The tale of how Blakeley came to be settled
May 30, 2019
Let’s take a little history trip, it is not far. A drive along the river roads of the northern part of Baldwin County will reveal many sites that mark points of our regional history. Just north of Spanish Fort is one of our many interesting historic sites at the old town of Blakeley.
Prehistoric Indians were the first inhabitants in the oak and pine covered forests along this riverfront area. Huge mounds of oyster shells can still be found near the banks of the river. In the mounds have been discovered many ancient artifacts, some only old trash. But, there are also skeletons. This leads historians to suggest that these were also for a time ceremonial areas dating to almost 4,000 years ago.
European exploration began in our region with the Spanish around 1540, but it was 200 years later that the Blakeley area found its way into historical records with the arrival of the French under Jean Baptiste Bienville who founded Mobile, Alabama, in 1710.
It was at about this time, when looking for an overland route from their forts on the Mobile River to Florida, that explorers discovered an Indian trail beginning on the banks of the Alabama River. A landing was quickly setup there; it was called the Minette Outpost.
The area quickly grew as a retreat for the Appalachee Indians after they had been driven from their lands in West Florida by the English of Georgia. As plantations and settlements grew along the banks of the Alabama River, the town became a center point. It became heavily traveled with trappers, explorers, farmers, traders, fishermen and Indians until it fell from French hands into English control after a treaty of 1763. The English stayed only long enough to impose strict commercial regulations and cause the mass exodus of the Appalachee.
In 1780 the South Alabama region was seized from the British by the Spanish. This era is remembered for dominion by the military commanders at Mobile over the area, and whose greed through duties and tariffs infuriated American merchants and farmers of the interior who used this port. The occupation of the Spanish was also short lived. In 1813, through unfounded claims that the area was in the boundaries of America’s Louisiana Purchase, all coastal land west of the Perdido River was seized by American forces from Louisiana. At the end of the Creek Indian War the following year, almost all lands claimed by the Indians of Alabama were ceded to the U.S., securing the claim of America over the region.
A large plantation had operated for many years here on the eastern banks of the Alabama River. In 1812 it was sold to a Connecticut native named Josiah Blakeley. The new landowner soon moved to incorporate the nearby town at the site of the old Minette Outpost, and in 1814 the town became Blakeley. The town thrived as a deep water shipping port. In 1818 Blakeley became the seat of Baldwin County.
By 1820 the town boasted over 800 residents, and the port here was handling roughly two-thirds of the commerce of the region. Blakely was expected to soon outpace its sister town of Mobile, but in 1826 disaster struck the long, low, mostly flood plain area with an epidemic of yellow fever.
Two years later, a second outbreak of the fever forced a large population exodus to safer areas across the bay. Blakeley continued on as a much smaller river port, but held its influence as the county seat. This would lead to its end in the final days of the Civil War.
During the heat of the summer in 1865 as the Confederate Government was collapsing in Virginia, almost 3,500 Confederate soldiers attempted to hold overwhelming numbers of Union troops at Blakeley in the last major battle of the coastal south. After the war, surrounded by the remains of two and a half miles of shell riddled earthworks and entrenchments, little effort was given to rebuilding the town.
In 1870 the Baldwin County seat was moved and Blakeley soon after abandoned. Within a few years only the brick foundations of razed buildings were left.
In the twentieth century the large tract of land around the old town site was held by northern logging interests. Over the years, several efforts failed to designate the land as a historic area. But, in 1971 concerned citizens presented a written proposal to the County Commission. With this, by 1974 through efforts of the University of South Alabama, 3,800 acres were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A local non-profit foundation was then established in 1976 and this group succeeded in receiving the donation of $500,000 for purchase of the land in 1978. In 1981 approval was finally given to make Blakeley an Alabama State Park. Kept primarily as a war site, but with many of the old town’s building sites marked, the park today is an interesting place to visit.
The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society strives to preserve and present our local history as another interesting place to visit. We need the support and involvement of the community to succeed. Financial contributions are always helpful. Or, join the Society, our meetings are the third Tuesday of the month, 6pm. Or, make a visit to the museum and see for yourself, we are open Saturdays.