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Congress created Arkansas Territory on March 2, 1819, out of the Territory of Missouri after Missouri petitioned for statehood. Missouri's southern boundary ran from the Mississippi River to the St. Francis River along the line of 36˚ north latitude and then north to 36˚ 30´ and then west along that line. The northern boundary of Arkansas Territory was the southern boundary of Missouri, as defined above, and running west across the Louisiana Purchase. Its eastern boundary was the Mississippi River, and on the south it was the same line of 33˚ north latitude that had separated the Territory of Missouri from the State of Louisiana. By the terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty negotiated a few months later, the Louisiana Purchase was defined on the west by a line running along the 100th Meridian from the Red River north to the Arkansas River. Thus, Arkansas Territory technically included much of present Oklahoma.

According to the census of 1820, there were 14,273 persons in Arkansas, about 11 percent of them slaves. Not included in those figures were about six hundred Quapaw living south of the Arkansas River in the eastern part of the territory and perhaps six thousand Cherokee in the northwest. Prodded by the territorial government, the United States forced the Quapaw to relinquish their claims by a treaty made in 1825 and in 1828 pushed the Cherokee across a line running from west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, to what is now the southwest corner of Missouri. That line is the northern portion of the present boundary between Arkansas and Oklahoma. A treaty made with the Choctaw in 1825 created the southern portion of the Arkansas-Oklahoma line. The boundary tilts slightly to the southwest because the surveyor, who was from Arkansas, wished to include as many white settlers as possible.

The first territorial capital was at Arkansas Post near the mouth of the Arkansas River. A large migration of settlers moving out of Missouri shifted the center of population to the interior, and Little Rock became its capital in 1821. The Arkansas Gazette moved with the government and became the unofficial voice of the territory and its source of news. Public lands went on sale in 1822, but as late as 1840 more than half of territorial taxpayers were squatting on the abundant acreage remaining available.

William Miller of New Hampshire was the first governor of Arkansas Territory. By the time he arrived, however, Robert Crittenden of Kentucky, the territorial secretary, had made a number of appointments and held elections for a legislature and a delegate to Congress. Miller and later governors played an important role in territorial affairs, but the most significant political development was the formation of a faction made up of members of the Conway and Sevier families that dominated territorial politics after 1827.

The territorial economy shifted from subsistence to an emphasis on the market that was driven by the development of steamboat transportation and the introduction of cotton production along the Mississippi Delta and the river bottoms in the South. Corn and pork were the principle products of territorial agriculture. Arkansas was still very much a frontier when it achieved statehood in 1836.

S. Charles Bolton


S. Charles Bolton, Arkansas 1800–1860: Remote and Restless (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998).

S. Charles Bolton, Territorial Ambition: Land and Society in Arkansas: 1800–1840 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993).

Margaret Ross, Arkansas Gazette: The Early Years, 1819–1866 (Little Rock: Arkansas Gazette Foundation, 1969).

Lonnie J. White, Politics on the Southwestern Frontier: Arkansas Territory, 1819–1836 (Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1964).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
S. Charles Bolton, “Arkansas Territory,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=AR012.

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