The French in the Spanish Borderlands, Part I

mobile-alabama fountainIt is easy to believe that, other than Louisiana, the American South was primarily  influenced by Great Britain prior to the American Revolution. After all, the five Southern colonies of the original thirteen that formed the new nation were established by Great Britain, but the history of the states lining the Gulf of Mexico is more complicated than that of the east coast states. Control of these southern most territories passed among France, Spain, and Great Britain for much of the 18th century until finally passing to the United States via seizure, treaty, and purchase during the period 1803-1813. In a previous post, we looked at Spanish Florida. Today, we will move farther west to one of the South’s most beautiful cities, Mobile, Alabama. Mobile doesn’t get the recognition of her more celebrated sisters, but in my opinion, its charm is just as great as that of New Orleans and Charleston, South Carolina with which it shares similarities of history, architecture, and culture.

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Mobile in 1732

Founded in 1702 during the European race to establish colonial dominance in the New World, Mobile was initially established on Twenty-seven Mile Bluff on the Mobile River by French-Canadian brothers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, who was appointed French Louisiana’s first colonial governor in 1701. Mobile’s purpose was to secure French claims to Louisiana, which in area far exceeded the present state by the same name. Mobile was French Louisiana’s first capital and the first French Catholic parish on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Disease brought in by settlers who had stopped over in Havana and a series of floods destroyed both life and property, causing Bienville in 1711 to order the settlement relocated farther south to the city’s present location at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay. By 1712, the city’s population reached approximately 400 persons.

FortCondeIn 1720, French Louisiana’s capital was moved farther along the coast to the site of present Biloxi, Mississippi, leaving Mobile to serve as a regional military post and trading center. Construction on a brick and stone fort began in 1723 and was named Fort Condè in honor of Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon and prince of Condé. France’s defaeat in the Seven Years War and the resulting 1763 Treaty of Paris brought Mobile under British control. The treaty also ceded areas farther west to Spain. Fort Condè was renamed Fort Charlotte in honor of British King George III’s queen.

By 1766, the city’s population had grown to around 860, many of whom were loyal British subjects who did not share their northern and eastern neighbors’ desire for independence. As a result, Mobile became a refuge for American loyalists fleeing revolting colonies during the American Revolution. Fearing British designs on her territory to the west, Spain attacked and gained control of Mobile and the surrounding area while Great Britain struggled with its rebellious colonies. Mobile’s military fort changed names once again, becoming Fortaleza Carlota. Spain incorporated Mobile into Spanish West Florida where it remained until the region was seized by United States General James Wilkinson during the War of 1812.

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Green is the area of the Louisiana Purchase. Lighter orange is Spanish held territory. Blue is US claimed territory.

Mobile and much of present Alabama were incorporated into the US Mississippi Territory in 1813, bringing to conclusion a century of the region’s being passed among European colonial powers. When Mississippi was granted statehood in 1817, the area passed into the Alabama Territory. Alabama gained statehood in 1819 and then proceeded to join its neighbors in seceding from the Union in 1861, becoming part of the Confederacy. As previously stated, the history of the Gulf Coastal South is tortured and complicated.

Today, Mobile offers visitors a variety of attractions including, beaches with sugar white sand and aqua water, historic homes and buildings, the USS Alabama, and beautiful Bellingrath Gardens. The gallery below presents images of historic and present day Mobile.

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Fort Condè

Fort Conde sign

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Interior view of Fort Conde with downtown Mobile in the background.

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Government Street, 1900

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Medical College of Alabama at Mobile, 1900

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Bienville Park, 1900

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Bienville Park today.

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Dauphin Street

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Bragg- Mitchell House

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Koch-Mays House

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Bellingrath Gardens and House

USS AL

USS Alabama, World War II battleship

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