Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Historical marker tells of old border fort in Mount Vernon, Alabama

'Fort Stoddert' historical marker in Mount Vernon, Ala.
This week’s featured historical marker is the “FORT STODDERT” marker in Mobile County, Ala. This marker is located in the town of Mount Vernon at the intersection of Old Highway 43 and Military Road..

This marker was erected in 1949 by the Historic Mobile Preservation Society. There’s text on both sides of the marker, but both sides are the same. What follows in the complete text from the marker:

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“FORT STODDERT – 1799 – Site three miles east. Border fort and port of entry into the United States while the 31st parallel was the southern border. Aaron Burr was held prisoner here after capture near McIntosh in 1807.”

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For those of you unfamiliar with Fort Stoddert, it was an old fort located on the Mobile River near the modern-day town of Mount Vernon in Mobile County, Ala. It was located near the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers and was the western end of the Old Federal Road.

If you take Military Road east from this marker, you’ll eventually find yourself on a dead end road that ends at a boat landing at the Mobile River. My feeling is that this is as close as you can get to the old fort site without trespassing on private property. While you might not be standing on the exact site of the old fort, you’re very close and can get an idea of the old fort’s surroundings.

Throughout Mount Vernon, you’ll find a number of historical signs that make up the Mount Vernon Historical Trail. As you leave the boat landing, traveling west back toward U.S. Highway 43, be sure to turn down Old Military Road East. Just a short distance down this road, on the east side, you’ll find a detailed historical sign that tells a lot more about Fort Stoddert’s history. What follows is the complete text from that marker.

“Early in 1799 a joint U.S.-Spanish survey commission had determined the international boundary to be a few miles south of this spot, at 31 Degrees N Longitude. (A marker known as the Ellicott Stone still stands on the old boundary line, just east of US Highway 43 near the Alabama Power Company generating plant in the community of Bucks.) Because the relocated line lay well south of the long-presumed boundary, Spanish colonial administrators withdrew their garrison from Fuerte San Esteban, which became St. Stephens. To assert American claims to this region, Congress created the Mississippi Territory and ordered the U.S. Army to establish posts along the new boundary for the protection of settlers and for collection of customs duties from commercial traffic on the rivers flowing to Mobile in Spanish West Florida.

“In July 1799, two companies of the 2nd Regiment U.S. Infantry, commanded by Capt. Bartholomew Schaumburgh marched from Natchez and established Fort Stoddert, named for first Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, at Ward’s Bluff on the Mobile River. The stockade fort had blockhouses in two of the four bastions, mounted with ordnance; soldier’s barracks and officers’ quarters formed the curtain walls.

“Although no battles were ever fought at Fort Stoddert, the post had an interesting and colorful history. Ephraim Kirby served briefly here as federal judge in 1804. Upon Kirby’s death, Judge Harry Toulmin succeeded him on the bench and assumed the role of first postmaster in January 1805. In February 1807, Capt. Edmund P. Gaines and a detachment of mounted riflemen arrested former Vice President Aaron Burr on the road north of the fort and escorted him to Washington, D.C. for trial on charges of treason.

“Early in 1811, John Hood and Samuel Miller carried a printing press overland from Chattanooga to the Alabama River, then downstream to Fort Stoddert, with the intention of publishing a newspaper in Mobile. The city, however, remained under Spanish rule, so they printed The Mobile Centinel, the first newspaper published in what would become the state of Alabama, at Fort Stoddert from May 23, 1811 to June 6, 1812.

“On Nov. 30, 1811, Capt. Matthew Arbuckle of the 3rd Regiment U.S. Infantry commanded a road construction party from Fort Stoddert that met a construction party working from the east to open the Federal Road to Georgia. Amid the War of 1812, an expedition launched from Fort Stoddert seized Mobile from Spain on April 13, 1813. In early September, Fort Stoddert and Mount Vernon Cantonment sheltered thousands of refugees displaced from the Tombigbee and Tensaw settlements by the destruction of Fort Mimms at the beginning of the Creek War.

“During the war, Fort Stoddert served as military headquarters for General Ferdinand Claiborne’s Mississippi Territorial Volunteers and for regular U.S. Army troops operating on the Gulf Coast. By the end of 1814, Fort Stoddert no longer functioned as a military post, although the name continued to be applied to the civilian community (later called Florida, then Mount Vernon) that had grown up around the fort.”

In the end, visit this site next Wednesday to learn about another historical marker. I’m also taking suggestions from the reading audience, so if you know of an interesting historical marker that you’d like me to feature, let me know in the comments section below. 

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