian Reserve" closed to settlement. The Indian Reserve included all the acquired land outside the boundaries of Quebec, West Florida, and East Florida.
The decree prohibited colonial governors from authorizing surveys or issuing land grants beyond the Proclamation Line drawn at the crest of the Alleghenies. Overnight, Virginians were blocked from moving to the territory west of the Eastern Continental Divide separating the watersheds of rivers flowing to the Atlantic Ocean from rivers flowing to the Gulf of Mexico.
the Proclamation of 1763 defined a boundary blocking settlement (red line), based on the Eastern Continental Divide
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Hydrography Viewer
All English settlers living west of that watershed divide - including those already living in the valleys of the New River and the Holston River - were supposed to leave "forthwith." The British objective was to minimize conflicts with the tribes, and thus reduce the costs to the English government of defending the colonies from Native American raids.
The Proclamation of 1763 was clear:7
settlers already living in the New River Valley were supposed to move east of the Blue Ridge (red line), according to the Proclamation of 1763
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina (Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, 1755)
The land hungry gentry in Virginia controlled the colonial government. Through the Ohio Company, the Loyal Land Company, and other grants the speculating Virginia gentry had acquired claims to hundreds of thousands of acres "lying to the Westward of the Sources of the Rivers which fall into the Sea from the West and North West." The average colonial soldier who had fought in the French and Indian War wanted to settle on lands acquired through military action, rather than reward the Native Americans - especially tribes that had been allies of the French.
With the stroke of a pen, George III dramatically undercut the economic dreams of French and Indian War veterans and most of the political leaders in Virginia. The king told them the equivalent of "drop dead." The proclamation made clear that the gentry did not control the Board of Trade in London, and the desires of war veterans were secondary to the concerns of the budget managers in London.
The Proclamation of 1763 abruptly blocked colonial westward settlement into "all the Lands and Territories lying to the Westward of the Sources of the Rivers which fall into the Sea from the West." The long-coveted Ohio River valley, over which Virginians had contested with the French since Governor Dinwiddie sent George Washington to Fort LeBoeuf in 1753 to demand the French leave the region, was reserved for Native Americans.
A short pamphlet produced by the Virginia Department of Education made the point succinctly:8
George III's Proclamation Line is consistent with modern "smart growth" land use principles where development is concentrated within urban growth boundaries, with long-range plans and zoning used to steer development to specified areas and reduce the cost of government services. Colonial land speculators, similar to modern land speculators, refused to accept the 1763 political decision as final.
the Proclamation of 1763 was intended to block new colonial settlement in western New York and Pennsylvania, as well as western Virginia, North Carolina, and even Georgia
Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, The British Colonies in North America, 1763-1775 (from William R. Shepherd's 1923 "Historical Atlas")
The proclamation included a key phrase, "for the present." Land companies and others in the colonies still planned to obtain title to vast stretches of western lands at little or no cost from the colonial government, hold that land for a generation or even two, then sell it as population expanded in the west.
Virginia's leaders agitated constantly to open up the western lands for speculation, sale, and settlement. The concept of "conflict of interest" was very different from today, and government officials placed a high priority on increasing their personal wealth through continued land speculation. Since the Proclamation blocked conversion of land claims into cash, the 1763 boundary had to be revised.
the Indian Reserve was a barrier to western expansion by Virginia colonists
Source: University of North Carolina, "Early Maps of the American South," A map of the Southern Indian district of North America (by John Stuart, 1775)
Virginia's officials expected to modify the king's limits on settlement. George Washington wrote the equivalent of "this too shall pass" to a surveyor in 1767:9
Officials appointed by London soon agreed to adjust the boundary defined in the Proclamation of 1763. The Board of Trade still sought to constrain westward movement of the colonists in order to prevent new wars, but agreed to shrink the Indian Reserve in order satisfy some of the demand for land speculation and to accommodate some risk-taking families already living west of the watershed divide. Up to the American Revolution, Governor Dunmore in Williamsburg and other colonial officials appointed by London facilitated the peaceful surrender of Native American land claims within the Indian Reserve.
In 1768 Sir William Johnson and John Stuart, superintendents for the northern and southern districts of the British Indian Department, negotiated two treaties with Iroquois and Cherokee tribes to authorize settlement further west. Those treaties did not gave the English "clear title" to the lands, but Virginia officials resumed issuing land warrants, approving surveys, and confirming ownership through land patents without waiting for the elimination of any claims by the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, Ottawa, or Wyandot.
In the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois ceded whatever claims they had to lands south of the Ohio River, as far west as the mouth of the Tennessee River. In the separate Treaty of Hard Labor in 1768 and then the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber, the Cherokee ceded their claims to lands west of the Blue Ridge, as far as the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers.
the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix assumed the Iroquois could cede land south of the Ohio River, all the way west to the mouth of the Tenneesee ("Cherokee") River
Source: E. B. O'Callaghan, The Documentary History of the State of New York (1850)
the Cherokee signed the 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor and the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber, expanding the territory controlled by Virginia and reducing the extent of the Cherokee hunting grounds
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Resolution of claims by other Native Americans required further fighting. Raids by the Shawnee and others continued in western Virginia, and settlers in the Kentucky region had to build fortified "stations" for protection.
Cornstalk, leader of the Shawnee, recognized the overwhelming military superiority of the British forces after the Native Americans were defeated in Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763. Cornstalk advocated for peacefully adjusting to expanding settlement, but failed in his efforts. Both colonists and Native Americans created incidents that inflamed the other side. In two famous incidents, Daniel Boone's son James was captured and tortured to death in 1773, while the family of the Mingo leader Logan was murdered while peacefully visiting a cabin on the Ohio River (the "Yellow Creek Massacre").
In 1774, after the "Boston Massacre," King George III extended the boundaries of the province of Quebec down to the Ohio River. The Quebec Act of 1774 eliminated any opportunity for the Virginia governor and General Assembly to finalize land claims north of the Ohio River.
The king's decision failed to intimidate the Virginia gentry or other rebellious colonial leaders. Based on the Cherokee land cessions in the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber, the General Assembly had split Augusta County in 1770 to form Botetourt County. In 1772, the colonial legislature carved Fincastle County out of Botetourt County. In 1774, Virginia's colonial leaders split Augusta County, creating the "District" of West Augusta rather than the "county" of West Augusta to avoid a direct confrontation with the Proclamation of 1763.
Also in 1774, Governor Dunmore sought to create a distraction from the rebellious debates in Williamsburg and to strengthen colonial commitment to Great Britain. With support from the General Assembly, Lord Dunmore mobilized county militias (no British regiments were involved) and launched a two-pronged attack into Shawnee-controlled territory.
Dunmore led one wing of the army, assembling it at Fort Pitt. Before that wing descended the Ohio River, the other part of the Virginia army led by Andrew Lewis defeated the Shawnee at Point Pleasant. Cornstalk then negotiated the Treaty of Camp Charlotte to end Dunmore's War. In that 1774 treaty, the Shawnee ceded their claims to lands south of the Ohio River.
the victory by Andrew Lewis at Point Pleasant was followed by the Treaty of Camp Charlotte, but Lord Dunmore's efforts to keep the Virginia gentry allied with Great Britain still failed
Source: west Virginia Archives and History - Teacher Resources, Map of Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern States during the Revolutionary War Era
Dunmore had acted inconsistently with the intent behind the Proclamation of 1763. In his official report, he made excuses for strengthening the fort at the Forks of the Ohio River:10
In London, British officials were not as accommodating as Governor Dunmore. Under Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations had opposed grants west of the 1763 line until he was replaced by the Earl of Dartmouth. After the Privy Council indicated it could support the proposed new colony of Vandalia in 1773, the commissioners relaxed their opposition. Still, Dunmore took a career-ending risk to go to war in order to assist Virginians speculating on lands west of the Allegheny Front.11
Vandalia was approved but never implemented. That threat to the land grants obtained by the Ohio Company, Greenbrier Company, and Loyal Land Company was blocked by inertia, as much as by opposition from British officials who objected to settling the Indian Reserve.
A more significant barrier to the Virginia land speculators was the Quebec Act of 1774, one of the "intolerable" acts passed by Parliament in reaction to the Boston Tea Party. It incorporated into the Province of Quebec all lands not within the Indian Reserve or the colonies of East Florida, West Florida. Catholics within the expanded boundaries of Quebec were granted religious freedom, but from the Virginia point of view the greatest problem was the increased legal impediment to acquiring title to western lands.
lands claimed by the Cherokee in the Tennessee River watershed were placed in an Indian Reserve and excluded from colonial settlement, according to the Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774
Source: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, British Possessions after the Quebec Act, 1774 (Plate 46a, digitized by University of Richmond)
In 1775, Richard Henderson totally ignored the Proclamation of 1763 when he negotiated the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with the Cherokee. The sale of the Cherokee claims to much of the Kentucky region theoretically extinguished Cherokee claims and authorized colonial settlement on 20 million acres.
From a legalistic perspective, as viewed by the British, the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor, the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber, the 1774 Treaty of Camp Charlotte, and the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals pushed the Proclamation of 1763 boundary westward. Those treaties allowed settlement far beyond the Eastern Continental Divide in what today is southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, most of Kentucky, and much of Tennessee and Ohio.
However, raids from Native American groups living north of the Ohio River continued to limit the ability of colonists to occupy western lands. As predicted by Cherokee leader Dragging Canoe at the signing of the 1775 Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, Kentucky was a "dark and bloody ground." Ohio also remained a zone of conflict. Cornstalk visited a Virginia fort at Point Pleasant in 1777 to renew the peaceful status of the Shawnee, but he was seized and murdered.12
In 1783, the Confederation Congress mimicked the British government's 1763 ban on western expansion. The Congress issued its own proclamation 20 years after King George III (emphasis added):13
The American Revolution completely eliminated British authority to dictate the terms of American settlement on western lands. Great Britain delayed its withdrawal of garrisons in the territory it surrendered and stimulated additional Native American resistance, but British officials lost their influence in awarding/blocking land grants or determining where Americans could settle.
Virginia relinquished its claim in 1784 when the Continental Congress accepted the cession of the Northwest Territory in 1784. Virginia leaders still remained deeply involved in shaping the settlement pattern for the lands west of the old Proclamation of 1763 line.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Ordinance of 1784, which proposed the creation of new states from the Southwest Territory and Northwest Territory. Jefferson assumed Native American claims would be acquired through purchase, legitimizing settlement. He proposed creating 10 new states, giving them equal status with existing states once they gained enough population to enter the union.
The Confederation Congress approved the ordinance, but did not implement it. The 13 original states had little desire to dilute their authority, or see residents flee to the west without paying their debts and leave fewer people behind to carry the tax burden.
The survey-before-sale approach was adopted in the Land Ordinance of 1785, facilitating actual transfer of lands. Passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 finally led to the creation of new states. The Proclamation Line, as declared by the Confederation Congress in 1783, did not result in the United States creating permanent colonies with constrained sovereignty on the western side of the line.14
After the American Revolution, the new national government continued the British approach of creating reserves for Native Americans. It signed treaties that defined boundaries defining lands reserved for Native Americans, failed to enforce the barriers to settlement, and then revised treaty boundaries.
The 1785 Treaty of Fort McIntosh established a new boundary with a reserve between the Cayhoga and Maumee rivers for the Wyandot, Delaware (Lenape), Chippewa (Ojibwa), and Ottawa. After "Mad Anthony" Wayne's victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the 1795 Treaty of Greenville redefined that line. Neither treaty protected the reserved lands for long.
the 1785 Treaty of Fort McIntosh was intended to release eastern and southern Ohio for American settlement, while reserving a portion of the Northwest Territory "to the Wiandot and Delaware nations, to live and to hunt on, and to such of the Ottawa nation as now live thereon"
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The final chapter in the settlement of the lands between the Eastern Continental Divide and the Mississippi River came with the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
The removal of the Five Civilized Tribes in the south (Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Cherokees) is the best-known effect of that law, especially the Cherokee expulsion via the "Trail of Tears." The northern tribes, including the Shawnees, Wyandots (Hurons) and Ottawas, were also displaced west of the Mississippi River. The Sauk and Fox returned to Illinois to hunt in 1832, but were expelled again after the Black Hawk War.
the Indian Removal Act of 1830 pushed across the Mississippi River the boundary that was defined in the Proclamation of 1763, creating an Indian Reserve to limit conflicts between settlers and Native Americans"
Source: Library of Congress, Map showing the lands assigned to emigrant Indians west of Arkansas and Missouri.
the Proclamation Line of 1763 west of the Eastern Continental Divide as an "Indian Reserve"
Source: Department of State, Milestones: 1750–1775 - Proclamation Line of 1763, Quebec Act of 1774 and Westward Expansion