Early History to Statehood

Agriculture was practiced by groups such as the Creeks and Cherokee in the east, and the Choctaws and Chickasaws in the west when Spanish explorers arrived. Cabeza de Vaca (and possibly Pánfilo de Narvaez) visited Alabama in 1528, and Hernando De Soto spent some time in the region in 1540. European settlement was begun, however, not by the Spanish but by the French in the Mobile area in 1702. The French and British contended for the furs gathered by Native Americans. In 1763 the region passed to the British, who were victorious over France and Spain in the French and Indian Wars.

At the close of the American Revolution, Great Britain ceded (1783) to the United States all lands east of the Mississippi except the Floridas (see West Florida Controversy). The Territory of Mississippi, which included parts of present-day Alabama, was set up in 1798, but the land was still largely a wilderness with a considerable fur trade, centered at Saint Stephens, and with only the beginnings of cotton cultivation.

Both the fur trade and cotton production were interrupted during the War of 1812, when part of the Creek Confederacy began attacking under William Weatherford. Andrew Jackson defeated a group of Native Americans at Horseshoe Bend on Mar. 27, 1814. That victory, coupled with the British demand for cotton, ushered in a period of heavy settlement. New settlers poured into the Alabama region, especially from Georgia and Tennessee. The wealthy newcomers settled in the fertile bottomlands and established large plantations based on slave labor, which helped to produce cotton for the markets of Southern ports. Poorer newcomers took over less fertile uplands, where they eked out a living. The population grew to such an extent that the Territory of Alabama, taking Saint Stephens as its capital, was set up in 1817 with William W. Bibb as governor; two years later it became a state.

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