Basin and Its People.
THE division of territory
embraced within the state of Alabama has had a long and eventful history,
but not under the modern name. It has been subject to five flags, besides
the Indian occupation, and during each period has been connected with
other districts and enjoyed a different name. There is no doubt, however,
as to the unity of the river basin which makes up the main part of the
modern state. The sources of the Coosa lie in Georgia and those of the
Tombigbee in Mississippi, and the great bend of the Tennessee has been
added on the north for good measure; but the Alabama-Tombigbee basin,
nevertheless, makes up a unit, economic as well as historic.
Alabama a Geographical
If one will take a map of
America he will find that, although the Mississippi receives many large
tributaries on the west from its source to its mouth, there are none of
any volume on the east side below the Ohio. The great Apalachian mountain
system comes to an end before it reaches the Mexican Gulf or the
Mississippi, but its foothills and highlands throw all streams southward
instead of permitting them to reach the Mississippi River. It does more,
for, while there are a number of rivers flowing to the Gulf, the watershed
and hill country are so pronounced as to make in the Alabama-Tombigbee
drainage system a basin greater and of more diversified interests than any
other east of the Mississippi. Geographically speaking, there would be
room for three Gulf commonwealths between the Mississippi and the
Atlantic, and for only three, excluding the Florida peninsula, which is
sui generis. The rivers draining to the Atlantic must cause the population
of that district to have their interest centred on the ocean, while those
near the Mississippi would look, in their turn, to the west. Intermediate
between the two there should be a state looking to the Gulf at the mouth
of Mobile River. And such has been the course of events.
The physical basis of
history includes as its main factors climate, soil and rivers. In this
instance the climate is mild, permitting of ice, but with summer weather
prevailing over half the year. Geologically the soil shows several belts.
One runs in a limestone crescent, beginning near the Ohio mouth and ending
near the Atlantic, cutting across the Gulf-bound rivers. This is the
fertile Black Belt, producing cereals, especially maize, and nut-bearing
trees, although wheat and cotton were not native. Northward was the rough
country between the Gulf rivers and the Tennessee Valley, abounding in
minerals, but not of much importance in early days. Southward of the Black
Belt was the low Coastal Plain, made up largely of sand, and covered with
pine forests. The river basins were alluvial and their vegetation
luxuriant. Large game, such as deer, bear and, in early times buffalo,
abounded, birds were numerous, the beaver plentiful, and fresh and salt
water fish to a large extent determined the course of migration and
The Indians built their
habitations mainly upon the bluffs of the rivers, where water and fish
were abundant and near which the maize grew with little cultivation. The
origin of the Indians is still unsettled. Those of the Al abama- Tombigbee
basin were mainly of three stocks. To the west were the Choctaws, and
north of them on the sources of the Tombigbee lived the Chickasaws. These
two tribes were of the Muscogean race, as was the other great division
which now concern us, the Muscogees proper, on the Alabama River and its
There is some reason to
think that the Indians of historic times were preceded by other of a
higher state of culture. Not that remains are extensive enough to justify
any theory of Mound Builders, or that some works found on the Gulf
necessarily call for an Aztec origin, but up on the Black Warrior River,
at what has been called Moundville, have been found evidences of a
civilization superior to that anywhere else near the Gulf. There are
numerous large mounds, and from them has been taken pottery of a high
grade, many rare stone implements, and in particular a bowl or vase
representing a bird so well executed as to earn the title of the Portland
Vase of American archaeology.
The Indians were in the
stage of culture known as barbarism, claiming descent through the mother,
and having a gens ("iksa"), phratry and tribe organization well developed.
They were in the transition from the hunting to the agricultural state,
but were prevented by the absence of cattle from developing the
intermediate pastoral condition, which elsewhere has been almost essential
in the advance to civilization. They used pottery but not iron. Like all
primitive peoples, religion entered into almost every act of their life.
Animism - the belief that every object has life, a faith marked by the use
of totems - prevailed, rather than the monotheism often attributed to
them. War and hunting were the principal occupations of the men, while the
women were the agriculturists. They had not developed an alphabet, and
their traditions, which were many and full of interest, were transmitted
with the aid of wampum belts from generation to generation.
What would be the effect on
these natives of the advent in their country of races further advanced in
culture? Would the contact be as a spark to inspire or a fire to consume?
The Spanish Explorers.
With the capture of Granada
from the Moors, Spain was redeemed and at last the Genoese Columbus
succeeded in interesting Queen Isabella in his plan of finding the East by
sailing to the West.
He reached some islands,
and they were named for the Indies it was thought he had discovered. In
point of fact a new world stood in his way, and exploration by Columbus to
the south and others to the west gradually revealed its outlines. He made
a settlement in Hispaniola, which remained for some time the Spanish base.
From there Cuba was colonized, Mexico conquered by the
filibuster-statesman Cortez, Central America explored and Peru seized by
the coarse Pizarros.
Exploration to the north
came later. Ayllon found that Florida was no island and that the Atlantic
coast had many inhabitants, deep rivers and fertile lands. The governor of
Jamaica sent Pineda in 1519 to explore westward of the peninsula, and he
discovered numerous islands, bays and rivers, which he, in true Spanish
manner, named for saints or divine attributes, according to the day upon
which they were seen. The greatest bay and river were, therefore, called
Espiritu Santo-the Holy Spirit. This is found upon numerous Spanish charts
besides that sent home by Pineda, but its location has never been
definitely settled. The maps show it as a large bay with one and sometimes
two rivers emptying into it, and generally with an offset to the east. A
number of inlets would possibly suit, but most of the bays of the north
Gulf coast are too shallow for the prominence given it, and the Espiritu
Santo was probably Mobile Bay.
The first land explorer was
Narvaez, who, in 1528, led an expedition from Tampa northwardly, which
suffered so as to be compelled to seek to the sea again among the
Apalaches. The Spaniards touched at many places, probably Dauphine Island
amongst them, and, after losing their leader and many men in storms, were
driven westwardly to Texas.
De Soto had acquired fame
and wealth in the conquest of Peru, and, after securing the appointment of
governor of Cuba and adelantado of Florida, began, near Tampa, the
exploration of his new possessions. Like Narvaez, he first reached
Apalache, but thence struck northeastwardly. The Spaniards desired gold
and De Soto sought to rival the exploits of his comrades in Peru, so that
from the Savannah he turned northward towards the mountains of which he
heard. He there came in contact with the Chalaques - the Cherokees of a
later day -and coasted along the southern line of their mountains, seeking
Cosa, of which all Indians in the southeast had spoken.
In the summer of 1540 he
crossed the watershed between the ocean and the Gulf and struck the
sources of a river flowing to the southwest. According to his chronicler
Biedma, this was known as the Espiritu Santo, which emptied into the Bay
of Chuse, but his route has been variously placed. There were a number of
towns in the Cosa country, some on islands in the river, others inland,
probably on the watershed between the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. It was
a different land, a different race of Indians from those they had
heretofore met. Oaks, walnuts and maize abounded, the towns were palisaded
and the tribes stood in closer relations. They were in the Muscogee
country. The Spaniards rested over a month, but found little trace of
De Soto proceeded
southwestwardly through the river basin and entered the domains of
Tascalusa, where, after crossing a large stream, doubtless the Alabama, he
came to Mauvila, a palisaded town containing large houses. Here in
October, 1541, occurred possibly the most sanguinary battle in Indian
warfare. It is true De Soto was victorious on account of his firearms and
armor, but he lost many men and horses, pearls and stores, including flour
for the mass and much of the swine brought from Spain. It was necessary to
remain some time in order to recuperate.
The men were in favor of
descending to the Bay of Chuse, forty leagues away, to meet the fleet of
Maldonado, which De Soto had directed to repair thither; but the
adelantado had nothing to take back to Cuba, and, therefore, resolved on
proceeding further. So northwestwardly they took their course, and
reaching a large river at Zabusta built a barge. There, possibly at the
place now called Erie, they crossed the Black Warrior in the face of the
There were no draft animals
in America, and this explains why De Soto so often pressed the natives
into service as burden bearers-a usage common enough in South America. Not
only this, but De Soto would keep a chief captive until he reached another
district. These two practices, together with unnecessary cruelty, brought
about many misfortunes, and none greater than he encountered when he
crossed what we call the Tombigbee. He had several battles with the
Chickasaws, and afterwards worked his way to the Mississippi and beyond.
The next year he died. He was buried in the Great River, down which those
of his followers who survived made their way and finally reached Mexico.
Not only was no gold
discovered, but little was added to knowledge, for the Spaniards followed
native paths, and De Soto's four chroniclers throw but dim light upon the
country and its inhabitants.
recollection was preserved of the pleasant land of Cosa, and in 1558
Velasco, governor of New Spain, sent out an expedition to explore with a
view to colonization. His commander, Bazares, describes the coast, where
Bas Fonde and Filipina Bays seem to correspond to Biloxi and Mobile. The
next year Velasco sent a colony under Tristan De Luna, which occupied the
mainland of Florida at Ychuse. The fleet was lost in a storm and the
colonists had to remain whether or no. De Luna sent out men who explored
the country northwardly, coming first to Nanipacna. There they seem to
have crossed De Soto's path, for the country had been desolated by white
men, and the name recalls Talipacana near Maubila. The expedition pressed
on and reached Cosa, where they were received kindly and won the goodwill
of the natives by helping them in war. They finally returned to the colony
on the coast, where there was much dissension between De Luna and his
second in command, much dissatisfaction and suffering on the part of the
people. In 1561 the colonists took advantage of the call of a fleet and
abandoned the country.
Colonization of the Gulf
coast seemed to Spain of less importance than that of the Atlantic side of
Florida, where St. Augustine was soon founded to protect the Bahama
channel and the passage of the plate fleets. One of the places occupied
was Santa Elena, in what is now South Carolina, whence Juan Pardo, in
1566, undertook exploring expeditions as far west as Cosa and Trascaluza.
He must have followed to some extent the Indian trails used by re Soto,
and he reported that he was within a few days of New Spain, but he did not
reach the Mississippi. He founded several posts, to which may be due the
evidences of mining which were afterwards found in the mountains of
Georgia and Carolina.
In the next century the
Spaniards were not only able to claim Florida as extending from the
Chesapeake to Mexico, but several provinces were mapped from Pansacola and
Apalache on the Gulf around to Chicora on the Atlantic. Spanish influence
was greater than has generally been believed, and the work of the
Franciscans and Dominicans, especially among the Apalaches, left valuable
With the Spaniards begins
American literature. Biedma was a soldier accompanying De Soto, Ranjel the
adelandato's private secretary, and the Gentleman of Elvas was a
Portuguese adventurer-all witnesses of the scenes they record. The more
stilted Garcilasso, on the other hand, was a Peruvian who obtained his
material later from soldiers, and did not write on our soil. The report of
Pineda was earlier, but official rather than literary, and this may also
be said of Tristan De Luna and of Pardo.
Not only Spanish thought,
but Spanish power dominated America. Charles V. was unable to accomplish
in Europe his desire to restore to his Roman Empire the whole coast of the
Mediterranean, but this ambition was realized around the American
Mediterranean. The new provinces of Spain extended from the Chesapeake Bay
It was a great ambition to
hold the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but it required a
great country to carry it out. And Spain did not remain what she had been.
In the Seventeenth century her place was taken on land by France and on
the sea by England. From political and economic causes Spain declined, and
the great duel with the Saxon was left to the Frenchman. The French had
settled Canada while the English were colonizing Virginia, Massachusetts
and the Carolinas, and the Canadian La Salle, in 1682, took possession of
the Mississippi Valley and named it Louisiana for the King of France.
It required much diplomacy
to satisfy Spain with this severance of Florida from Mexico, but at last
it was submitted to. She had not used the river systems, for the land east
of Mexico was valuable to her only to guard the ocean approaches to her
treasures. The Frenchman, on the other hand, while desiring mines, was to
exploit the Indians as he had done in Canada, and thus the river basins
were of paramount value to him.
Iberville discovered the
mouth of the Mississippi, but found, on account of its swift current and
the nature of the adjacent soil, that it was expedient to establish his
colony further to the east. This was effected in 1699 temporarily at
Biloxi, and then permanently at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff on Mobile River.
The Spaniards had fortified the mouth of the Pensacola Bay a few months
previously, but there they found a harbor only, while the French, by means
of the widely extended Alabama-Tombigbee basin, came in immediate touch
with the great Choctaw, Chickasaw and Alabama tribes of the vast interior.
Moreover, they gained portages over to the Tennessee River, whose upper
reaches brought them to the Cherokees of the Apalachian range, who, in
turn, looked down upon the waters draining to the English colonies on the
Atlantic. The Mississippi River was to be important as a means of
communication with Canada, but the first real colonization was on the
Mobile, and thence began the sphere of influence among the Indians.
The French had already, at
Quebec and Montreal, entered upon the experiment of town-making, and now
took up the same task in the South. In Canada they sought to translate to
America the mediaeval walled city, but at Mobile, on its first site and
also on the second made necessary by an overflow in 1710, they established
a commercial town which should owe its protection to the cannon of a
regular fortress. A port, called for the Dauphin, was found and utilized
at the east end of Dauphine Island, but the main settlement was at the
head of the Bay. Thence expeditions, for trade or for war, came and went
between the French and the Indians upon the double river system, and
thence naval stores, timber, and especially skins and furs were taken to
France to exchange for the manufactures of that day.
Louis XIV. found it
necessary, on account of the war with England in which Marlborough and
Prince Eugene worsted him, to commit the new colony, including Mobile and
other posts, to the merchant Crozat in 1712, although he still retained
control of the military. Bienville had been the governor after Iberville's
death, and now Cadillac, who had founded Detroit, was placed in control.
The experiment, however, was not a success for the merchant, and he was
glad enough when, in 1718, the more enterprising John Law took it off his
hands and those of the king for the Company of the West.
Law's Company was to do
great things for Louisiana, but relatively less for the settlements on
Mobile waters. A storm in 1717 shoaled up the entrance to Port Dauphin,
and the channel over by Mobile Point had not yet deepened. The Mississippi
became the great attraction, painted in golden colors in the broadsides of
that day, and so the capital was removed to the west. The AlabamaTombigbee
basin became what the French would nowadays call a Department, supreme in
Indian affairs, to be sure, but in civil administration second to the
lately founded New Orleans. Bienville had, in 1714, built Fort Toulouse up
between the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers in order to influence the
Alibamons and check the English of Carolina, and during the first
Chickasaw war in 1736, when he was again governor, erected Fort Tombecbe
on the Tombigbee above the Black Warrior to dominate the Choctaws and
The history of the river
basin is almost that of the city at its mouth, for such posts as Toulouse
and Tombecbe were little more than forts and town life centred on the bay.
No plan has been preserved of Mobile on its first site, but as it was
merely removed there is every reason to suppose that the "Plan de la Ville
et Fort Louis de la Louisiane" made by Sr. Cheuillot in 1711 shows not
only the new town but substantially the arrangement of the old town also.
The site selected was where the river makes a slight bend to the
southwest, a fact subsequently of importance in the growth of the city;
but at the beginning the streets were run parallel and perpendicular to
the river. These streets were thirty toises wide - each toise being six
feet and the blocks averaged fifty toises square.
The fort, with its
esplanade and shade trees, was the principal feature of the town. At first
it was, like most of the houses, of cedar, but in 1717 was renamed Fort
Conde and reconstructed of brick made in the vicinity. In the fort was the
house of the governor, together with the magazine, bell tower and other
A peculiarity of the French
colonies was that the people had little to do for themselves. The
government provided all the necessaries, and shops were almost unknown.
Gardeners and hunters could dispose of their wares, but anyone wishing to
purchase cloth or other manufactures bought, them of the company or royal
magazine. The king or the company thought for everyone. Even Paris
fashions prevailed, for everything came from France.
The government did not give
patents, but assigned lands and recognized the transfers thereafter. Town
lots were twelve and a half by twenty-five toises, and thus admitted of
house and garden. There were a number of more formal land grants in the
vicinity, such as the St. Louis Tract, between Bayou Chateaugue (Three
Mile Creek) and St. Louis River (Chickasabogue), and at the mouth of the
bay Mon Louis Island, belonging to the Durands. In the distressing years
which closed the French administration the population decreased, and
Madame De Lusser, perhaps in lieu of a pension for her husband killed in
the Chickasaw war, was granted a tract of land immediately south of the
fort and running a mile westward. Bienville on the highland facing the bay
had a "maison avec jardin," and near by the Mandeville Tract commemorates
one of the most distinguished officers.
Priests ministered in their
sacred vocation, and missionaries were found not only among the Tensas and
Apalaches, whom Bienville had settled near, but also far up the rivers
among the native tribes. Even literature began, for there is no more
charming writer than Penicaut, who describes the country and gives its
history, and later Bossu writes of Toulouse and Tombecbe, as well as of
the quarrels of the officers and the maladministration in which Louisiana
began to resemble the parent France. For law they had the Coutume de
Paris, quaint and ill-suited, one would think, in its Middle Age
provisions, and indeed it took not the firm hold it acquired in Canada.
The last campaigns of Louis
XIV. had resulted unfortunately, and they were not in this to stand alone.
The Regent, the friend of John Law, kept the peace, but Louis XV. was
drawn into the wars which made Frederick famous. In America the English,
by their traders, succeeded in influencing the Cherokees and Chickasaws,
and, reversing Bienville's ambition, in a measure hemmed the French
colonies between the Apalachians and the Gulf. They even built a fort on
the Tallapoosa which threatened Toulouse and caused a civil war among the
The Seven Years' War of
Europe was reflected in the British blockade of the Gulf ports. but the
fall of Fort Duquesne on the Ohio, and of Quebec and Montreal in Canada,
wrought the ruin of Louisiana. The French King ceded the territory west of
the Mississippi, together with New Orleans, to the King of Spain, and all
of the first settlements, Mobile and its river basin, to Great Britain.
The Peace of Paris of 1763 marked the withdrawal of the French flag from
the whole of North America.
British West Florida.
The British flag now waved
from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. There was a possibility
that, like Spain, England had grasped more than she could hold. Two
things, however, must be remembered. In the first place the English were
increasing in numbers, and in the second the change of occupations due to
the industrial revolution at home was driving many to the new colonies,
where the ingrained Anglo-Saxon love and knack of local self-government
promised a firm foundation for future commonwealths.
The coast territory was
divided into East and West Florida, of which the Chattahoochee or
Apalachicola was the boundary, while the interior above the line of 31°
was reserved as hunting grounds for the red subjects of the king. Although
Mobile was the larger, the British, for naval reasons, chose as their
capital Pensacola, located on a smaller bay but nearer the Gulf.
The Indian policy was
different. The Anglo-Saxon seems to have a greater repugnance than the
Latin to intermarriage with darker races, and consequently the British
introduced the plan, already adopted on the Atlantic, of buying lands from
the Indians for the settlement of white colonists. This was effected by a
series of treaties, and in 1765 the vicinity of Mobile and a strip
reaching far up the west bank of the Tombigbee was secured. Indeed, to
embrace this and similar settlements on the Mississippi the colonial
boundary was moved northward to pass through the mouth of the Yazoo.
The Indian trade was
systematized, prices fixed, traders licensed, and all placed under the
supervision of a superintendent of Indian affairs. At the same time large
powers were vested in the local governors and also in the legislature
which was granted to the province of West Florida. Those Scotchmen who had
been carrying British influence from Carolina over the mountains north of
the French forts now flocked to Mobile, and McGillivray, McIntosh, and
similar names became familiar on the bay as well as on the river. Fort
Conde was called Charlotte for the new queen, Toulouse and Tombecbe were
renamed, but almost immediately abandoned, and forts built at Manchac and
on the Mississippi, where now lay the true frontier.
The legislature was made up
of a council and of commons from several districts. Those from Mobile, and
Charlotte county in which it lay, were especially influential. They led
the movement for annual elections, and the conflicts with the governors,
especially Chester, stopped only short the revolution which broke out upon
the Atlantic. A full set of courts, from Chancery and Admiralty down to a
Court of Requests for small debts, was established, and the jury system
introduced where the French had had the one-man rule of the commandant.
Even the Church of England was established, although the rector, Rev. Mr.
Gordon, was paid so little that he did not long remain, and Father
Ferdinand after all kept his old influence. On the whole, there promised
to be little difference between West Florida and the other southern
colonies except in the larger numbers of the Latin race, and there was
greater harmony with the Catholic French than in Carolina with the
The first governor was
George Johnstone, a rough naval officer who soon embroiled himself with
the army, and in particular with Major Farmar, the commandant at Mobile.
He had Farmar tried by court-martial, from which, however, this gentleman
emerged victorious. The governors changed in rapid succession. One
committed suicide, another was promoted to a West Indian position. Elias
Durnford was chief executive for some time, and to him and to Pittman we
are indebted for the first survey of Mobile River and Bay. Pittman,
indeed, is one of our authors, but his subject was the Mississippi
After England had acquired
from the Indians the territory about the Bay and Tombigbee River, she put
in force a land system which tended to induce immigration. The plan was
perhaps crude in that it enabled the grantee to locate his own claim, and
thus there came to be a great deal of irregularity, and in the course of
time overlapping grants ; but it was a case of first come first served,
and in its way was efficient. Officers and soldiers of the late war with
France were given land, which took the place of a modern pension. A
private soldier got fifty acres and officers more, and upon the Tombigbee
many took advantage of the donation. McIntosh, Farmar, Blackwell,
Sunflower, Bassett, McGrew, and other names date from this period. On the
Eastern Shore of the Bay there not only grew up the Village, but Durnford,
Terry and Weggs had pleasant places, and Crofttown, on its lofty red
cliff, became the regular summer camping ground of the Mobile garrison.
The town clustered about
Fort Charlotte, being more regular to the north, however, than on the west
and south sides. The lots surviving from French times were unchanged, and
the little frame and mortar houses, often shaded with oaks or magnolias
and overgrown with vines, faced rural ways where cattle mingled with
people from three continents. McGillivray & Strothers, or McGillivray &
Swanson, were the leading merchants and carried on a considerable business
from the King's Wharf in front of the fort. Grants were made in the
suburbs to people who wished to farm. The present Orange Grove, Fisher and
Choctaw Point Tracts and Farmar's Island date from this time.
To the British is due the
credit of making indigo as well as naval stores a fixed product of the
country, in addition to the peltries of former days, and agriculture as
well as Indian trade furnished a basis for future growth. Even the
Revolution which broke out upon the Atlantic promised to result to the
advantage of West Florida for fleeing loyalists, many bringing property
settled on the Tombigbee. The Floridians remained loyal and are said to
have burned the Declaration of Independence as well as imprisoned two
emissaries who brought that treasonable document. Certain it is that
Superintendent Stewart used his influence only too well to incite the
Indians, particularly the Muscogees and Cherokees, to harry the Georgian
and Carolinian settlements.
Spain had not formally
recognized the independence of the British colonies, but took advantage of
their civil war to advance her own interests. Bernardo Galvez, the
energetic young governor of Louisiana, in 1779 advanced up the Mississippi
River, captured the British posts before General Campbell could relieve
them from Pensacola, and next year invested Fort Charlotte. Campbell
undertook a relief expedition, but was delayed by storms, and Durnford was
compelled to capitulate. The Spaniards then took the offensive and
eastward from Spanish Fort on the Bay defeated the Waldeckers, who were in
the British pay.
Not only did Galvez hold
Mobile, and with it the Alabama-Tombigbee basin and the dependent coast,
but next year attacked and captured Pensacola also. General Campbell,
Governor Chester and the troops were repatriated to New York.
The treaties of peace in
1782-3 which recognized the independence of the United States also
recognized that the northern coast of the Mexican Gulf had become Spanish
again. The Spanish flag waved from St. Augustine to Mobile, from Mobile to
New Orleans. The Anglo-Saxon had fallen back before the Latin, and the
Choctaws and Muscogees looked on in amazement from their native
fastnesses. It seemed as if the hand had been turned backward upon the
Spanish West Florida.
Galvez's conquest of West
Florida showed a revival of Spanish vigor. Affairs were regulated by royal
decrees from Madrid, but practically American viceroys had learned to
accommodate themselves to the new world conditions and were good
governors. There had ceased to be any large immigration from the mother
country, and to the south the population was made up of Indians, with the
Spanish or Creoles as upper classes. In Louisiana, and also in Florida now
reconquered, the population was largely French, the Indians remaining in
the interior. Representative government entirely disappeared, and in its
place the authorities paternally regulated everything. English law had
been superadded to the Coutume de Paris, and now both were gradually
displaced by the Partidas, and the local alcaldes continued the
jurisdiction of the English justices of the peace.
Pensacola was still
nominally the capital. There was the land office and there were held
juntas or commissions for sundry purposes. But the governorship of West
Florida was practically annexed to that of Louisiana, and almost
everything of importance had to be sent to New Orleans for ratification.
The old Latin division of authority came into force again, for the
intendant controlled the grant of lands and was practically independent of
the governor. They often differed and their quarrels remind us of
Bienville and La Salle.
The lack of immigration
from Spain made it necessary, in order to build up the country, to induce
immigration from some other quarter, and the British colonies and the
American Union, which succeeded them, furnished a good many adventurers,
who received grants and became valuable citizens. This caused in turn a
relaxation of the rules as to religious observances. Theoretically,
everything remained Catholic, and the Mobile church at the corner of Royal
and Conti was the place of worship for a large parish. The priest, as in
French times, made visitations to the coast and to the interior, but there
grew up a great deal of religious indifference, which was to prove more
difficult to handle than dissent.
Mobile remained the
principal town. The streets were renamed for Spanish saints and worthies,
Dauphin being called for Galvez, St. Charles becoming St. Joseph, and
Conti yielding to St. Peter. There was less commerce than formerly,
especially after the outbreak of the French Revolution, and the streets
leading to the river were gradually occupied or became mere lanes. When
the government house was removed to Royal near Fort Charlotte, it gave the
name to a new street, Government, north of the Fort Esplanade.
The house of John Forbes &
Co. succeeded Panton, Leslie & Co., of British time, and became the
principal institution. Their main business was conducted from the spot now
occupied by Royal and St. Francis, and from the warehouses further west,
and they had a canal and landing to the north of the King's Wharf. Spain
continued their license to import English goods, to which the Indians had
become accustomed, and they took the place of the old British traders,
their caravans traversing Indian paths and their bateaux plying the
rivers. John Forbes & Co. were really the diplomatic agents of the Spanish
government, and played a great part in all the events of the day. It might
almost be said that they conducted the department of the interior.
The impetus given by Galvez
did not last more than a few years. Public affairs became Spanish in form,
and even private documents were finally written in Spanish instead of the
native French, but the uncertainty of political matters in Europe was
reflected, if not intensified, in America.
In acknowledging the
independence of the United States, England had made their south boundary
the line 31°, ignoring that of 32° 28' which she had previously fixed as
the limit of West Florida. This, of course, did not bind Spain, but it
proved a matter of embarrassment until, in 1795, Jay effected a treaty in
which Spain acknowledged the line of 31°. Her colonial officials delayed
carrying this out as long as they could, but in 1798 they had to yield.
Next year the surveyor Ellicott, with his Spanish consorts, erected a
boundary stone on Mobile River hardly thirty miles above the Bay, and
shortly afterwards Fort St. Stephen was turned over to McClary and his
troops from Natchez.
North of the line came into
existence Mississippi territory, and West Florida, as thus cut short,
consisted of a strip of coast hardly sixty miles wide. Naturally there was
little basis for growth, and the ruling classes were hardly the ones to
take advantage of what there was. Indeed, an entirely new period may be
dated from the delimitation of the boundary. It is true immigration from
the United States somewhat increased, but it was to a large extent of
people who looked forward to the absorption of the country by America. For
a while Forbes & Co. maintained their old hold upon the Indians, but the
gradual immigration to Mississippi territory rendered that increasingly
more difficult. As Napoleon's hold grew in Europe, and England's was
strengthened on the sea, even Spaniards feared separation of West Florida
President Jefferson seized
the opportunity, and in 1803 purchased Louisiana. Louisiana had formerly
gone to the Perdido and such was to be the American construction. It is
true that Napoleon hinted in no doubtful manner that this was not correct,
and the administration did not dare oppose him; but the time might come
when even he might have his hands full at home. The. Spaniards exacted
duties on goods brought by sea to the American Fort Stoddert just above
the line, and, as is usual on ill-guarded frontiers, criminals of all
kinds escaped from one country to the other.
West Florida had reached a
crisis in its history. Its rivers were gone and time must soon tell
whether the coast should remain Latin or become Anglo-Saxon.
The creation of Mississippi
territory in 1798 cut the history of the Southwest in two, but it did not
mark the coming of the Anglo-Saxon and the retirement of the Latin, for
that had occurred when the British came. It was not so much a change of
race as a change of institutions. Previously the population had come from
Europe and settled on the coast and rivers so as to communicate the better
with the old home. With the coming of the Americans, however, we have an
immigration through the interior and from communities which had ceased to
look to the ocean except as a means of commerce, which were instinctively
expanding over the mountains to the Mississippi Valley. The district south
of Tennessee did not even touch the Gulf, and there were originally plans
for its creation into a vast state fronting the Mississippi River and
touching Georgia to the rear. It was the old British West Florida cut off
from the sea, and, after a little, compensated by the addition of the
Indian country lying between 32° 28' and the Tennessee line. At first
ruled entirely by governor and judges appointed from the seat of Federal
government, it rose to the second grade of territory in 1800. Besides
earlier counties about Natchez on the Mississippi there came to be
Washington county on the Tombigbee, and from it, in 1812, was taken Clarke
county in the forks of the rivers, and Madison up in the great bend of the
Tennessee had been formed in 1800.
The political history of
the territory can be better told in connection with Mississippi, for the
eastern half, whose separate interests soon came to the surface, was less
populous and had less weight in the government. The purchase of Louisiana
emphasized the affiliations of the Mississippi communities, and
correspondingly emphasized the unity of the Mobile and Tombigbee
settlements. The claim that the purchase extended to the Perdido
determined the people to make the ideal a reality. At last the Tombigbee
people were erected into a separate judicial district, and, in 1804,
President Jefferson sent, in the person of Harry Toulmin, a professor late
from England, a man who was to be influential in the development of this
section. Locally its growth oscillated between Fort Stoddert, where the
United States had a garrison and Admiralty Court, and St. Stephens, a town
built somewhat further back from the river than the old Spanish fort.
Huntsville on the Tennessee, with its beautiful site and admirable
climate, also grew rapidly from immigration down the river from the
Carolinas and Virginia, as well as across from Nashville and other
Tennessee settlements. Many of those pressed on further and down the
The territorial system of
the United States is in a measure colonial, in that the territory is
dependent upon a distant head, but it is different in that this dependence
is meant to be temporary. From the first there is the aspiration for
statehood. The Federal authorities followed the preceding governments in
making treaties with the Indians, but its plan was more definite and
covered not only acquisition of lands for settlers, as from the Choctaws
and Cherokees, but also the opening of roads through to the Atlantic
states. The land system, too, was an improvement in that it required the
survey of the whole country and then the sale of small tracts to
individuals. While the rivers remained the principal means of intercourse
and on account of the soil attracted planters, they ceased to be the only
The fertility of the river
bottoms led to a feature which was to become important as time went on.
Slavery had existed from the beginning of European settlement, at first of
the natives and afterwards of negroes imported from the Spanish Islands
and from Africa. It had been adopted in Virginia and other Anglo-Saxon
colonies as a necessity in the competition with the Spaniards to the
south. Now the American immigrants brought slaves with them and the
institution assumed a more definite shape and took a stronger hold upon
the country than under the Latins.
The basin of the Alabama
River was held by the Muscogees, now generally called Creeks, but the
Choctaws soon relinquished all their lands on the Tombigbee, thus
extending the cession of 1765. This district rapidly grew in population
and resources. It had local courts, county organization and a militia
system, springing from the needs of a country which had slaves in every
household, and an Indian border but a few miles away. Rough as was the
civilization in many respects, it was not as when men begin from savagery.
People brought with them the institutions-political, social, economic-of
the older states. Even religion soon took a hold. The eccentric Lorenzo
Dow was probably the first Protestant preacher on the Bigbee, but the
Congregationalists and Presbyterians had been about Natchez even from
British times, and from 1808 Baptists and Methodists had local churches.
The people took an interest
in Federal affairs, and held an indignation meeting when the report came
that the Leopard had fired into Chesapeake over the right of search.
Interest aroused by Burr's descent of the Mississippi River was
intensified by his escape to the Tombigbee and capture at McIntosh Bluff
by Capt. E. P. Gaines from Fort Stoddert. There was much sympathy for
Burr, and so he was soon sent eastward by Indian roads for trial at
Richmond. The Bigbee settlers loved their district, but looked eagerly
forward to the acquisition of Mobile from the Spaniards. When the Kempers
and others established the short-lived state of West Florida, with capital
at Baton Rouge, the settlers made, also, an attempt on Mobile. It was
ill-managed, however, and the United States sent a detachment from Fort
Stoddert to protect the city against the Americans.
When the War of 1812 broke
out with England, the use of the Spanish Gulf ports by the English fleet
gave the long-wished for excuse, and General Wilkinson, in command of the
Southwest, sailed from New Orleans for Mobile. He politely demanded that
the Spaniards retire across the Perdido, as Mobile was in American
territory. Cayetano Perez was even more polite, but denied the assumption;
however, his forces were so inferior to Wilkinson's that the American
general was shortly able to report that Mobile had been surrendered
"without the effusion of a drop of blood." The river basin was at last a
political unit, and its commerce flowed unvexed to the sea.
There remained, however, a
greater problem than the Latins, who at least could be absorbed into the
body politic, for at Mobile the Bigbee immigrants cordially united with
them in building up the port. This was not true of the Indians, who
occupied more than half of the territory, in fact practically the whole of
the basin of the Alabama and its tributaries. Whether the Indian could
become an American citizen was a question to be settled by time. At all
events he was there and had to be dealt with. He had given up all the land
he could spare from hunting, and, unless civilized, there must come a
conflict of interests between him and the whites. The Union had agents
among the Indians, and agriculture, cattle and other evidences of progress
abounded among the Choctaws and Chickasaws. Col. Benjamin Hawkins oversaw
the Creeks from his headquarters near what is now Macon, Ga., but despite
his optimism there was a strong undercurrent of opposition among them.
This was brought to a head by the visit of Tecumseh, who was aiding the
British in the Northwest. Pushmataha managed to keep the Choctaws in line,
and the Chickasaws were too far off to be dangerous, but the war party
among the Creeks soon acquired the upper hand. An attempt at Burnt Corn
failed to prevent them from obtaining munitions from Pensacola, and on
Aug. 30, 1813, the Creek, Weatherford, captured and destroyed Fort Mims,
where the Alabama joins the Tombigbee. Settlers in Clarke county fled to
blockhouses and improvised forts, and terror reigned supreme.
The Federal authorities had
their hands full in opposing British armies, and indeed were soon, with
the capture of Washington, themselves in flight; but "Remember Fort Mims"
became a watchword which roused Georgia and Tennessee as well as the
territorial authorities at Natchez. Three armies of militia were soon in
the field converging towards the heart of the Creek territory.
All suffered from the short
terms of enlistment, and the Georgia troops under Floyd effected little.
The Mississippi army was hampered by instructions to restrict itself to
the defense of Mobile, but fortunately Claiborne construed this broadly
and assumed the offensive. He defeated the Indians at Holy Ground,
Econochaca, and built a supply depot and fort upon the commanding Alabama
bluff since named for him. The rough but energetic Andrew Jackson,
accompanied by Coffee and others, marched by way of Huntsville to the
upper Coosa and fought his way southward, possibly on the old route of De
Soto. Talladega, Horse Shoe Bend and other victories made him famous, and
he was finally able, from Fort Toulouse-rebuilt and rechristened for
him-to dictate peace, which settled the Indian question for many years.
All land west of the Coosa and of a line running southeastwardly from Fort
Jackson was ceded to the United States.
Jackson descended the river
to Mobile, and placed Fort Charlotte and Fort Bowyer on Mobile Point in
proper condition for defense. Captain Lawrence on the Point had soon to
sustain the attack of a British fleet, assisted by Indians on land, but
was victorious. The Mobile district seemed reasonably secure, and Jackson
transferred his headquarters to New Orleans to oppose the British. After
their defeat at that point they returned, captured Fort Bowyer and made
Dauphine Island one vast camp; but Fort Charlotte protected Mobile until
the Peace of Ghent put an end to hostilities.
Now that the heart of the
river basin from the Tennessee Valley to the Florida line was open to
white settlement, immigration came by leaps and bounds. The Whitney gin
made cotton-raising the money-making industry, and planters took up much
of the Black Belt. Town-making became the rage. Not only was Blakely
founded across the delta as a rival to Mobile, and even St. Stephens had
neighbors, but Wetumpka, Montgomery, Selma and Tuscaloosa were laid out,
besides others which were to live only on paper. The steamboat had come on
the Mississippi. ,, It was clear that in a short time it must solve the
transportation question and make of the river basin an agricultural
commonwealth. The old times when the port which looked abroad was the only
place of interest had passed. Local centres were developed over the
eastern half of Mississippi territory, and the commerce through Mobile
The western half, with
Mississippi River as its promoter, had increased even more rapidly, and in
1817 was erected into the state of Mississippi. The counties left outside
became the territory of Alabama, whose legislature met at St. Stephens as
the first capital ; but in two years the sentiment steadily grew that this
new territory also was ripe for statehood.
Thus, then, we have
traversed the early history of Alabama, from its exploration by the
Spaniards and settlement by the French, through the varying domination of
the Briton and Spaniard. The Indians were still there, but they were
segregated. The African had come, but he was a laborer. The Latin and
Briton had fused into the American. The unity of the Alabama-Tombigbee
basin had at last been recognized, and steam was to make of it a reality
heretofore undreamed of. Colonial dependence upon a mother country across
the sea had come to an end, and even territorial institutions were to
merge into those of a self-governing state.
BIBLIOGRAPHY.-I. GENERAL: Brown, W. G.: School History, Alabama; Hamilton,
P. J.: Colonial Mobile (1897), Colonization of South (1904, History of N.
A. Series); Winsor, Justin: Narrative and Critical History (8 vols.,
1887); Transactions Alabama Historical Society.
II. INDIAN: Gatschet: Creek Migration Legend; Hawkins: Sketch of Creek
Country; American State Papers, Indian Relations (1832, Vols. I. and IL).
III. SPANISH: Maps, etc., at Seville; American State Papers, Public Lands
(Vols. L-VI.); White: New Recopilacion (Vols. I. and II); Translated
Records, Mobile Probate Court; Original Records, Mobile Probate Court.
Travels-DeSoto: Garcilasso, Gentleman of Elvas (Sp. Explorers, 1907),
Biedma and Ran jet in Trail Maker series; Ternaux-Compans, Recueil Floride;
Collot: Atlas; Cabeza de Vaca (Spanish Explorers, 1907). Histories-Seaife,
W. B.: America, Geographical History (1892); Barcia: Ensayo Cronologico
(1723); Lowery, W.: Spanish Settlements in U. S. (1901); Ruidiaz: Florida
(1893, 2 vols.).
IV. FRENCH: Documents-Maps in Howard Library (New Orleans); Parochial
Records, Mobile; Mss. by Margry at New Orleans; Mss. by Magne at New
Orleans; French, B. F.: Historical Collections, Louisiana (Vols. I.-V.),
Historical Collections, Louisiana and Florida (Vols. I. and II.); Margry:
Decouvertes (Vols. I.-VI.); Cusachs Mss., New Orleans. Travels-Penicaut in
6th French and 5th Margry; La Harpe, B.: Journal Historique (1831);
Charlevoix, Histoire de la Nouv. France, etc. (1744); Le Page du Pratz:
Histoire de la Louisiane; Dumont: Memoires Historiques (6 French); Bossu:
Nouvaux Voyages; Kip's Early Jesuit Missions. Histories-Gayarre: Louisiana
(4 vols.); Martin: Louisiana; Fortier: Louisiana (1904, 4 vols.); King's
Bienville (1892); Shea, J. G.: Catholic Missions (1854), Catholic Church
in Colonial Days.
V. BRITISH: Documents-Haldimand Papers (Ottawa); West Florida Records in
Alabama Department of Archives. Travels-Adair's American Indians (1775);
Romans' Florida; Jeffrey's French Dominion. Robert's Florida; Bartram's
Travels North Carolina (1793). HistoriesCampbell, R. L.: Colonial Florida
VI. AMERICAN: Documents-Pickett Papers, Alabama Department of Archives;
Draper Mss. (Madison, Wis.); Ellicott's Journal; Latour's War in West
Florida (1816); Deed Books, Probate Court, Mobile County, Washington
County, etc. Histories-Claiborne, J. F. H.: Sam Dale; Meek, A. B.: Romance
of Southwest. History (1857); Pickett, A. J.: Alabama, 1851 (1896,
reprint); Brewer, W.: Alabama (1872); Ball and Halbert: Creek War (1895);
Ball, T. H.: Clarke County (1882).
PETER JOSEPH HAMILTON,
Author of Colonization of the South; Reconstruction, etc.