Timeline of Westward Expansion: 1787 – 1869

The Westward Expansion timeline covers events between the dates of 1787 and 1869.


July 13 — the United States passed the law that is today known as the Northwest Ordinance. This allowed expansion into the area north and west of the Ohio river. It also set the precedent for adding new states, intead of just expanding the current states.


In 1803 the United State made the Louisana purchase. They bought a huge piece of land from France greatly expanding their territory.


May 14 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition departs St. Louis, Missouri, on a mission to map a course to the Pacific Ocean.


October 26 – Construction on the Erie Canal is completed and the canal opens. This artificial waterway connects New York City with the Great Lakes. Canal construction in the North and Northwest booms and revolutionizes trade and travel.


May 26 – The Indian Removal Act is passed granting President Jackson the authority to remove Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River. This will allow settlers to move into this previously inaccessible territory.


November – Anglo leaders in Texas create a provisional government and declare their independence from Mexico. Soon after fighting began and becomes known as the Texas Rebellion.

December 29 – The Treaty of New Echota was signed giving the Cherokee nation $5.6 million and transportation west for all of their land. This led to the westward movement of the Cherokee nation on the Trail of Tears.


May 1 – 47 people depart Independence, Missouri, on the first emigrant wagon train headed for California. They arrive November 4th.


December 29 – Texas becomes the 28th state.


November – The Donner Party became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after taking a short cut through the mountains that added weeks to their travel time. Little more than half of the party made it to California and only after many had resorted to cannibalism.


Mormon settlers led by Brigham Young leave Nauvoo, Illinois, eventually settling Salt Lake City, Utah.


January 24 – Gold is discovered in California. The following year more than 80,000 people move to California in search of gold sparking what would be called the ‘Gold Rush’.

February – The United States pays Mexico $15 million dollars for the areas of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and parts of Colorado.


September 9 – California becomes a state.


August 27 – the first productive commercial oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania by Edwin Drake. This led to further expansion in the southwest in search of fertile oil fields.


October 24 – The first transcontinental telegraph line is completed making communication faster and more reliable than ever from across great distances.


May 20 – The Homestead Act was approved. This gave free farms to families, based on family size; the only requirement was residence for a fixed period of time. This prompted families on the east coast to surge westward in search of a better life.


May 10 – Transcontinental railroad was completed joining the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railways and allowed people to travel from one coast to another in days instead of months.