Keyhole to History: January 30, 1785, when Judge Richard Henderson died. Born in Virginia in 1735, he moved to North Carolina ten years later. He practiced law and became quite rich. In 1775, he purchased about half of today’s Kentucky from the Cherokee Nation. Then, over the objections of North Carolina and Virginia, Henderson formed the independent Republic of Transylvania. Soon afterward, Virginia and North Carolina bought him out, giving him two-hundred thousand acres. In 1779, he opened a real estate office where Nashville stands today and started developing what was to become the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Just think: if Transylvania would have made it, Count Dracula could have been an American.”
Today’s Keyhole to History takes us to 1786 when Tobias Lear became George Washington’s executive secretary. A native of New Hampshire, Lear attended Harvard University. In 1786 a mutual friend of Lear and Washington’s, General Benjamin Lincoln, recommended Lear for a position with Washington. The position was to be a tutor to Martha Washington’s grandchildren as well as managing Washington’s expense reports and correspondence. However, he soon became much more to the Washington family. After the death of his first wife, Lear would go on to marry two of Martha Washington’s nieces. He was given a house and 360 acres of Mt. Vernon by Washington and is best known for recording Washington’s last words, “Tis well.” After Washington’s death in 1799, Lear was appointed to positions in Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison’s administrations including as consul general to North Africa where he negotiated the peace treaty that ended the first Barbary War in 1805.
Today’s Keyhole to History focuses on Shays’ Rebellion, which took place from August 1786 until February 1787. Following the Revolutionary War, the newly formed government was burdened with a debt and credit crisis, which especially affected farmers and war veterans. Daniel Shays emerged to lead the first major armed rebellion of the new nation. Over the winter months, several violent engagements occurred between Shays’ rebels and government-led forces. The protesters were eventually quieted, though their demands for financial reform and constitutional review increased pressure on the nation’s founders to revise the Articles of Confederation. This in turn led to the framing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and the solidification of a stronger, more authoritative federal government.
Today’s Keyhole to History focuses on the Northwest Ordinance, adopted on July 13, 1787 by the Confederation Congress. It was written by Rufus King and Nathan Dane, who revised Thomas Jefferson’s 1784 ordinance. The Northwest Territory made up the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The ordinance outlined the process for the creation of incoming states in that territory and established that these states would be equal to all others. It also established the federal government as the entity in charge of these lands, rather than any individual states. Significantly, it outlawed slavery in this region. In addition, the ordinance largely determined the methods that would be used to add each additional state to the union since 1787.
Today’s Keyhole to History highlights the debate and ratification process of the U.S. Constitution. When the document was submitted for public debate in September 1787, two major schools of thought formed: the Federalists, in favor of the Constitution and a strong national government, and the Anti-Federalists, who were reluctant to adopt the document and favored individual states’ rights. Figures such as Hamilton, Madison, and Washington supported of the Constitution, while Jefferson, Monroe, and Henry were opposed to it. The Federalists needed nine of the thirteen states to accept the Constitution for it to be ratified. The “last great battle of the American Revolution” was fought both by delegates in the statehouses and in more public forums until its official ratification on June 21, 1788.
Keyhole to History: February 13, 1789, the day that patriot Ethan Allen died in his beloved Vermont. When New York claimed the territory in New Hampshire that is now Vermont, Allen rallied the local settlers to protect their interests. They became known as the “Green Mountain Boys.” New York quickly declared them outlaws, but when the British attacked Lexington, everything changed. Outlaw Allen became Colonel Allen. At the battle of Montreal, he was taken prisoner and was shipped off to England to be hanged. But because of his wild appearance, he was placed on display as a typical colonist. After two long years, he was included in a prisoner exchange and returned home to Vermont to become Major Allen.
Keyhole to History June 1789, when President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox prioritized new policies regarding Native Americans. Washington viewed the Native American tribes equal with sovereign foreign nations. New land treaties after the war made many Americans eager to move westward and Washington had to act quickly to keep the peace between Native Americans and American settlers. The Treaty of New York in 1790 attempted to persuade tribes to replace their hunting lifestyles with new farming and herding techniques. However, many policies were difficult to enforce and by 1796, Washington had concluded that holding back the avalanche of settlers had become nearly impossible, writing that “…scarcely anything short of a Chinese wall…will restrain encroachment upon the Indian territory.”

Previous Page > 1782-1784

Next Page > 1790-1800