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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Chronology - Opening of the West, 1840-1865

1840 The national population of 17,069,453 is four times that of 1790, and the 32.9 percent rate of increase is maintained. The roster of states now numbers 26. The center of population has moved across the Appalachians to the Monongahela Valley of Virginia which later will become West Virginia.
Many Germans migrate from New Orleans up the Mississippi River to settle in Missouri and Illinois.
1841 The first large group (48 wagons) to emigrate to California travels over theOregon-California Trail, crossing the Humboldt River, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to reach Sacramento.
1842 The New York Central Railroad is complete from Albany to Buffalo. Later, it will extend to New York City.
1842 A party of 130 people in 18 wagons heads for the Oregon Territory from Independence, Missouri.
1843 A thousand Easterners leave from Independence, Missouri, to settle in the Oregon Territory, marking the beginning of a huge westward migration.
1844 The first wagon train from Independence, Missouri, heads for California.
1844 Morse transmits first telegraph message over a line from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.
Thousands of German immigrants pour into southwest Texas, but the colony fails.
1845 John C. Fremont publishes The Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842 and to Oregon and Northern California in the Years 1843–1844. The report greatly increases interest in the West.
1845 Beginning this year and continuing the next several years, about 1.5 million people will migrate from Ireland to America.
1845  From Albany to Lake Erie is the route of theNew York Central Railroad.
1846  ThePennsylvania Railroad is chartered to make a run between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
1846 Hostilities broke out with Mexico.
  1846 Beginning in the spring and on into the summer, 12,000 Mormons move from Nauvoo, Illinois, to a settlement on the Missouri River which becomes known as Council Bluffs.
1846  Settlers in California, long seeking to break away from Mexican rule, proclaim theRepublic of California.
1847 On July 24, Brigham Young and his followers arrive at the Great Salt Lake Valley, establishing the State of Deseret, which will become Utah.
1848 Congress ratifies the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and war with Mexico ends. Mexico cedes Texas and California and areas to the north to the United States.
1849 The first gold seekers arrive at San Francisco aboard the ship, California. Thousands more follow by land and sea from all parts of the United States and from foreign countries as well.
1850   As immigrants pour in from Europe, the United States population has gained more than a third in ten years with the count at 23.2 million. The rural-urban ratio has dropped to five to one. Many immigrants live in the cities. There is a significant shift with Americans continuing to move into virgin territory. California, Oregon, Texas, and Utah are new in the listing. The fastest growing large states are Missouri, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.
1853 Mexico cedes to the United States a strip of land along the present-day southern border of Arizona and New Mexico which provides part of a desired railroad route to the Pacific Ocean. Final negotiations reduce the Gadsden Purchase price from $15 million to $10 million.
1855 The Castle Garden immigrant depot in New York City opens to process mass immigration.
1856 A major migration of Mormons begins from Florence, Nebraska, to the Great Salt Lake Valley; it will become known as the Handcart Migration.
A group of migrants bound for California, while crossing the southern section of Utah Territory, are ambushed by Indians and whites led by Mormon elder John D. Lee who had promised protection to the travelers. Only about 17 children survive out of the 150 persons in the camp. The incident is known as theMountain Meadows Massacre.
There is financial panic all over the United States.
TheButterfield Trail runs from Missouri through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Los Angeles.
A through passenger train runs from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
America’s population has grown to 31.4 million, with New York and Pennsylvania the most populous states. Although more than 58 percent work on farms, there is growing industrialization, spurred by the railroads. There are 4 million slaves in the United States.
The Pony Express sends out its first riders carrying mail between St. Joseph and Sacramento.

1860 1861
Civil war approaches with state after state seceding from the Union in the two months of December 1860 and January 1861.
The American Civil War begins when South Carolina forces fire on Fort Sumter; additional states secede.
The Homestead Act is passed, providing for a free grant of 160 acres of land to any citizen over 21 years of age, or to the head of a family, who occupies and improves land in the public domain for five continuous years.
Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
President Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth, actor and passionate Southern sympathizer.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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  • This page was last modified on 13 August 2013, at 16:28.
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