History of Alabama - European Colonization

European Colonization

The Spanish were the first Europeans to enter Alabama, claiming land for their Crown. They named the region La Florida.

Although a member of Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition of 1528 may have entered southern Alabama, the first fully documented visit was by explorer Hernando de Soto. He made an arduous expedition along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers in 1539.

The English also laid claims to the region north of the Gulf of Mexico. Charles II of England included the territory of modern Alabama in the Province of Carolina, with land granted to certain of his favorites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders from Carolina frequented the valley of the Alabama River as early as 1687.

The French also colonized the region. In 1702 they founded a settlement on the Mobile River, constructing Fort Louis there. For the next nine years this was the French seat of government of New France, or Louisiane (Louisiana). In 1711, Fort Louis was abandoned to floods. Settlers rebuilt a fort on higher ground known as Fort Conde. This was the start of present-day Mobile, the first permanent European settlement in Alabama.

The French and the English contested the region, each attempting to forge strong alliances with Indian tribes. To strengthen their position, defend their Indian allies, and draw other tribes to them, the French established the military posts of Fort Toulouse, near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and Fort Tombecbe on the Tombigbee River.

The English Crown's grant of Georgia to Oglethorpe and his associates in 1732 included a portion of what is now northern Alabama. In 1739, Oglethorpe visited the Creek Indians west of the Chattahoochee River and made a treaty with them.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War, terminated the French occupation of Alabama. Great Britain came into undisputed control of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi Rivers. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel then became a part of West Florida. The portion north of this line became a part of the "Illinois Country", set apart by royal proclamation for use by Indians. In 1767, the province of West Florida was extended northward to 32°28'N latitude.

A few years later, during the American Revolutionary War, the British ceded this region to Spain. By the Treaty of Versailles, September 3, 1783, Great Britain ceded West Florida to Spain. By the Treaty of Paris (1783), signed the same day, Britain ceded to the newly established United States all of this province north of the 31°N, thus laying the foundation for a long controversy.

By the Treaty of Madrid, in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States the lands east of the Mississippi between 31°N and 32°28'N. Three years later, in 1798, Congress organized this district as the Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 miles wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina, but in 1787 that state ceded this claim to the federal government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi River, and did not surrender its claim until 1802. Two years later, the boundaries of Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession.

In 1812, Congress added the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, General James Wilkinson occupied the Mobile District with a military force. The Spanish did not resist. Thus the whole area of the present state of Alabama was then under the jurisdiction of the United States. Native Americans still occupied most of the land, with some formal ownership recognized by treaty.

In 1817, the Mississippi Territory was divided. The western portion became the state of Mississippi, and the eastern portion became the Alabama Territory, with St. Stephens, on the Tombigbee River, as the temporary seat of government.

Conflict between the Indians of Alabama and American settlers increased rapidly in the early 19th century. The great Shawnee chief Tecumseh visited the region in 1811, seeking to forge an Indian alliance of resistance from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Britain encouraged Tecumseh's resistance movement. Several tribes were divided in opinion.

The Creek tribe fell to civil war. Violence between Creeks and Americans escalated, culminating in the Fort Mims massacre. Full-scale war between the United States and the "Red Stick" Creeks began, known as the Creek War. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee Nation, and other Creek factions remained neutral to or allied with the United States, some serving with American troops. Volunteer militias from Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee marched into Alabama, fighting the Red Sticks.

Later, federal troops became the main fighting force for the United States. General Andrew Jackson was the commander of the American forces during the Creek War and later against the British in the War of 1812. His leadership and military success during the wars made him a national hero. The Treaty of Fort Jackson (August 9, 1814) ended the Creek War. By the terms of the treaty the Creeks, Red Sticks and neutrals alike, ceded about one-half of the present state of Alabama to the United States. Later cessions by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw in 1816 left only about a quarter of Alabama to the Indians.

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