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"Pelipsia" - Thomas Jefferson's Proposed State Boundaries

Map of Jefferson's proposed state boundaries

If a division into states of the old Northwest Territory and Kentucky had been adopted as proposed by Thomas Jefferson, the above could have been the mailing address of Perry and Hancock counties today.

In the five years immediately following the close of the American Revolution in 1783, the new United States was busy organizing itself into a going nation.  Part of this post-revolution organization concerned nationalizing the then western territory claimed by Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North and South Carolina and Georgia.  For this is be accomplished each state had to cede its claim to that territory to the new Federal government.

Virginia held uncontested claim to Kentucky and nearly uncontested claim to the "territory north and west of the Ohio River," eventually to be called the Northwest Territory in 1787.  After attempting unsuccessfully to cede its claim with strings attached in 1781, on 1 March 1784 Virginia ceded the Northwest Territory without restrictions.  Kentucky was never ceded; it remained part of Virginia until admitted as the 15th state on 1 June 1792.   Massachusetts ceded its weak claim on 19 April 1785, Connecticut on 13 September 1786 and 30 May 1800 ( the "Western Reserve" in Northeast Ohio).

In late 1783 Virginia appointed Thomas Jefferson as head of a three-man commission to propose a plan for the administration of most of the territory between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, even though Virginia had no claim to the territory south of Kentucky.  The accompanying map outlines approximately the first solution of this commission.  In view of the scarcity of accurate knowledge of this territory the contents of the proposal are remarkable for their practicality.   The location of the two states (#s 9 & 10) on both banks of the Ohio cold have been of value in renascent years. [see map]

The north and south boundaries of these 14 states can be located exactly:  Each is 2 degrees latitude distant.  For only the northern-most three can the east and west boundaries be determined, viz., by the Great Lakes and the Mississippi.  The boundaries between States 4-5, 6-7, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12 are located only generally.

There is record of names proposed by Jefferson for the 10 northern states.  It is very probable that he completed the process for the 4 southern states.  However, by 1 March 1784 when the final proposal of this commission was presented, all references to the 4 southern states were deleted.   Also, references to sections of State 9 & 10 south of the Ohio River were deleted except for retained mention of the Tennessee (Tanisse) and Shawnee (Cumberland) Rivers.

The 10 names proposed for these states have somewhat remote but appropriate connections to the areas involved.  #1 "Sylvania," is Latin for "Woodland."  #2, "Michigania," came from the lake already so named and was later used for #3.  The Greek word for peninsula, "Chersonesus," was aptly given to state #3.  (States #s 2 & 3 include the territory claimed by Massachusetts under its 17th century charter.   State #s 4 & 5 include the claim of Connecticut.)

The boundary between #s 4 & 5 is somewhere between the tip of Lake Michigan and South Bend, Indiana.  The problem is compounded by the circumstance that the tip of the lake was not precisely located by surveyors until after 1800.

"Assenisipia," State #4, is based on the Indian name for rock River which reaches the Mississippi near Moline, Illinois. State #5, "Metropotamia," is Greek for "Mother of Rivers."  Jefferson mentions seven rivers which originate here and flow to the Mississippi, the Ohio and Lake Erie.

Jefferson give no hint regarding the boundaries between #6-7 and $7-8; they could approximate the present west and east boundaries of Indiana.  "Illinoia," #6, is named for the Illinois River which runs most of its course through this area.  "Saratoga," #7, and "Washington," #8, commemorate, respectively, the decisive battle and the commander-in-chief in the recent Revolution.

"Polypotamia,"  Greek for "Many Rivers," was given to State #9 because of the Wabash, Shawnee (Cumberland), Tanisse (!), Ohio, Illinois, Missisipi (!) and Missouri Rivers, all of which empty into the Ohio or Mississippi between the 37th and 39th parallel boundaries assigned by Jefferson.  The omission of Green River from this list indicates that the east-west boundary between #9 and #10 was between the Wabash and Evansville.

Our state, #10, was named "Pelisipia" after an Indian name for the Ohio River, "Pelisipi."  For a few weeks before 1 March 1784 included in this state were the sites of Evansville, Vincennes, New Albany, Bedford, Madison, Cannelton and Tell City in Indiana, Henderson, Madisonville, Glasgow, Somerset, Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington in Kentucky.  Bowling Green lies just south of the 37th parallel in State #12.

The North-of-the-Ohio part of Jefferson's proposal barely survived its presentation on 1 March 1784.  In mid-March he was appointed minister of France for the next five years.  His successor as head of the commission, James Monroe, favored a smaller number of new states in order that the east would not lose its influence.  Other subsequent proposals finally led to the adoption for five eventual states in the "territory north and west of the Ohio River."