Western Migration to the Mississippi Valley

Growing numbers of people migrated to the Mississippi River Valley after the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803. Some went in search of land and work. Others relocated for social, religious, and personal freedoms. Enslaved Africans were brought by force to labor in Southern cotton plantations. Westward migration affected the balance between slave and free states. Political disputes over this new westward expansion of slavery threatened the unity of the nation and resulted in the Civil War.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Courtesy of Tyrone Turner/National Geographic Creative/Corbis

Stories displayed here take place along the Mississippi River, which linked peoples as diverse as freed slave Frank McWorter, the religious and utopian communities of western Illinois, and the people who were enslaved in Deep South cotton plantations.