Fort Madison, situated on
the Mississippi River, is a
city in and one of the county seats of Lee County, Iowa, United States. The other county seat is Keokuk.
The population was 10,715 at the 2000 census
. Fort Madison and
Keokuk are principal cities of the Fort Madison–Keokuk Micropolitan Statistical
Area, which includes all of Lee County, Iowa, and Clark
Fort Madison was the location of the first U.S. military fort in
the upper Mississippi region; a replica of the fort stands along
the river. Sheaffer Pens
were developed and
made in Fort Madison for many years. The city is the
location of the Iowa State Penitentiary - the state's maximum security prison for men. Fort Madison is the
Mississippi river crossing and station
stop for Amtrak's Southwest Chief. Fort Madison has the
last remaining double swing-span bridge on the Mississippi River,
the Fort Madison
It has a top level for cars and a bottom
level for trains; it is also the world's largest.
The Fort Madison
Downtown Commercial Historic District
is a collection of
well-preserved historic storefronts from the late 19th
The Original Fort Madison (1808-1813)
The city of Fort Madison was established around the site of the
historic Fort Madison (1808-1813), which was the first permanent
U.S. military fortification on the Upper Mississippi. Fort Madison
was the site of Black Hawk
first battle against U.S. troops, the only real War of 1812
battle fought west of the
Mississippi. It was also the location of the first U.S. military
cemetery in the upper Midwest.
Fort Madison was one of three posts established by the U.S. Army
control over the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase
Madison was built to control trade and pacify Native Americans in
the Upper Mississippi River region. The other two posts were Fort Belle Fontaine near Saint Louis, which controlled the mouth of the
Missouri, and Fort
Osage, near what is now Kansas
City, which controlled trade with western Native American
Location of the fort
1804 treaty with the Sauk and affiliated tribes
led to the U.S. claim of control over western Illinois and parts of what is now Iowa.
establish control, the U.S. Army set out to construct a post near
the mouth of the Des Moines River
a major trading route into the interior of Iowa. Not finding suitable
land near the mouth of the Des Moines, the expedition also
considered land near Quashquame’s
Sauk and Meskwaki
village at the head of the Des Moines Rapids, a choke point of trade and transportation on the
Upper Mississippi below modern Montrose.
Again, this land was not considered
suitable for a fort. The Army settled on a location several miles
upstream at what is now the city of Fort Madison.
First called Fort Belleview, this post was soon deemed inadequate.
It was poorly situated at the base of a bluff next to a deep
ravine, areas from which enemies could safely fire at the fort.
to resentment among Indians, especially the Sauk; the 1804 treaty
was considered invalid by the Sauk, the fort threatened established
trading networks, and American trade goods were considered inferior
to French or British goods.
Plans of the Fort Madison, drawn 1810
by the trading post factor, John Johnson.
Black Hawk lamented over the new fort, and disparaged its
construction in his autobiography:
A number of people immediately went down to see what was going
on, myself among them.
On our arrival we found that they were building a fort.
The soldiers were busily engaged in cutting timber, and I
observed that they took their arms with them when they went to the
The whole party acted as they would do in an enemy's
The chiefs held a council with the officers, or head men of the
party, which I did not attend, but understood from them that the
war chief had said that they were building homes for a trader who
was coming there to live, and would sell us goods very cheap, and
that the soldiers were to remain to keep him company.
We were pleased at this information ad hoped that it was all
true, but we were not so credulous as to believe that all these
buildings were intended merely for the accommodation of a
Being distrustful of their intentions, we were anxious for them
to leave off building and go back down the river.
—Black Hawk, Autobiography
Attacks on Fort Madison
Almost from the beginning, the fort was attacked by Sauk and other
tribes. U.S. troops were harassed when they left the fort, and in
April 1809 an attempted storming of the fort was stopped only by
threat of cannon fire.
During its existence, several improvements were made to the fort,
including reinforcing the stockade and making it higher, extending
the fort to a nearby bluff to provide cover from below, and
constructing of additional blockhouses outside the stockade. These
improvements could not fully compensate for the poor location of
the fort, however, and it was again attacked in March 1812, and was
the focus of a coordinated siege in the following September. The
September siege was intense, and the fort was nearly overrun.
Significant damage resulted to fort-related buildings, and the
attack was only stopped when cannon fire destroyed a fortified
Indian position. Black Hawk participated in the siege, and claimed
to have personally shot the fort’s flag down.
Final siege and abandonment
As the War of 1812 expanded to the frontier, British-allied Sauk
and other tribes began a determined effort to push out the
Americans and reclaim control of the upper Mississippi. Beginning
in July 1813, attacks on troops outside the fort led to another
siege. Conditions were so dangerous that the bodies of soldiers
killed outside the fort could not be recovered, and troops could
not leave the fort to collect firewood. Outbuildings were
intentionally burned by the Army to prevent them from falling into
After weeks of paralyzing siege, the Army finally abandoned the
post, burning it as they evacuated. They retreated in the dark
through a trench to the river, where they escaped on boats. The
date of the abandonment is unknown, as much of the military
correspondence from this period of the war is missing, but it
probably happened in September. Black Hawk observed the ruins soon
after. “We started in canoes, and descended the Mississippi, until
we arrived near the place where Fort Madison had stood. It had been
abandoned and burned by the whites, and nothing remained but the
chimneys. We were pleased to see that the white people had retired
from the country.”
Fort ruins and archaeology
Early settlers built their homes near the ruins, and the town of
that grew up around them was named for the fort. A large monument
was erected in the early 20th century at the fort location.
Archaeological excavations in the parking lot of the Sheaffer Pen
Company factory in 1965 exposed
the central blockhouse of the fort, as well as the foundations of
officers’ quarters. The site was listed on the National Register of
in 1973. A replica fort was built several blocks
away; much of the labor was supplied by volunteer inmates at the
nearby Iowa State
Preservation and threats to the fort site
The fort site is now the subject of preservation efforts. After the
Sheaffer Pen factory closed in 2007, the site was sold to
developers. Arguing that Fort Madison is “Iowa’s most important
historical site”, preservationist want to convert the parking lot
into a memorial park dedicated to soldiers killed at the fort. So
far, no agreement has been reached for its preservation.
The City of Fort Madison is located at (40.628588, -91.339005)
According to the United
States Census Bureau
, the city has a total area of
12.9 square miles (33.5 km²), of which, 9.2 square
miles (23.9 km²) of it is land and 3.7 square miles
(9.7 km²) of it (28.88%) is water.
Fort Madison is famous for the Tri-State Rodeo and the Mexican
At the 2000 census
, there were 10,715
people, 4,617 households and 2,876 families residing in the city.
The population density
1,162.9 per square mile (449.2/km²). There were 5,106 housing units
at an average density of 554.2/sq mi (214.1/km²). The racial
makeup of the city was 92.64% White
, 2.67% African American
, 0.17% Pacific Islander
, 2.36% from
, and 1.28%
from two or more races. Hispanic
of any race were 5.44% of the
There were 4,617 households of which 28.2% had children under the
age of 18 living with them, 46.7% were married
living together, 11.8% had a female householder with no
husband present, and 37.7% were non-families. 33.2% of all
households were made up of individuals and 15.8% had someone living
alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size
was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.87.
Age distribution was 23.6% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24,
26.1% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 18.8% who were 65
years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100
females there were 90.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and
over, there were 86.3 males.
The median household income
was $34,318, and the median family income was $42,067. Males had a
median income of $32,530 versus $21,170 for females. The per capita income
for the city was
$18,124. About 9.8% of families and 12.2% of the population were
below the poverty line
, including 18.1%
of those under age 18 and 9.1% of those age 65 or over.
Madison has a campus of Southeastern
Community College .
There are also two elementary (Richardson,
Lincoln), one middle (Fort Madison Middle School) and one high
school (Fort Madison High School) in the Fort Madison Community
School District (public).
- Black Hawk (1882) Autobiography of
Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk. Edited by J. B.
Patterson. Continental Printing, St. Louis. Originally published
- Jackson, Donald (1958) "Old Fort Madison 1808–1813."
- Jackson, Donald (1960) "A Critic’s View of Old Fort Madison."
Iowa Journal of History and Politics
- Jackson, Donald (1966) "Old Fort Madison 1808–1813."
- Prucha, Francis P. (1964) A Guide to the Military Posts of
the United States 1789–1895. State Historical Society of
- Prucha, Francis P. (1969) The Sword of the Republic: The
United States Army on the Frontier 1783–1846. Macmillan, New
- McKusick, Marshall B. (1965) "Discovering an Ancient Iowa
Fort." Iowa Conservationist 24(1)
- McKusick, Marshall B. (1966) "Exploring Old Fort Madison and
Old Fort Atkinson." Iowan Magazine 15
- Van der Zee, Jacob (1913) "Old Fort Madison: Some Source
Materials." Iowa Journal of History and Politics
- Van der Zee, Jacob (1914) "Forts in the Iowa County." Iowa
Journal of History and Politics 12
- Van der Zee, Jacob (1918) "Old Fort Madison: Early Wars on the
Eastern Border of the Iowa Country." Iowa and War
7 1–40, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa