Mobile was founded as the capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702 and remained
a part of New France for over 60
years. During 1720, when France warred with Spain,
Mobile was on the battlefront, so the capital moved west to
Biloxi. In 1763, Britain took control of the colony following their victory in the Seven Years
War. Following the American Revolutionary War,
Mobile did not become a part of the United States, as it was part of territory captured by Spain from Great
Britain in 1780.
first became a part of the United States in 1813, when it was
captured by American forces and added to the Mississippi Territory, then later
re-zoned into the Alabama Territory in August 1817. Finally on December
14, 1819, Mobile became part of the new 22nd state, Alabama, one of the
earlier states of the U.S.
Forty-one years later, Alabama
left the Union and joined the Confederate States of America
in 1861. It returned in 1865 after the American Civil War
.Mobile had spent
decades as French, then British, then Spanish, then American,
spanning 160 years, up to the Civil
Conquistadors: 1519 to 1559
explorers were sailing into the area of Mobile Bay as early as 1500, with the bay being marked on
early Spanish maps as the Bahía del Espíritu Santo (Bay of
the Holy Spirit).
The area was explored in more detail in
1516 by Diego de Miruelo and in 1519 by Alonso Álvarez de Pineda
Pánfilo de Narváez
traveled through what was likely the Mobile Bay area, encountering Native American who
fled and burned their towns at the approach of the
This response was a prelude to the journeys of
Hernando de Soto
than eleven years later.
Hernando de Soto explored the area of Mobile Bay and beyond in
1540, finding the area inhabited by a Muskhogean Native American
people. During this expedition, his forces destroyed the fortified
town of Mauvila
, also spelled Maubila
, from which
the name Mobile was later derived. The battle with Chief Tuscaloosa
and his warriors took
place somewhere north of the current site of Mobile. The next large
expedition was that of Tristán de Luna y Arellano,
in his unsuccessful attempt to establish a permanent colony for
Spain, nearby at Pensacola in 1559-1561.
French Louisiana: 1702 to 1763
Spain's presence in the area had been sporadic, the French, under
Pierre Le Moyne
d'Iberville from his base at Fort
Maurepas, established a settlement on the Mobile River in 1702. The settlement, then known as Fort
Louis de la Louisiane, was first
established at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff as the first capital of the
French colony of Louisiana.
It was founded
under the direction of d'Iberville by his brother, Jean-Baptiste Le
Moyne, Sieur de Bienville
, to establish control over France's
Louisiana claims with Bienville having been made governor of French
Louisiana in 1701. Mobile’s Roman
parish was established on 20 July 1703, by Jean-Baptiste
de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier
, Bishop of Quebec
parish was the first established on the Gulf Coast of the United
. The year 1704 saw the arrival of 23 women,
known to history as "cassette girls" to
the colony aboard the Pélican, along with yellow fever introduced to the ship in Havana.
Though most of the "cassette girls" recovered, a large number of
the existing colonists and the neighboring Native Americans died
from the illness. This early period also saw the arrival of the
first African slaves
aboard a French supply ship from Saint-Domingue
. The population of the colony
fluctuated over the next few years, growing to 279 persons by 1708
yet descending to 178 persons two years later due to disease.
additional outbreaks of disease and a series of floods caused
Bienville to order the town relocated several miles downriver to
its present location at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay in 1711.
Mobile and Fort Condé in 1725.
This site had previously been
settled five years prior by Charles
, Gilbert Dardenne, Pierre LeBouef and Claude Parant. A
new earth and palisade Fort Louis
was constructed at the
new site during this time. The colony was an economic loss, so in
1712, Antoine Crozat
administration of the colony by royal charter for 15 years,
pledging a share of profits to the King. The colony boasted a
population of 400 persons. In 1713 a new governor was appointed by
Crozat, Antoine Laumet de
La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, founder of Detroit.
He did not last long, due to allegations of
mismanagement and a lack of growth in the colony, and he was
recalled to France in 1716. Bienville again took the helm as
governor, serving the office for less than a year until the new
governor, Jean-Michel de
, arrived from France. Lepinay, however, did not last
long either, due to Crozat's relinquishing control of the colony in
1717 (after just 5 of the 15 years). The administration shifted to
and his Company of the Indies
Bienville found himself once again governor of Louisiana. In 1719,
France warred with Spain, and Mobile was on the battlefront, so
Bienville decided to move the capital to Old
, further west.
capital of Louisiana was
moved to Biloxi, (now in
Mississippi) in 1720, leaving Mobile relegated to the role of
military and trading outpost. In 1723 the
construction of a new brick fort with a stone foundation began and
it was renamed Fort
Condé in honor of Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon and
prince of Condé.
would maintain the role of major trade center with the Native
Americans throughout the French period, leading to the almost
universal use of Mobilian Jargon as
the simplified trade language with the Native Americans from
present-day Florida to Texas.
British West Florida: 1763 to 1780
Mobile became a part of the "14th
," West Florida
, and was 13 years under British rule when
joining the fight for American independence in 1776
, the American Revolutionary War
, the Treaty of Paris
had been signed,
ending the French and Indian
. The treaty ceded the Mobile area to Great Britain, and under British rule the colony flourished as
West Florida. The British renamed
Condé as Fort
Charlotte, after the English Queen, and re-energized the
Major exports included timber, naval stores, indigo,
hides, rice, pecans and cattle.
Spanish West Florida: 1780 to 1812
The Spanish captured Mobile during the American Revolutionary War
the Battle of Fort
, and retained Mobile by
the terms of the war-ending Treaty of Paris
. Mobile was then a part of the colony of
Spanish West Florida, for over 30
years, controlled from Pensacola until 1813 when it was captured by American
Republic of West Florida
The United States and Spain had held long, inconclusive
negotiations on the status of West Florida. In the meantime,
American settlers established a foothold in the area and resisted
Spanish control. British settlers, who had remained, also
resented Spanish rule, leading to a rebellion in 1810 and the
establishment for 3 months of the so-called Republic of West Florida: on
September 23, 1810, after meetings beginning in June, rebels
overcame the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge, and unfurled the flag of the new republic, the
Bonnie Blue Flag.
Republic of West Florida claimed boundaries that included all
territory south of the 31st parallel, west of the Perdido River, and east of the Mississippi River, not including any
territory that had been part of the Louisiana Purchase.
retained control of the town of Mobile itself.
Mississippi Territory: 1813 to 1817
A map of Mobile in 1815.
Before the War of 1812
, the Spaniards in
Mobile allowed British merchants to sell arms and supplies to the
Indians to harass Americans who had begun to settle parts of
present-day Alabama. During the course of the war, General James
took a force of American troops from New Orleans to
capture Mobile. The Spanish capitulated in April of 1813 and the Stars
and Stripes of the United States was raised for the first time over the Mobile area
as it was added to the existing Mississippi Territory.
Alabama Territory: 1817 to 1819
years, in March 1817, the U.S. state of
Mississippi was formed, splitting the Mississippi Territory in half, and
leaving Mobile, for the next 2 years, as part of the new Alabama
Territory. In 1819, after two years
as a territory, the U.S. state of
Alabama was formed,
converting the Alabama
Territory into a full American state.
became a voting region of the United States in 1819.
Antebellum:1820 to 1860
A map of Mobile in 1838.
The cotton boom of the early 19th
brought an explosion of commerce to what had been a
sleepy frontier town. For almost the next half century, Mobile
enjoyed prosperity as the second largest international seaport on
the Gulf Coast, after New
Orleans. Progress was based upon cotton, shipped downriver by flatboat or steamboat from
cotton growing centers in Mississippi and Alabama.
A fire in
October 1827 destroyed most of the old city from the Mobile River to Saint Emanuel Street and from
Saint Francis to Government Street.
The city experienced another fire in 1839
that burned part of city between Conti and Government Street from
Royal to Saint Emanuel Street and also both sides of Dauphin to
Franklin Street. Despite these setbacks, Mobile was one of the four
busiest ports in the US by the 1850s
wealth created by this trade brought the city to a cultural high
point. Mobile became known throughout the country and the
In another note of differentiation between the somewhat
cosmopolitan port and the hinterlands of predominantly Protestant
Alabama, Mobile was declared a diocese
the Roman Catholic Church
this same period. What would become known as McGill-Toolen Catholic High
School was also established during this time.
1830, Bishop Michael
Portier founded Spring Hill College, one of the oldest Catholic schools in the
Control of the college was assumed by the Jesuit Order
In 1860, the Clotilde
, the last known ship to
arrive in the Americas with a cargo of slaves, was abandoned by its
captain near Mobile. A number of these slaves later formed their
own community on the banks of the Mobile River after the American Civil War, which became known as
The inhabitants of this community retained
customs and language well into
the 20th century
Civil War: 1861 to 1865
A map of Mobile Bay and surroundings
during the American Civil War.
Mobile grew substantially in the period leading up to the Civil
War, when the Confederates
it. Union naval forces established a blockade
under the command of Admiral David
. The Confederates countered by constructing
blockade-runners: fast, shallow-draft, low-slung ships that could
either out-run or evade the blockaders, maintaining a trickle of
trade in and out of Mobile. Also, the Hunley
the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel in combat, was built
and tested in Mobile.
August, 1864 Farragut's ships fought their way past Fort
Gaines and Fort Morgan guarding the mouth of Mobile Bay and defeated a
small force of wooden Confederate gunboats and the ironclad
CSS Tennessee, in the famous Battle of Mobile Bay.
It is here
that Farragut is alleged to have uttered his famous "Damn the
torpedoes, full speed ahead" quote after the USS Tecumseh
hit a Confederate mine and
sank. The Tecumseh rests in Mobile Bay to this day. The city of
Mobile later surrendered to the Union army in order to avoid
destruction. Ironically, on May 25
, weeks after Jefferson
had dissolved the Confederacy, an ammunition depot
explosion, termed the great Mobile magazine explosion
some 300 people and destroyed a significant portion of the
Post war: 1866 to 1899
The aftermath of the war left Mobile with a spirit of governmental
and economic caution that would limit it for a large part of the
next century. The last quarter of the 19th century in Mobile was a
time of turmoil. The government was controlled by Republicans
instituted by Congress
1867. Many of these politicians instituted policies that caused the
embittered. In 1874, Democrats around the state used violence and
extreme measures to keep African
and non-Democratic voters from participating in the
November election. Election day in Mobile saw armed gangs roaming
the streets and mobs of people surrounding the polling places to
scare any non-Democrats away.
The decline of the city continued under the Democrats. By 1875 the
city was more than $5 million in debt and could not even pay the
interest on the loans. This debt had been accruing since the 1830s.
A game of political maneuvering continued to be played between
rival factions as the city bordered on bankruptcy. In 1879 the city
charter was repealed by the state legislature, abolishing the "City
of Mobile" and replacing it with three city commissioners appointed
by the Alabama governor. The commissioners were charged with
governing the new "Port of Mobile" and reducing the city's debt.
The debt problem would not be settled until the last note was paid
Early 20th century: 1900 to 1949
The turn of the century saw Mobile's population increase from
around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city
received $3 million in federal grants for harbor improvements,
which drastically deepened the shipping channels in the harbor.
During and after World War I
manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile's economic health
with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most
important. In 1902 the city government passed Mobile's first
ordinance, one that
segregated the city streetcars. Mobile's African American
population responded to
this with a two-month boycott which was ultimately unsuccessful.
After this, Mobile's de facto
would increasingly be replaced with legislated segregation.
World War II led to a massive military effort
causing a considerable increase in Mobile's population, largely due
to the huge influx of workers coming into Mobile to work in the
shipyards and at the Brookley Army Air Field.
The Mobile skyline in 1909.
Between 1940 and 1943, over 89,000 people
moved into Mobile to work for war effort industries. Mobile was one
of eighteen U.S. cities producing Liberty
at its Alabama Drydock and
to support the war effort by producing
ships faster than the Axis
could sink them. Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation
of Waterman Steamship
, focused on building freighters
, Fletcher class destroyers
. The US Army bought
the municipal airport,Bates Field, and there developed the Brookley
Army Air Field, later to become the Brookley Air Force Base.
Brookley quickly became the area's largest employer. In the
mid-1960s the Air Force Base was closed due to a Department of
Defense "base realignment" and the airport returned to the city.
is an aerospace and industrial site known as the Brookley
During the war, the phenomenal influx of workers created a huge
housing shortage. Citizens rented out extra rooms and also
converted porches, garages and even chicken coops into rentals.
Several federal housing projects were quickly built to house the
new maritime and Air Force workers. Several of these are still to
be found, notably the community of Birdville. "Thomas James Place"
was the proper name for Birdville which was built just outside of
Brookley Air Force base to provide relief for the housing shortage.
The development consisted of a series of interwoven curving
concrete streets named after various birds, hence the nickname
Late 20th century: 1950 to 1999
, Mobile's square mileage had tripled to
accommodate growth. Brookley's closure in the mid-1960s
sent economic tremors through the area which took many years to
Also, in the post-war period, the pulp and paper
industry became a major industry in Mobile. Scott Paper Company
and International Paper
combined to become
one of the area's largest workforces. This period saw the end of
racial segregation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964
had been more tolerant and racially accommodating than many other
cities, with the
police force and one local college becoming integrated in the 1950s
and the voluntary desegregation of buses and lunchcounters by 1963,
but schools and many other institutions had remained segregated.
three African American students brought a case against the Mobile
County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High
School, and the court ordered that they be admitted for
the 1964 school year. In 1964, the University
of South Alabama opened as an integrated college, planned as such
from its inception in 1956.
Mobile's city government was
changed to a mayor and city-council form in 1975, after the
previous form, having three city commissioners elected at-large,
was ruled to substantially dilute the African American vote in the
case Bolden v. City of Mobile
continued to be an
issue in Mobile into the 1980s. The most notable instance was the
1981 random lynching
of Michael Donald
members on Herndon Avenue. The perpetrators of the
lynching were both convicted of murder, with one receiving life in
prison and the other being executed in 1997. This, and the
subsequent civil lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center
behalf of Michael Donald's mother, effectively put the Ku Klux Klan
out of business in Alabama. A fatal police shooting of an African
American man in 1992 sparked violence and unrest in Mobile, leading
to the formation of a Human Relations Commission by the city in
, which struck
the area on September 12, 1979, caused severe damage in Mobile.
Many residents were without power, water, telephone and basic
necessities for weeks. Fortunately, only one death was recorded.
The economic boom that followed Frederic, in addition to the
economic growth of the 1980s, vastly improved Mobile's overall
economic picture. Beginning in the late 1980s, the city council and
, Mike Dow, began an effort termed
the "String of Pearls Initiative" to make Mobile into a
competitive, urban city. This effort would see the building of
numerous new facilities and projects around the city and the
restoration of hundreds of other historic downtown buildings and
homes. This period also saw a 50% reduction in the rate of violent
crime and a concerted effort by city and county leaders to attract
new business ventures to the area. The effort continues into the
present with new city government leadership. Shipbuilding began to
make a major comeback in Mobile with the founding in 1999 of
USA, a joint venture of Australian shipbuilder,
Austal, and Bender
21st century: 2000 to present
The Mobile skyline in 2007.
Mobile received moderate damage from Hurricane Ivan
on 16 September 2004. Mobile
received damage again from Hurricane
on 29 August 2005. A storm surge of damaged eastern
sections of Mobile and caused extensive flooding in downtown.
Mobilians elected their first African American mayor, Sam Jones
, in September 2005. Another landmark was
added to Mobile's skyline in 2007 with the completion of the
House Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the state.
January 2008, the city hired EDSA, an urban
firm, to create a new comprehensive master plan for the
downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. The planning area is
bordered on the east by the Mobile River, to the south by
Interstate 10 and Duval Street, to the west by Houston Street and
to the north by Three Mile Creek and the neighborhoods north of
Martin Luther King Avenue.