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

contested lands icon
Peoples and
Empires and
Western Life
and Culture
Constructing a
Western Past

For more than two centuries, American national identity has been tied inextricably to the idea of the West.

The western dream of individual freedom and limitless expansion has shaped American cultural values and political ideologies. Literature, theater, and film have retraced the legends of the West and reinterpreted its heroes for modern audiences.

Encountering the West has become a mode of examining America itself, a way of understanding the possibility and loss embodied in the national experience.

The lure of the West began with the earliest European voyages across the Atlantic, but it was not until the late eighteenth century that a distinctively American West emerged. In the great expanse of territory stretching from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, circumstance and opportunity created an arena of complex struggles that prefigured other western eras that followed.

The promise of this first American West drew soldiers, adventurers, speculators, and common folk into the rich lands of the Ohio River Valley and the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Its potential also provoked international rivalries, struggles for political power, appropriation of Native American lands, and the expansion of slavery beyond the eastern seaboard.

The five themes presented here explore the trans-Appalachian West from the beginning of European American settlement to the end of the frontier period, focusing particularly on the Ohio River Valley and Kentucky.

These themes examine how those who came to the West encountered its possibilities and challenges, and also how they understood and interpreted their encounters with other western peoples and cultures.

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