Tuesday, May 31, 2016


The trade in skins and furs was already a growing one. Probably every ship that came to Dauphine Island took away peltries, and that port itself was of value. It was soon to be important enough to need both church and fort of its own. Louisiana was not a failure.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My latest DAUPHIN ISLAND HISTORY project is collecting excerpts from Hamilton's COLONIAL MOBILE that pertain to D.I.
 Dauphin Island's first 100 years make it the STRATEGIC FOCUS of an amazing story of how two Catholic countries reconciled their differences in order to try to stop the English. DAUPHIN ISLAND: AMERICA'S MOST HISTORIC ISLAND blog has 14 extensive posts going all the way back to 2012. We now have over 4000 views. Check out Hamilton's D.I. quotes and the other posts at http://dauphinislandhistory.blogspot.com

page 30 and 31 of Hamilton's COLONIAL MOBILE

Sighting land off the coast of Florida, in the last days of January, 1699, they found Pensacola just occupied by the Spaniards, and proceeded westward, exploring as they went. They cast anchor January 31 off Mobile Point, and carefully examined what was later to be the chief seat of their colony. One of the transports stranded in bad weather while sounding, but came off with the tide. Iberville soon determined to explore for himself, and was rowed with Bienville to the point. Despite a storm that night, next day they sounded the channel, but then had to run before the wind and make the long western island. This they named Massacre, from the heap of skulls and bones found with Indian utensils at the southwestern extremity. There they were weather-bound for three days, and hunted bustards (putardes). Iberville made his way over to the mainland, and noted the flowers, and the oak, pine, walnut, chestnut, and other unknown trees of the forest. From a white oak top, four leagues up the bay, he took in the outline of the shore of the bay, and even noticed yellow water from the rivers. He saw signs of recent Indians, and fired his gun and cut on a tree a sign of his peaceful visit. Such was the French discovery and exploration of Mobile Point, Dauphine Island, and the land of Mon Louis Island. But their present objective was further west. The sounding of the channel was completed in good weather, a good harbor found off Massacre Island by Surgeres, and, after taking on wood and grass for the livestock, the fleet sailed on to find the Mississippi. On the way they visited and named the islands of the sound, and had friendly intercourse with the Indians of Biloxi. The mouth of the great river they found on March 2, after much trouble and no little danger, for it was hidden in sandbanks, reeds, and logs like a palisade. Unfortunate La Salle could not see it from the sea, but Iberville was as fortunate here as in everything else he undertook.

page 19 of Hamilton's COLONIAL MOBILE:

It is not certain whether Filipina Bay is that of Mobile or Pensacola. The depth within Mobile Bay and other characteristics suit Mobile at least as well, however, and the only difficulty is the entrance channel, given as three to four fathoms, while Iberville in 1699, a century and a half later, was to report that he found the bar only thirteen feet deep, although within, the bay had eight fathoms. The fact seems to be that there are two channels into Mobile Bay, an eastern and western. This led President Monroe, on the report of the United States Engineer Department in 1822, to recommend the fortifying of Dauphine Island as well as Mobile Point. At that time the water on the outer bar, from which both led inward to the bay, was eighteen feet. The western channel along the north bank of Pelican and Sand islands (which are but parts of one breakwater) was from eight to eighteen feet deep and a half mile wide, against twenty to forty-two feet depth in the eastern channel, which was about a mile wide by Mobile Point. The two passages were and are separated by a shallow space called Middle Ground, but beyond the west channel and in the angle between Dauphine and Pelican islands was an anchorage eighteen to twenty-two feet deep.

The west channel in French and earlier times, however, seems to have passed between these two islands from the Gulf into this Pelican Bay, and thence on into Mobile Bay, and did not come over the Sand Island bar at all. We shall see this Pelican Bay closed by a storm in 1717, and only since that time do we find the main entrance to be over to the east near Mobile Point. In 1558, the Pelican channel may well have had four fathoms. In fact, it must have been deep, for the same volume of water had to discharge from Mobile Bay as now. If it sought the west channel, it must have scoured that out as it now does the eastern.


...on December 17, 1701, despite the protest of the Spanish, he[Iberville] gave orders to abandon Biloxi and move everything to Massacre Island for greater convenience in making the new settlement. During the days of transition to the new year, Biloxi and Massacre Island were scenes of activity. On January 3, Iberville sent a lanche or felouque, loaned him by the Spanish governor, Martinez, from Pensacola to the island with Serigny and Chasteaugue to join their brother Bienville, who, with forty men, arrived two days later in the traversier from Biloxi. Nicholas de la Salle (whom we have seen with his greater kinsman in 1682) came from Pensacola with his family in the caiche chartered by Iberville with the lanche to carry eighty workmen and the king's stores. On January 10, Bienville, Serigny, and Le Vasseur in the lanche and two felouques left Massacre Island by order of Iberville to occupy Mobile, "sixteen leagues off, at the second bluff."

We can be sure that the unfinished magazines on Dauphine Island, left for completion in charge of Chasteaugue and La Salle, were at the eastern end, where it is widest and accessible from both bay and gulf, for there was the harbor of twenty-one feet depth shown Iberville by a Spanish pilot.


By the middle of February[1702], Iberville had so far recovered as to sail on his ship Palmier for Massacre Island, but it was not until the 18th that the unfavorable northwest wind permitted him to enter over the bar, which was an eighth of a league from land, and had twenty-one feet. The harbor itself, between Massacre and a little (Pelican) island, showed thirty feet of water. It pleased him much by its easy defense and its protection from the wind on the north, northwest, and southwest, due to these islands, and on the northeast and east by the "east point of Mobile " two leagues away. He could not but fear, however, that a south gale might change the bar, — a fear which we shall have occasion to remember. In this port he found Marigny, his traversier beached by a south wind as she was discharging what she had brought from Havana and Biloxi. Digging away sand and tying on empty casks did no good, and she lay there until a high tide on the 23rd took her off.

"Having founded his colony, Iberville, leaving six months' stores, set out on his return to the Palmier at Massacre Island. In the river, on his way, he took soundings, and found at least five and one half to six feet of water. He slept at Dog River, where he had established a magasin (ed. note: storehouse), which Chasteaugue in the traversier and Grandville in the chaloupe had been busy filling. Becancourt, who had been quite useful, was taken from the Renommee, of which he was enseigne, and put in charge of the traversier. On March 31[1702], the Renomme'e, towing the Palmier, went over the bar in twenty-one to twenty -two feet of water, and made for Pensacola. There they took on beaver-skins and minor peltries, brought by the cache from the Mississippi, and sailed for Havana and France."

Saturday, May 21, 2016

NOW THIS IS A GREAT MOVIE! Plus it's a SUPER history lesson. (Have your laptop out so you can check out all the characters on Wikipedia.) The English title of this 2015 movie is ADMIRAL but its original title was MICHIEL DE RUYTER, named after the famous Dutch naval commander. Now you might ask,"How can I relate to a bunch of sea battles from the NINE YEARS WAR? Well, the treaty that ended that war in 1697 gave King Louis XIV time and money to finance an expedition that established THE FIRST PERMANENT COLONY IN PRESENT-DAY ALABAMA and he sent ships from that war captained by a man who became a hero during that war: IBERVILLE!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In the past I have stated that Dauphin Island  is "America's Most Historic Gulf Island With The Most Ignored, Overlooked and Misrepresented Story in North America." Not only is our story ignored, overlooked and misrepresented, IT IS OUTRIGHT DISMISSED and I can't help but be angered by that fact! In my latest post on the DAUPHIN ISLAND HISTORY blog, I argue that it is INTELLECTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE to be dismissive of Dauphin Island's 317 YEARS OF RECORDED HISTORY and it's position as AMERICA'S MOST HISTORIC GULF ISLAND. http://dauphinislandhistory.blogspot.com
This post is my attempt to show that it is intellectually impossible to be dismissive of Dauphin Island's strategic importance in North American history. If fact, the entire history of civilization in the Gulf South began on Dauphin Island.

The first sentence of R.G. McWilliams' essay, DRAMATIC HISTORY OF DAUPHIN ISLAND:
"With the exception of Cuba, Dauphin is, historically, the most prominent and interesting island in the Gulf of Mexico."

The purpose of Iberville's first successful colonizing expedition to the northern Gulf of Mexico in 1699 was to discover and secure the mouth of the Mississippi River for France. Of course, the French intended to occupy the entire Mississippi River area, but their ultimate goal was to follow this river west to find the Northwest Passage, a non-existent waterway that could provide a short cut to China and Japan.

After finding that the Spanish had recently occupied and armed Pensacola Bay, Iberville's convoy sailed west and dropped anchor at Dauphin Island on January 31, 1699. This was the beginning of the French colony of Louisiana.

After discovering the mouth of the Mississippi in March of 1699, Iberville's first efforts to secure this strategic position was to build Fort Maurepas near present-day Ocean Springs. The translater of IBERVILLE'S GULF JOURNALS considered this to be one of Iberville's greatest failures.  "This was the day (February  4, 1699) of the best weather for sounding that Iberville had had at Mobile Bay; yet in sounding the waters from Sand Island to Dauphin Island, he made the biggest mistake of his first voyage to the Gulf.  He must have taken soundings on a straight line toward the east end of Dauphin, for he failed to locate the deep water between Pelican Island and Dauphin- a tight little harbor that three years later was to become the port when the French abandoned Fort Maurepas on Biloxi Bay and moved to Twenty-Seven-Mile Bluff. Pelican Bay would have been a far better anchorage than the Ship Island anchorage."

The French on Dauphin Island may have given up on finding a Northwest Passage to China but they continued to desire the products of the Far East. For this they attempted to establish trade with Veracruz. From Shorter's PORT DAUPHIN:
 "Chinese porcelain reached the New World predominantly via the trans-Pacific Manila galleon route to Acapulco, then across Spanish Mexico through Puebla to Veracruz, where goods were loaded back onto ships for the voyage to Spain..."

 "The most likely source [of Chinese porcelain] is Veracruz, which was visited at least 11 times by French colonists from Mobile during the first decade of the 18th century. In 1711, however, Spanish officials confiscated French merchandise arriving at Veracruz and effectively closed that important trade connection to Louisiana. Conveniently, this date coincides with the relocation of Mobile to its present site down river and with the building of the stockade on Dauphin Island."

For over 200 years, Europeans sailing toward the mouth of Mississippi River generally followed the northern coast of Cuba until they reached the west end at Cape San Antonio where they set course for Dauphin Island.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

September 14, 1712: A monopoly for commerce in Louisiana was given to Crozat and the only geographic place name in the entire contract is DAUPHIN ISLAND. Consideration was given to moving all fortifications to Dauphin Island due to its excellent anchorage which was then in present-day Pelican Bay. This harbor was 31 to 35 feet deep and Pelican Pass between Pelican Island and Dauphin Island was 21 feet deep.


The Oregon Question: Or, A Statement of the British Claims to the Oregon ...

By Thomas Falconer, 1845

"The first notice of the western boundary of Louisiana, of any authority, is in the grant made, September 17, 1712, by Louis XIV to Crozat. This grant empowered him 'to carry on exclusively the trade in all our territories by us possessed and bounded by New Mexico, and by those of the English in Carolina; all the establishments, ports, harbours, rivers, and especially the port and harbour of DAUPHIN ISLAND, formerly called Massacre Island ; the River St Louis, formerly called the Mississippi, from the sea-shore to the Illinois ; together with the River St Philip, formerly called the Missouri River, and the St Jerome, formerly called the Wabash (the Ohio), with all the countries, territories, lakes inland, and the rivers emptying themselves directly or indirectly into that part of the river St. Louis. All the said territories, countries, streams, and islands, we will to be and remain comprised under the name of  'The Government of Louisiana,' which shall be dependent on the general government of New France, and remain subordinate to it; and we will, moreover, that all the territories which we possess on this side of the Illinois be united, as far as need be, to the general government of New France, and form a part thereof, reserving to ourselves to increase, if we think proper, the extent of the government of the said country of Louisiana.' "

"This document defined with tolerable precision the province of Louisiana. It was partly bounded on the west by New Mexico ; it did not extend beyond the Rocky Mountains, for the rivers emptying themselves into the Mississippi have their sources on the east side of these mountains, and it was to reach the Illinois to the north. It was also declared that the government should be dependent on the general government of New France — that was, subject to the superior authority of the Governor of Canada."


The entire basin of the Mississippi and its tributaries, and much of the coast region of the Gulf of Mexico which were subsequently known as the Territory of Louisiana, were originally claimed by La Salle in 1682 for France by virtue of discovery and occupation. The area claimed on the Gulf extended west and south to the mouth of the 'Rio de las Palmas,' which was probably the stream now known as the Rio Grande. In 1712, France made a grant to Antoine de Crozat of the exclusive right to the trade of this region. Because this grant gives the limits of the vast region as they were understood by France, a part of it is here quoted: 'We have by these presents signed with our hand, authorized, and do authorize the said Sieur Crozat to carry on exclusively the trade in all the territories by us possessed, and bounded by New Mexico and by those of the English in Carolina, all the establishments, ports, harbors, rivers, and especially the port and harbor of DAUPHIN ISLAND, formerly called Massacre Island, the river St. Louis, formerly called the Mississippi, from the seashore to the Illinois, together with the river St. Philip, formerly called the Missouries River, and the St. Jerome formerly called the Wabash [the Ohio], with all the countries, territories, lakes in the land, and the rivers emptying directly or indirectly into that part of the river St. Louis. All the said territories, countries, rivers, streams, and islands we will to be and remain comprised under the name of the government of Louisiana, which shall be dependent on the General Government of New France and remain subordinate to it, and we will, moreover, that all the territories which we possess on this side of the Illinois be united, as far as need be, to the General Government of New France and form a part thereof, reserving to ourself, nevertheless, to increase, if we judge proper, the extent of the government of the said country of Louisiana.'
 This document indicates that France regarded Louisiana as comprising the drainage basin of the Mississippi at least as far north as the mouth of the Illinois and those branches of the Mississippi that enter it be low this point, including the Missouri, but excluding land in the Southwest claimed by Spain. It is, more over, certain that the area now comprised in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho was not included. Crozat surrendered this grant in 1717."


Baron Marc de Villiers.
A History of the Foundation of New Orleans (1717-1722).

LATITUDE must be allowed in the use of the term foundation, when speaking of New Orleans. According to the interpretation given, the date may be made to vary by six years, or even much more.
Since time immemorial, the present site of Louisiana’s capital had been a camping-ground for Indians going from the Mississippi to the mouth of the Mobile River. As soon as the French had settled on Massacre Island, that site became the customary landing-place for travellers on the Father of Waters. Wherefore the history of New Orleans might be said to date from the winter of 1715-1716, when Crozat demanded that a post be founded where the city now stands; or even from 1702, in which year M. de Remonville proposed the creation of an establishment “at the Mississippi Portage.”
And yet, a lapse of fifteen years, which might be almost qualified as proto-historic, put a check upon the Colony’s development. Then Bienville revived Remonville’s project. The Marine Board at last harkened to reason, and, in concert with the Company of the West, appointed, on the 1st of October, 1717, a cashier in New Orleans.
Land was not broken, however, until the end of March, 1718. Even then, work progressed slowly, owing to the hostility of settlers along the coast.

Dauphin Island's importance in the history of Illinois.

The pioneer history of Illinois [prospectus] : containing the discovery in 1673, and the history of the country to the year 1818, when the state government was organized", 1852

 "Crozat established a trading company in Illinois. About this time, a considerable commerce was carried on between Illinois and the French in the South. We read of fifteen thousand deerskins, in one year, being sent from Illinois to Dauphin Island. Also flour and buffalo meat were sent to the South. Illinois in the year 1712 commenced assuming the character of a civilized and permanent-settled country. The villages of Kaskaskia and Cahokia were fast changing their Indian character for that of civilized communities. The clergy and the traders, who first located in the country, had with them associated other families and citizens that cultivated the soil and improved the country."
"Eso es LA CASA DEL SENOR TIBURON!" Got the greatest "ALMOST HAD A VIRAL YOUTUBE VIDEO" story. Sunday before last, the folks in this picture were fishing near this part of the beach. On Sunday afternoon, May 2, there were WAAAY mo' Latinos in this group. Probably at least 13 or 14 in the group. The guy in the hat hooked a big shark, about 4 or 5 feet long. When the shark got into the surf, it really started cutting up and I wanted to get some pictures but I didn't want to get my shoes wet so I hesitated. That's when I missed my video. Right in the middle of this struggle, the line broke and SENOR TIBURON fell backwards off the sandbar, went underwater, both feet went straight up in the air and both his orange Crocs went flying. IT WAS THE FUNNIEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE! The "victim" and a smaller group showed back up this past Sunday and I had to get a picture.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The historic origins of modern Tuscaloosa began prior to 1816, however, THE LEGAL ORIGIN of Tuscaloosa's story began 200 years ago this coming, October 4, when the signing of the TREATY OF THE CHOCTAW INDIAN TRADING HOUSE (located somewhere underneath the Sumter County side of the present-day Interstate 20/59 bridge) on October 4, 1816, EXTINGUISHED ALL INDIAN TITLE to all the land now within the boundaries of Tuscaloosa County.
In commemoration of this important bicentennial anniversary, I have reprinted my article first published in Old Tuscaloosa Magazine,
FRONTIER TUSCALOOSA- "Gettin' By On What We Had!"
When we review the progress of most endeavors, we usually find that the first years are always the toughest. So it was with Tuscaloosa. The story of the modern city of Tuscaloosa begins in 1816 when Indian title to this land was completely extinguished by the Treaty of the Choctaw Indian Trading House signed on October 4, 1816 at Strother Gaines' trading post on Factory Creek in Sumter County (Any archaeological remains of this old trading post were probably destroyed during the construction of the Interstate 20-59 bridge that crosses the Tombigbee.)
All of this good land for growing cotton lay vacant and enterprising heads of households from the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia poured into West Alabama to prospect for the most fertile land from which to make their fortunes. For five years, from 1816 until 1821, progress in this remote back country was nil and the rowdy frontier town that haphazardly rose on top of River Hill faced continuous problems produced by a lack of land ownership and adequate transportation.

Every person who settled in Tuscaloosa was a "squatter" and many factors complicated the land situation, making it impossible for anyone to own land within the town's boundaries. Before any public land in West Alabama was offered for sale, the land that contains Tuscaloosa's original city had been reserved from entry. By an act of Congress which formed Alabama Territory ( called "Mobile Territory" in the original legislation) on March 3, 1817, all of the land that is now north of 15th Street between Queen City Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard was reserved for a town site. The earliest settlers in Tuscaloosa could not buy the land they lived on until it was surveyed. Even if they had the money to pay cash, our earliest pioneers could not obtain titles for the land they claimed. The town's survey did not occur until the spring of 1821. In the absence of property lines and titles, the frontier town with a population of between 600 and 800 sprang up in a climate free of almost any governmental authority.
William R. Smith, in his REMINISCENCES... , describes the rustic settlement of his childhood:
"...the place presented nothing as a village but a rude cluster of log huts, heterogeneously arranged, with little regard with regularity as to streets. My own very dim recollections open here in 1821. Even then there was scarcely a plank or brick in the village. It was full of shrubby little oak and pine saplings, and literally swarming with the native Indians. Here the red men resorted to trade and to drink, and here they came to exhibit their skill at their favorite sport of ball playing."
This form of field hockey appears to have been the predecessor of the Crimson Tide's present proud Saturday afternoon football tradition. An early Greene County newspaper includes this advertisement:
By a special appointment made by a party at the Choctaws
A grand DANCE and BALL-PLAY,
will take place on Saturday next, in the vicinity of this place, on which occasion
all choice players
will attend on that day!
The Captain of the party makes the following requests,which it is hoped, will be observed by the citizens and those who may attend, not to give gratuitously, or sell, to any of the Players or Indians of the nation, who may accompany him,
In their old age, many of Alabama's earliest settlers fondly recalled these spectacular athletic contests. General Thomas Woodward described the excitement of a Creek ball play in 1825:
"The old man(the Chief) then turned to his people, and said to them,... that every man must do his best-show himself a man, and should one get hurt he must retire without complaining, and by no means show anything like ill humor. The speech ended, about two hundred stripped to the buff, paired themselves off and went at it. It was a ball play sure enough, and I would travel further to see such a show that I would to see any other performed by man, and willingly pay high for it, at that!"

With such a large and idle illiterate population of American men passing through town on exploratory trips to the newly opened wilderness, Tuscaloosa was the frequent destination of professional gamblers. In a letter to his wife, Clarissa, William Ely expresses his disgust at Tuscaloosa's favorite vices:
"...they disipate their time and money and would their morals if they had any, without enjoyment, in lounging about taverns, stores, tipling and gambling houses, or making and attending horse races, cockfights, called chicken fights,shooting at a mark, hunting or fighting.
Notwithstanding such are their habits, I think them a very avaricious people. Money is their god and cotton is the idol of their devotions."

To say the least, Mr. Ely did not have a taste for frontier living. A successful businessman, this 53-year old Connecticut native was in Alabama because he had devoted his life to charity and philanthropy. Indian title in West Alabama had been extinguished and Ely came here to locate and sell public lands donated by Congress to the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. From its formation in 1815 until 1819, the asylum was supported by charity but in 1819, the U.S. government gave its support to this institution, the first of its type in our nation.
In 1819, Congress gave the institution an entire township, thirty-six square miles of public land. Ely came to Alabama because land was about to go on the market and he was authorized to buy thirty-six square miles of his choice in Alabama and then sell it to the highest bidder. Despite his highly critical letters about Tuscaloosa, he liked the area and considered it to be "a very healthy place." In fact he liked it so much that he bought four-and one-half square miles of land that spread out south of 15th Street and west of Martin Luther King Boulevard. In a letter to his wife dated "Tuscaloosa, 2nd June, 1821," Ely bragged that, "The population now may be from 6 to 800 souls, not one of whom,except a few to whom I sold land since I came here, have any title to the land they live on."
Tuscaloosans did not appreciate being hemmed in by a Connecticut Yankee, no matter how noble his cause may have been. He wrote to his boss, James H. Wells, Treasurer for the asylum about his fears in Tuscaloosa:
"My health is not very good, tho I am able to attend to business, but the constant care and anxiety I experience, both on account of my business and the hazard to myself, and the property in my custody among such a barbarous people, many of whom are incensed against me, and the confinement I find it prudent to subscribe to, never going out here unarmed; pray severly on my health and spirits and tender me quite unhappy."
William Ely knew the muddy streets of Tuscaloosa were filled with men who would love to give his Yankee ass a royal butt kicking.
It was not as if Tuscaloosa was populated with the criminally insane. These squatters were making a living in the wilderness without the support of any governmental agency. They lived here in spite of the government's laws and the government didn't have the guts to send troops to the Falls of the Black Warrior to burn their cabins and send these men of the forest packing.
Thomas Perkins Abernathy gave a great description of these citizens, "...the people of early Alabama farmed their patches of cotton and corn, lived a hardy, rugged life close to nature, were friendly toward their neighbors and hospitable toward strangers, made an honest living for themselves and their families, attended to their own business most of the time and only rarely had leisure to celebrate."
After crossing the Warrior River at Tuscaloosa on a flatboat in 1821, William Gilmore Simms commented on the people living in the surrounding area, "Like the people in all counties who live in remote interior situations and see few strangers who can teach anything, these people had a hundred questions to ask and as many remarks to make upon the answers. They were a hardy, frank, plain-spoken, unequivocal set who would share their hoecake and bacon, or take a fling or dash of fisticuffs with you according to the several positions of friend or foe which you might think proper to take. Among all the people of this soil good humor is almost the only rule which will enable the stranger to get along safely."
One leisure activity that lured our rustic predecessors was the barbeque. The folks who attended these congregations were greeted by neat rows of liquor bottles each handsomely adorned with a paper label which named the political candidate who furnished the rum and whiskey.

These fellows loved to horse around and they weren't blood thirsty, but they loved to get drunk and fight. William Ely, the cultured businessman from Hartford, Connecticut, did not appreciate Tuscaloosa's fondness for this "hardy form of sport":
"The highest and lowest classes in society, the one considering themselves above, and the other below the influence of public opinion, are much addicted to excessive drinking. And to have a reputation of being a brave, daring character, with property, whether with or without talents, learning or any other requisites for an office, will enable a candidate more surely to command the votes of the electors than all other requisite qualifications without it. And I am told that one of the representatives from this town actually fought himself into the legislature last year."
The center of the frontier town of Tuscaloosa is debatable but this author believes it was right across the street from where I now type this essay on the north side of the 2600 and 2700 blocks of University Boulevard. The late Matt Clinton states, "The first burial ground in what is now Tuscaloosa was the hillside at the northern end of 27th Avenue near 4th Street. Close to that spot were built the first Baptist and Methodist churches. The cemetery was north of the churches. It was destroyed when the cut of the L&N Railroad was made."
Simms says that, "The town was little more than hewn out of the woods. Piles of brick and timber crowded the main [street], indeed the only street in the place, and denoted the rawness and poverty of the region in all things which could please the eye and minister to the taste of the traveler. But it had other resources in my sight. The very incompleteness and rude want of finish indicated the fermenting character of life."
In his biographical information on Captain James H. Dearing, Mr. Clinton wrote:
"He [Dearing] came to Tuscaloosa on an exploratory trip during the first year of the town's existence, 1816. He stayed in a little 'shanty of a hotel' kept by Joshua Halbert [this hotel was located near the site of the old water tower, on the southwest corner at the intersection of 4th Street and 27th Avenue]."
William Ely describes the tavern where he stayed as Lewens Hotel and he states that this log structure was located across the street from a log cabin used as a Methodist Church. This was June of 1821, so possibly Halbert's establishment was being managed by Charles Lewin who was mentioned as the Tuscaloosa tavern keeper in 1842.
Ely describes Tuscaloosa as a "...town which contains twenty stores and little groceries or hucksters shops..." Written records on Tuscaloosa from between 1816 and 1821 are scant so William Ely's fifteen letters from Alabama are important documents. Acquired by the University of Alabama before 1950, these documents are a tangible witness to Tuscaloosa's earliest days. To sit in the Ganrud Reading Room at Special Collections and to hold and to read a fabulously detailed letter penned in one of Tuscaloosa's log taverns in 1821 is a profoundly moving experience.
When reading Ely, one main thing needs to be kept in mind. William Ely was accustomed to the finer things in life and he was miserable in Frontier Tuscaloosa. He complained to his wife that he was indeed "a stranger in a strange land," and was sick of his journey from the very beginning. A year before his letter from Lewen's Hotel, he wrote this on April 20, 1820:
"I am weary with traveling over mountains, thro' swamps and mud and living in the middle of piles of logs with no other windows than the large spaces between them (there not being a pane of glass to 5000 people in the country), of living on hog and corn with a few racoon, oh , how I long to return to a civilized and moral world." However, one year later, in 1821, Ely did discover panes of glass in some Tuscaloosa cabins and wrote that, "I have traveled about 240 miles south of the Tennessee River and except at this place [Tuscaloosa] have not seen a pane of glass in any house and I do not think there are as many panes of glass, as houses, in this place...They all live in dirty, small sod and mud cabins, or in those of a more mean construction, and are generally almost destitute of all the comforts and conveniences of life. Bacon, corn bread, or greasy hot half baked biscuits, about as often without, as with vegetables, with water, buttermilk and sour milk, constitute, with tea and coffee, for those that buy them, their general diet..."
Mr. Ely's inspection of his tavern's kitchen convinced him that Tuscaloosa did not meet New England's public health standards. He complained to his wife:
"The kitchen!! Oh the kitchen!!!! The filthiest place you can conceive of being occupied for cooking, is small, but contains two beds, in which and on the floor, from six to ten negroes of both sexes and various ages all unmarried sleep promiscuously."
Ely says that "The Methodist house is across the street from where I live- about three weeks since, under the pulpit, which is a coarse square box raised about two feet from the floor, a great old sow introduced to the light six or seven fine pigs. Whether the floor was even swept after it before the next meeting I could not tell as I could not discover that any dirt was missing and two or three times since when the people have assembled there the old sow with her pigs placed herself at the door and claimed and disputed for the right of possession and a person was obliged to go out several times and beat her away from the door."
Tuscaloosa's pioneer women did not escape Ely's poison pen: "I am told the females, ladies I should have said, have almost no taste or inclination for reading, mental accomplishments not being sought after by the other sex, are neglected by the females and their whole attention is directed to tricking off their persons in the best manner for catching a man to take care of, and support them, their courtships if they deserve the name, are generally very short, and on the part of the female at an early age, and there is generally very little of either sentiment or prudence in the connection between the sexes."
Ely was highly amused at the married ladies attempt at "high society." He wrote,"A coach with two or three servants, driving up, with three or four ladies, dressed in their crepes, cambricks, silks, laces, leghorns, lace veils, white or coloured kids, to one of these cabins, the ladies jumping out into the mud and clamboring, perhaps, over a dirty rail fence, and walking, sometimes over shoes in mud, to get to it, and then stooping to enter the door (as few of them are high enough to permit a man to enter without stooping), is a perfect burlesque on show and parade, on good sense and propriety."
In the summer of 1821, Ely left Tuscaloosa and never returned. During that summer, frontier Tuscaloosa and its shabby cabins and eight-hundred squatters came to an end. The Cotton Plant became the first steamboat to ever dock at Tuscaloosa. With Colonel John McKee opening a federal land office in town, men without capital were at the mercy of the men with the money. Many of the squatters moved into the back country. Abernathy describes them:
"Men of this class, being improvident by nature, did not come to seek wealth but merely to gain a subsistence or to enjoy the freedom of the forest. They built their simple cabins and planted their crops of corn between trees which they killed by girdling. Their greatest immediate problem was to live until the first crop was made, and here there was much difficulty."

Four years later, in December of 1825, Tuscaloosa was made the capital of Alabama and the little town at the Falls of the Black Warrior began to reap the fruits of its destiny.
The frontier and its people had vanished.
That rugged way of life would never return.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Thursday, May 05, 2016

As I ponder the "challenges" facing our society, I am reminded of the story of Chief    , a Black Warrior River Creek Indian chief who traded with the U.S. store in St. Stephens U.S. Factory Store just before the outbreak of the War of 1812. When the chief came down river in 1813 to haggle over his yearly bill, he negotiated while withholding a terrible secret. The old chief understood what the future held far more accurately than his white traders who held his debts. Oba knew that the many of the greatest chiefs of the Creek Nation had already made "fight to the death" alliance/pact with the fanatical Red Sticks who followed an extremely apocalyptic religion promoted by the Shawnee of the Great Lakes. With the promise of British support, Old chief may have really believed that the genocide of St. Stephens was on a near horizon so he was counting on the Red Stick genocide of the whites of THE MAN in St. Stephens would wipe the slate clean. Here's how I described the situation in a story I wrote two decades ago.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Wanna thank my Facebook friends for all their wonderful best birthday wishes on my 66th last Friday. As I begin my 67th tour around the Sun, I'm so grateful to two people. Even though they are both deceased, I wanna do just what so many of my Facebook friends often do and give a SHOUT OUT TO THE DEAD. Thank you so much KATE AND EARL for being my parents! I really can't thank you both enough but as a token of my gratitude, I have republished a story I wrote that includes both of you as characters. It has been published in both OLD TUSCALOOSA magazine and PANAMA CITY LIVING magazine. http://robertoreg.blogspot.com