The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820

This digital exhibit and story focuses on the history of the Ohio Valley and Kentucky from 1750 to 1820, and is an online exhibit of approximately 15,000 digital images of historical material dating from that time period addressing various themes.

The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820 consists of 15,000 pages of original historical material documenting the land, peoples, exploration, and transformation of the trans-Appalachian West from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. The collection is drawn from the holdings of the University of Chicago Library and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky. Among the sources included are books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, scientific publications, broadsides, letters, journals, legal documents, ledgers and other financial records, maps, physical artifacts, and pictorial images. The collection documents the travels of the first Europeans to enter the trans-Appalachian West, the maps tracing their explorations, their relations with Native Americans, and their theories about the region's mounds and other ancient earthworks. Naturalists and other scientists describe Western bird life and bones of prehistoric animals. Books and letters document the new settlers' migration and acquisition of land, navigation down the Ohio River, planting of crops, and trade in tobaccohorses, and whiskey. Leaders from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to Isaac ShelbyWilliam Henry HarrisonAaron Burr, and James comment on politics and regional conspiracies. Documents also reveal the lives of trans-Appalachian African Americans, nearly all of them slaves; the position of women; and the roles of churches, schools, and other institutions.

The digitization and presentation of these materials by the University of Chicago Library* and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky* was supported by an award from the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition. Links marked * lead to web pages mounted at the awardee institution.

The source materials for this collection are housed at the University of Chicago and the Filson Historical Society.  Please send electronic mail to with any questions or information about the original materials.  Address requests for reproductions to the owning institutions.