Historical regions of the United States

National Atlas map of United States territorial acquisitions

The territory of the United States and its overseas possessions has evolved over time, from the colonial era to the present day. It includes formally organized territories, proposed and failed states, unrecognized breakaway states, international and interstate purchases, cessions, and land grants, and historical military departments and administrative districts. The last section lists informal regions from American vernacular geography known by popular nicknames and linked by geographical, cultural, or economic similarities, some of which are still in use today.

For a more complete list of regions and subdivisions of the United States used in modern times, see List of regions of the United States.

Map showing mid 17th century claims and land grant boundaries. Some colonies seen here are: Nova Scotia (NSc), Territory of Sagadahock (TS), First Province of Maine (Me), New Hampshire (NH), Plymouth (PC), Massachusetts Bay (MBC), New Netherland (NN), New Sweden (NSw), and Lord Baltimore's Land (Md; Maryland)
New World settlements of The Netherlands, collectively called New Netherland

Colonial era (before 1776)

The Massachusetts Bay Colony
French settlements and forts in the so-called Illinois Country, 1763, which encompassed parts of the modern day states of Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky)
A 1775 map of the German Coast, a historical region of present-day Louisiana located above New Orleans on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River
Vandalia was the name of a proposed British colony located south of the Ohio River, primarily in what is now the U.S. states of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky
A proposal for the creation of Westsylvania was largely deterred by the Revolutionary War

Thirteen Colonies

Pre-Revolutionary War regions

† - indicates failed legal entities

New England




Map showing North American territorial boundaries leading up to the American Revolution and the founding of the United States: British claims are indicated in red and pink, while Spanish claims are in orange and yellow.

Far West

Unlike the land to the east, most of the land west of the Mississippi River was under French or Spanish rule until the first years of the 19th century.

Colonies settled but unrecognized

The Oregon Country. The dispute over Oregon, between Britain and the U.S., led to an uneasy, parallel governing of the territory for almost 30 years.
Seward's Folly. The controversial purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 turned out to be a great deal for the U.S. when the area proved to contain a treasure trove of natural resources.
The Baton Rouge and Mobile Districts of Spanish West Florida, claimed by the United States, spanned parts of three later states. The Spanish province also included part of the present-day state of Florida.

Colonies proposed but unrealized

Independent entities later joined to the Union

Regions purchased from foreign powers

Regions annexed from or ceded by foreign powers

Ceded or purchased Native American regions

Progression of the two territorial governments, 1819–1836: Indian Territory is in teal; Arkansas is in dark green; western portion of Lovely's Purchase is in light green (to Indian Territory, 1828)
Indiana lands acquired through treaties

Interstate, territorial, and federal cessions

The first state cessions. The 13 original states ceded their western claims to the federal government, allowing for the creation of the country's first western territories and states.

The following are state cessions made during the building of the U.S.

Former organized territories

The Northwest Territory was ceded by Great Britain to the United States at the end of the American Revolutionary War. Britain irrevocably ceded all claims to the territory in the 1814 Treaty of Ghent.
United States territorial expansion since 1803, maps by William R. Shepherd (1923)
Census Bureau map depicting territorial acquisitions and effective dates of statehood

The following is a list of the 31 U.S. territories that have become states, in the order of the date organized. (All were considered incorporated.)

Internal land grants, cessions, districts, departments, claims and settlements

The Ohio Country, indicating battle sites between settlers and Native American Tribes, 1775–1794

The following are land grants, cessions, defined districts (official or otherwise) or named settlements made within an area that was already part of a U.S. state or territory that did not involve international treaties or Native American cessions or land purchases.





New York

Selected tract purchases of western New York State


Map of the Ohio Lands


Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, along with No Man's Land (also known as the Oklahoma Panhandle). The division of the two territories is shown with a heavy purple line. Together, these three areas would become the State of Oklahoma in 1907.

Indian reserves

Pennsylvania land purchases from Native Americans


Federal military districts and departments

These entities were sometimes the only governmental authority in the listed areas, although they often co-existed with civil governments in scarcely populated states and territories. Civilian administered "military" tracts, districts, departments, etc., will be listed elsewhere.

Central United States

  • Department of the Northwest (1862–1865) Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska[2]
    • District of Minnesota (1862–1865)
    • District of Wisconsin (1862–1865)
    • District of Iowa (1862–1865)
    • District of Dakota (1862–1866)
    • District of Montana (1864–1866)
  • Department of the Missouri (1861–1865) Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, part of Kentucky, and later Kansas; re-configured in 1865 as part of the Division of the Missouri.
  • Division of the Missouri (1865–1891).
    • Department of Dakota (1866–1911) Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and parts of Idaho, South Dakota and the Yellowstone portion of Wyoming.
    • Department of the Missouri (1865–1891) Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Indian Territory, and Territory of Oklahoma.
    • Department of the Platte (1866–1898) Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Dakota Territory, Utah Territory, Wyoming (except Yellowstone), and a portion of Idaho.
    • Department of Texas (1871–1880) (originally part of the Department of the Gulf) Texas after 1865.
  • Department of New Mexico (1854–65) New Mexico Territory; previously part of the District of California and the Department of the West.

Pacific area

  • Pacific Division (1848–1853) lands won in the Mexican–American War; became the original Department of the Pacific in 1853.
    • Military Department 10 (1848–1851) California.
    • Military Department 11 (1848–1851) Oregon Territory.
  • Department of the Pacific (1853–1858; and 1861–1865); separated into the Department of California and the Department of Oregon in 1858.

During the American Civil War, the Department of the Pacific had six subordinate military districts:

The Department of California (1858–1861) comprised the southern part of the Department of the Pacific: California, Nevada, and southern part of Oregon Territory; merged into the Department of the Pacific as the District of California.

The Department of Oregon (1858–1861) comprised the northern part of the Department of the Pacific: Washington Territory and Oregon Territory.

Post-Civil War military districts were set up to aid in the repatriation process of the southern states during Reconstruction.

The south

  • Department of the Gulf (1862–1865; created by the U.S. for the Civil War) Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.
  • Trans-Mississippi (or Trans-Mississippi Department; CSA) (1862–1865). Formerly "Military Dept. 2"; Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Kansas, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River.

The west

Retroceded possessions and overseas territories

The Panama Canal Zone was once a territory of the United States

Functioning but non-sanctioned territories

The boundaries of the State of Deseret, as proposed in 1849

These "territories" had actual, functioning governments (recognized or not):

Civil War-related

Animated map of secession and repatriation of the Confederacy, 1860–1870

These are functioning governments created as a result of the attempted secession of the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Some were enclaves within enemy-held territories:

These were regions disassociated from neighboring areas due to opposing views:

Regional nicknames

The four United States Census Bureau Regions separated by color, with the nine Census Divisions further delineated by shading
Regions of the United States:
  New England
  East North Central (Great Lakes, or Eastern Midwest)
  West North Central (Western Midwest, or The Great Plains States)
  South Atlantic
  East South Central
  West South Central
  Mountain States
  Pacific States


Belts are loosely defined sub-regions found throughout the United States that are named for a perceived commonality among the included areas, which is often related to the region's economy or climate.

See also


  1. ^ "Luisiana". Artifacts.org. Retrieved 2012-09-17.
  2. ^ Heidler, David Stephen; Heidler, Jeanne T.; Coles, David J.; Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History; W. W. Norton & Company; New York; 2000; p. 590.

External links

  • Official Name and Status History of the several States and U.S. Territories
  • Indian Land Cessions in the United States, 1784–1894; United States Serial Set, Number 4015
  • United States Territorial Maps 1775–1920
  • Animated map of Native American cessions, treaties, reservations, et al. on YouTube (1 mi 30 sec)
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