On the eve of the American Revolution, three constructions of colonialism overlapped in the Ohio Valley. Trade was the oldest imperial form in the region, and evidence of a trading culture remained wherever an observer looked. It still shaped the social and cultural dynamics of Ohio Valley towns, provided a livelihood for many valley residents, and brought diverse peoples together in complementary pursuits. Overlaid on this trading culture, the complex legacy of French and British efforts to create viable empires of land could be read in the landscape and in the attitudes of both Europeans and Indians; trading relations were beginning to sour in many communities as colonists interested in land as a commodity began to appear in the valley. Emerging alongside these two imperial forms was a third, more volatile and unpredictable than the first two. By 1774 a growing number of colonists saw themselves as participants in an empire of liberty. As effective governance lapsed, settlers entered the valley in ever greater numbers and carried with them distinctive new attitudes toward the land and the peoples of the Ohio Valley. The keystone of those attitudes was their faith in liberty as the organizing precept of western society.
At the end of the colonial era, trade remained the most important agent of intercultural cooperation in the Ohio Valley.