Back in 1806 when the Nation was still young and rapidly growing westward, a horse path for postal riders was opened through the Creek Nation stretching from middle Georgia to coastal Alabama. As the likelihood of another battle with Britain increased, the crucial need to quickly move troops to protect the American Gulf Coast was becoming more evident. In June 1810, Fort Stoddert's commanding officer Col. Richard Sparks was ordered by Secretary of War William Eustis to inspect and document these horse paths in order to mark a military road so that troops and supplies could be sent to defend the Gulf Coast. A second scouting party from Fort Stoddert was led by 1st Lt. John Roger Nelson Luckett. Luckett made the first significant survey for road construction in land that would later become Alabama. In addition to being charged to keep journal notes of each day of his trip, Luckett’s party carved Roman numerals into trees marking each mile along their journey. On July 11, 1811, Brigadier General Wade Hampton was directed to immediately begin construction of three wagon roads through the Creek Nation – the second of these roads became known as the Federal Road.1
With construction at last beginning in 1811, the “Old Federal Road,” was built from west to east connecting Fort Stoddert, Alabama, to Fort Wilkinson, Georgia. (Several spelling variations include Stoddert, Stoddart, etc.). Constructed in 1799, Fort Stoddert was named for the Acting Secretary of War Benjamin Stoddert. Fort Stoddert was located at the Mount Vernon Landing on the Mobile River in Mobile County east of current day Mount Vernon. Located at the Federal Road's other end, Fort Wilkinson was near Milledgeville on the Oconee River in Baldwin County, Georgia. At that time, Milledgeville was the capital of Georgia.
The Old Federal Road successfully connected Fort Stoddert to the Chattahoochee River. At that point, the Federal Road merged with the earlier postal riders’ horse path that linked Athens, Georgia, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Unlike the old horse path, the Federal Road went eastward making a connection with lands ripe for the recruitment of soldiers and obtaining supplies for the military. This path quickly became a major travel route for pioneers to the area once known as the Old Southwest.
From its start as a narrow horse path used to carry the mails, the Old Federal Road underwent great development and became a major military road connecting early American forts in the Creek Lands and the Mississippi Territory. Acting as the interstate highway of its day, when “Alabama Fever” raged through the Carolinas and Georgia, the Old Federal Road carried thousands of pioneers to the Old Southwest. As such, the Federal Road directly contributed to the dramatic increase in Alabama’s population between 1810 and 1820 – with Alabama’s population growing far faster than that of either Mississippi or Louisiana during this time. Alabama continued out-distancing both Mississippi and Louisiana in population growth through 1850.2
The Federal Road became a well traveled stagecoach route for those going through Alabama. In 1824, Adam Hodgson wrote Letters from North America Written During a Tour in the United States and Canada wherein he described his 1820 travel along the Federal Road from Chattahoochee to Mobile. Hodgson found adequate over-night lodgings and described one stop as having three beds in a log building with a clay floor. Noting the ground formed a “perpetual undulation,” Hodgson concluded that “[t]he road, which is called the Federal Road, though tolerable for horses, would with us be considered impossible for wheels.”3
Nearly two centuries later, the Federal Road remains visible. For those interested in making a modern day trip along this important historical path, the Monroe County Heritage Museums has marked the portion of the Federal Road through Monroe County with eight monuments along its route from Price’s Hotel near the Monroe and Butler County lines through MacDavid’s Hotel where the Federal Road continues through Escambia County, Alabama.
1 The Federal Road through Georgia, the Creek Nation, and Alabama, 1806 – 1836, p. 33-35.
2 Id. at p. 117.
3 The Very Worst Road, p. 8.
Further print reference sources:
The Federal Road through Georgia, the Creek Nation, and Alabama, 1806 – 1836. Henry DeLeon Southerland, Jr. and Jerry Elijah Brown. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: The University of Alabama Press, © 1989.
The Very Worst Road: Travellers’ Accounts of Crossing Alabama’s Old Creek Indian Territory, 1820-1847. Jeffrey C. Benton, compiler. Eufaula, Ala.: Historic Chattahoochee Commission, © 1998.
Other online sources:
History of Alabama and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period by Albert James Pickett. A well-researched standard history of early Alabama.
Monroe County Heritage Museums
History of the Battle of Burnt Creek in Monroe County, Alabama.
Alabama Research Links
From The University of Georgia Libraries, Hargrett Library Rare Map Collection
1814 Map of the Mississippi territory showing Ft. Stoddert1815 Map of the Country Belonging to the Cherokee and Creek Indians. Portions of the Old Federal Road from New Orleans to Cowetta and Milledgeville through the Lower Creek Nation is visible at the bottom of this map.
1813 “Map of the Southern Section of the United States including the Floridas and Bahama Islands showing the Seat of War in that Department.” Ft. Stoddert, Alabama, (north of Mobile) and Ft. Wilkinson (south of Milledgeville) are visible.
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