War in the Mississippi Valley: Part II

Previously I wrote about the fighting in the Mississippi Valley and Gulf coast during the Revolution.  Below is a brief overview of the modern states in the Mississippi Valley and a summary of their colonial origins and events there during the Revolution:


The French colonized the area that is now Alabama in the early 1700s.   They constructed a fort at what is now Mobile, and this was the capital of La Louisiane- not New Orleans.  The French presence was never very strong or deep, and they had few settlements in the region.

The French established trade network with Native Americans in the interior.  The English were also interested in the region, and trades and explorers penetrated the northern area of modern-day Alabama.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War after France’s defeat by Britain, resulted in France ceding its territories east of the Mississippi to Britain.  Great Britain came into undisputed control of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi rivers. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel became a part of British West Florida.  Today this is the long section of the Alabama-Florida state line.

The portion north of this line became a part of the “Illinois Country,” established by the British Crown for use by Indians.  At the conclusion of the Revolution, The British ceded West Florida to Spain, and the land to the north to the United States.  Yet there was disagreement about where the division between Spanish and American territory was, laying the foundation for a long boundary dispute between the two nations.


Fort Touluse, a historic site preserving French culture in the center of the state.

The modern state of Alabama sits in the geographic center of the southeast, and was home to many tribes such as the Chickasaws, Cherokee, Creeks, and Choctaws.  The name of the state itself derives from a Creek tribe, the Alibamos, meaning “those who clear the land.”  Alabama’s Indian groups had been courted for decades before the Revolution by the British from the north and east, and the French and Spanish from the south and west.  The war split the tribes here, as it did everywhere.  Generally the Catawbas fought for the Americans, while the Creeks, Chickasaws and Choctaws generally allied with Britain.  Yet as with all Indian groups, they pursued polices suited to their own interests, not those of the Europeans and Americans.

For a territory far removed from the main fighting, Alabama has several fascinating connections to the war.  Montgomery, the state capital, was named for General Richard Montgomery, killed in the assault on Quebec on December 31, 1776.

At least 722 men who fought in the Revolutionary War are buried in the state, many in unmarked graves.  Although impossible to know for sure, the last surviving veteran may have been William Speer, who died in 1859, 85 years after the war began.

For 73 years, John Sevier, a commander at Kings Mountain and first governor of Tennessee, was buried in Alabama.  Yet Tennessee wanted the hero who did so much for their state returned home.  In 1888 his remains were moved to Knoxville.

Born in County Antrim, Ireland, Isabella Kelso immigrated to the colonies and married William Wylie in South Carolina.  During the war she aided prisoners and supported the American cause.  She is buried next to her husband in Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Plantersville, AL.  Both have Revolutionary War grave markers.

James McCrory was an Irish immigrant who served in Washington’s Life Guard.  Like many veterans, he moved west with a land grant, settling in the area that would become Alabama.  The Life Guard were the troops who guarded Washington and his headquarters, a chosen group.  He rests in Old Bethany Cemetery, off Highway 14 in Vienna, AL.

Fort Conde is a reconstructed fort in the heart of Mobile that interprets the early history of the cityand the region under the flags of France, Spain, and the United States.  Just outside the fort is a marker discussing the battle of Fort Charlotte.  Information is found at http://www.museumofmobile.com/ft_conde.php.


Reconstructed Fort Conde in downtown Mobile


As with other sites in the Mississippi River Valley, Arkansas was caught up in the struggle for the interior between England, France, and Spain before the Revolution.  The war in the region also involved many Native American groups, and was complicated by centuries- old inter-tribal rivalries.  By 1770, Arkansas Post was a Spanish outpost in the vast Louisiana Territory, part of a system of interior forts that facilitated trade with the Native Americans in the area.

The Spanish were sympathetic to the Americans, as they saw a chance to settle the score with England and reclaim lost territory in North America.  From the start of the war, supplies flowed up the Mississippi from Spanish territory to Fort Pitt, fueling the American war effort.  Thus we have an unlikely connection between sites like Arkansas Post, Fort Conde, and Fort Pitt

The Arkansas Daughters of the American Revolution Room in the Old State House Museum in Little Rock exhibits artifacts from the Revolutionary period.  This building, the state’s first capitol, the D.A.R. has set up a room to represent life from the Revolutionary period.  For more information see http://www.oldstatehouse.com/Visit-Us/hours-location or http://www.dar.org/national-society/historic-sites-and-properties/arkansas-dar-room-old-state-house-museum.

Arkansas Post National Memorial is one of the most significant sites in the Mississippi Valley.  Established in 1686 as a French trading post, ever since various cultures have met here to trade, and fight.  In the state’s only Revolutionary War battle, on April 17, 1783, British partisans and Chickasaws and Natchez allied with them attacked the fort.  The Spanish and their Quapawa allies held out.  The park includes the site of Fort Carlos III, now gone, as well as exhibits about the long history of this site.  A small portion of the fort has been reconstructed.

For more information visit nps.gov/arpo.


Like Alabama and Arkansas, Louisiana was Spanish territory, and there were a few battles with British forces in the state.  New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French, and had been transferred to Spain following the French and Indian (Seven Years War) in 1763.

Even before Spain’s entry into the war, New Orleans was a source of aid smuggled in for the American effort.  Supplies moved up the Mississippi to Fort Pitt.  New Orleans was in Spanish hands after 1763, as part of the settlement of the French and Indian (Seven Years’ War).  From here Governor Bernardo de Galvez attacked British posts up the Mississippi and along the Gulf Coast.

Oliver Pollock played an important role in events here.  Arriving in Philadelphia from Ireland in 1760, he began a merchant and shipping business.  Pollock established close ties in Cuba and New Orleans.  When the war broke out, he used his connections to aid the Revolutionary cause from the Crescent City.  In 1777 he was appointed “commercial agent of the United States at New Orleans” and used his fortune to finance American operations in the west, such as General George Rogers Clark.  When Spain entered the war he served as an aide to General Bernardo de Galvez.

In a region that had as many, if not more, slaves as free people, it should not be surprising that slaves were able to carve out a measure of independence.  The Bas du Fleuve, the area between the mouth of the Mississippi and New Orleans, had become home to many runaway slave communities, known as maroons.  In the woods and swamps they built homes, armed themselves, and thrived in a separate existence from the settled areas of Louisiana.

Located in Arsenal Park at 1000 North 5th Street in Baton Rouge, a plaque honors those who fought in the Battle of Baton Rouge in 1779.  The marker incorrectly states that this was the only battle of the Revolution fought outside the original thirteen colonies.  The memorial includes a plaque and cannon.

A historic marker stands in East Baton Rouge Parish, noting the site of Fort Bute, attacked by American marines in 1778 and Galvez in 1779.

Two markers in Baton Rouge note the site of Spanish Fort San Carlos and Fort Richmond, taken by Spanish and American forces on September 21, 1779.  The Old Arsenal Museum covers the long history of the site, of which the Revolution is only a fraction.  The museum website is http://www.sos.la.gov/HistoricalResources/VisitMuseums/OldArsenalMuseum/Pages/default.aspx

A statue of the Spanish General who did much to wrest the Mississippi and Gulf coast areas away from the British stands on Canal Street near the World Trade Center in New Orleans.  A gift from Spain to the city of New Orleans, the statue is a reminder of this important but neglected aspect of the war.  A group known as Granaderos y Damas de Galvez are dedicated to preserving his memory and that of the Spanish role in the Revolution.  See http://granaderos.org/.


Galvez Monument in New Orleans.


The number of states with ties to the French colonial period speak to the sheer size, and dispersed nature, of colonial New France.  It is another reminder that the war in the Mississippi Valley was a separate contest from the larger struggle in the east, and featured raids between British and Spanish forces, augmented by Native allies.  With the passage of this vast territory from France to England in 1763, Britain inherited a region it could not adequately garrison or control.

Founded around 1735, Saint Geneviève is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri.  During the 1770s, Little Osage and Missouri tribes repeatedly raided Ste. Genevieve to steal settlers’ horses.  But the fur trade, marriage of French-Canadian men with Native American women, and other commercial dealings created many ties between Native Americans and the Canadians.  During the 1780s, some Shawnee, Delaware, and Peoria migrated to the west side of the Mississippi and established villages south of the town.

Today several historic homes reflect the early French architecture of the region, including the 1792 Louis Bolduc House, the 1806 La Maison de Guibourd House, the 1792 Beauvais-Amoureux House, the 1790s Bequette-Ribault House, and the 1808 Old Louisiana Academy.  The 1818 Felix Vallé House State Historic Site is open to the public, and interprets the French culture in the region.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as The Arch, is the iconic landmark in St. Louis.  This National Park interprets the Louisiana Purchase and the western settlement of the nation.  Yet it also happens to include the site of Spanish Fort San Carlos.  On May 26, 1780, British forces unsuccessfully attacked this largely French settlement- defended by Americans and Spanish.  Fort San Carlos stood is at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, now obliterated.  The massive museum underground at the arch interprets the entire history of the site, including colonial St. Louis.  For more information visit nps.gov/jeff.

Connections are sometimes found in the oddest places.  An example are the Revolutionary War Cannons in Lafayette Park, St. Louis.  How did several Revolutionary War cannons from Charleston end up over a thousand miles away in the middle of the country?  Apparently the guns were from a British warship that attacked Fort Moultrie in 1776.  The ship ran aground, and was abandoned.

The guns lay undiscovered until they were struck by a British steamer in Charleston harbor in 1887.  The Army Corps of Engineers investigated, and removed the obstructions.  They sat on a Charleston dock until sold at auction.

In 1897, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, a northern Civil War veterans group, purchased the guns.  They were transferred to its headquarters in St. Louis, where they may be seen today.

Beyond the Mississippi Valley there are other connections to the war on this front.  A gift from Spain during the Bicentennial, a statue of Galvez honors the general who helped liberate much of the Gulf and lower Mississippi Valley from British rule.  It is located at Virginia Avenue and 22nd St, NW in Washington, DC.

The Point at Pittsburgh has been called the key to the continent.  The junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to form the Ohio is an impressive sight.  From here commerce can move down the Ohio to the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.  The city was named in honor of William Pitt, the British statesman who defended American rights in the decades before the Revolution.  Today the museum at Fort Pitt covers the entire period from pre-war settlement through the nation’s early expansion into the Old Northwest.  Visit https://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/fort-pitt/.

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