Fort Tombigbee (1735-1799) - A French trading post and supply depot completed in 1737 at the direction of Sieur de Bienville, governor of French Louisiana, on the Tombigbee River in Sumter County, Alabama. Ceded by the French to the British in the Treaty of Paris (1763) and renamed Fort York. Abandoned by the British in 1768. Reestablished by the Spanish in 1794 and renamed Fort Confederation. The Spanish withdrew under the Pinckney Treaty (1795) and the Americans occupied the post as Fort Tombigbee until it was abandoned in 1799. Variant spellings include Fort Tombecbe or Fort Tombecbee.
French Occupation (1735-1763)
Originally constructed between 1735 and 1737 as a French trading post and supply depot at the direction of Sieur de Bienville, Governor of French Louisiana. The post was located on an 80-foot high white chalk bluff along the Tombigbee River near present-day Epes in Sumter County, Alabama. Bienville used the post to establish a French presence and trade with local Choctaw Indian tribes and later to support his ill-fated campaign against the Chickasaw.
The original post resembled a three-pointed star with nine internal buildings surrounded by a red cedar stockade and a ditch. There was a single full bastion in the northwest corner and demi-bastions at the northwest and southeast corners. Entrance to the fort was through a gate in the north wall. The south and east access to the fort were protected by the steep chalk river bluff. On the river side of the fort, a ramp to the river below provided access to supply boats. The fort could support a 30 to 50 man garrison.
British Occupation (1763-1768)
The fort was ceded by the French to the British in the Treaty of Paris (1763) and renamed Fort York. Abandoned by the British in 1768.
Spanish Occupation (1794-1797)
In 1793 a confederation of 26 Choctaw Chiefs granted the Spanish permission to rebuild the deteriorated Fort and establish a trading post in what was then disputed territory. The post was reestablished in 1794 by the Spanish and renamed Fort Confederation. Spanish improvements included the addition of a log blockhouse in back of the central bastion, gun platforms on the flanking bastions and 55' wide earthworks surrounding the fort except for the river side. The expanded earthworks provided greater protection from cannon fire but also limited the interior trace of the post in a manner that resulted in a long but narrow interior that proved to be too small.
Readjustment of West Florida boundaries under the Pinckney Treaty (1795) placed the fort in America territory and the Spanish withdrew in 1797.
American Occupation (1797-1799)
American troops occupied the post as Fort Tombigbee from 1797 until it was abandoned in 1799.
A stone monument was placed by the Colonial Dames of America at the site in 1915 and the site has been the focus of archaeological excavations from the 1980s that continue to date. The site is now owned by the University of West Alabama and the Archaeological Conservancy. The site can only be viewed via special tour arranged with Black Belt Museum in Livingston.
A single structure on the fort site has been constructed in the manner of the original prison building. This building will be used as an education center and assembly point for tour groups. On the fort site, a well-done series of large interpretive panels and smaller location signs identify the points of interest and explain the different periods of occupation. A series of poles outline the perimeter of the original French fort and the remains of the later earthworks can be seen.
You cannot view the white chalk bluff directly below the fort site yet but you can view the bluffs just south of the site. The ramp to the river level is closed due to erosion and the dangers of climbing on the slippery path down the white chalk bluff. The site could be enhanced with an overlook that would allow a view of the chalk bluff and the boat landing.
Visited: 24 Jan 2018