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Minnesota in the 17th century


Capitol of Minnesota
Capitol of Minnesota

The British controlled the northeastern part of present-day Minnesota from 1763 to the end of the War of 1812 and continued searching for the Northwest Passage and trading fur pelts. Jonathan Carver unsuccessfully searched for the passage in 1766 and 1767, and after expeditions in 1789 and 1793, Canadian fur trader Sir Alexander Mackenzie demonstrated that it did not exist.

British fur traders operated throughout Minnesota. While the British successfully traded furs and manufactured goods with the Dakota peoples on the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, their major operations were at Grand Portage, the gateway to the interior of Canada. Through the activities of the North West Company, the Grand Portage trade reached its height in the 1790s. Grand Portage was especially significant because it was the point where all Great Lakes and inland cargoes had to be hauled over the 14.5-km (9-mi) Grand Portage Trail connecting Lake Superior and the Pigeon River.

Great Britain lost its claims to the portion of Minnesota east of the Mississippi to the United States as a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which also recognized U.S. independence. The United States then acquired the area in Minnesota west of the Mississippi River with the purchase of Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, only three years after France had reacquired it from Spain.

Concerned about British traders, who continued to work in the area, the United States government sent Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike and a small force up the Mississippi in 1805. During the winter of 1805 and 1806, Pike explored north along the Mississippi to Leech and Cass lakes and warned British traders that they were trespassing on U.S. territory.

Pike also bought land from the Dakota at the confluence of the Mississippi and Saint Croix rivers and at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers as possible sites for a future United States Army post. Traders of the American Fur Company, owned by John Jacob Astor, led the American advance into Minnesota, followed by a U.S. Army detachment in 1819. The next year the army began constructing a massive stone fortress, Fort Snelling, at the juncture of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Until 1840, when Saint Paul was established, Fort Snelling was the most important place on the upper Mississippi. In 1823 Major Stephen H. Long led a military and scientific party through the valleys of the Minnesota and Red rivers. Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River, was discovered and named by Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1832. Albert Lea, George Catlin, and Joseph N. Nicollet, who compiled the first detailed map of the region, also made noteworthy explorations.

In 1837 the Dakota and Ojibwa signed treaties giving some 12,950 sq km (5,000 sq mi) of land between the Mississippi and Saint Croix rivers to the United States in exchange for, among other things, trust funds and medical and farming aid. These cessions allowed Saint Paul to become a steamboat port downstream from the Falls of Saint Anthony and the beginnings of Stillwater on the Saint Croix and Saint Anthony (within present-day Minneapolis) as centers of lumber operations.

This commercial activity, including settlers who had come to farm, coincided with the admission of Iowa (1846) and Wisconsin (1848) as states. The formation of Wisconsin left the several thousand people living between the Mississippi and Saint Croix rivers in territory without government. To respond to the needs of the settlers in that area, fur traders, lumbermen and merchants convened the Stillwater Convention in August 1848. In their one-day meeting, the self-appointed delegates named Henry H. Sibley, the regional director of the American Fur Company, to represent the Minnesota area in Congress. Although Congress had some misgivings about the legitimacy of Sibley’s status, it nonetheless permitted him to introduce legislation calling for the creation of Minnesota Territory. The Minnesota Territorial Act became law on March 3, 1849. "Minnesota" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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