“Guest” Blog post by George
History has always been considered important to my family; it gives context to who we are, and insight to our future. If I had a time machine I would travel back to see each family generation as they were. Since that (currently) isn’t possible, living history is the next best thing. Fort Toulouse recently had their “French and Indian War” re-enactment day. This time period is the middle of the 18th century, where the first global conflict is raging, the Seven Years’ War, as France’s and Britain’s long-term rivalry erupts into a fight for supremacy. Earlier in the century, from a family perspective, our ancestors arrived in New France and were stationed at a Fort near Montreal. Fort Toulouse was built like many forts at the time, at a strategic position overlooking a bend in the regions significant waterway. Despite being built in an area claimed by three major powers, no battle was ever fought at the fort. My guess is because European settlement was low in the area. The area didn’t see any real importance until General Jackson arrived in the area during the Creek War, and ordered Fort Jackson built on the site.
The Fort is certainly worth visiting for anyone in the Montgomery, Alabama area. The area remains undeveloped, aiding the step back into the past. A replica fort sits on the site, and was alive with activity as French soldiers and civilians went about their daily life. We arrived in time to see the local garrison form up, march, and raise the Kingdom of France flag used during the time of King Louis XV. The children spoke with locals as they spun wool, churned butter, baked bread, and went about their day. They met a Coureur des bois, a French-Canadian woodsmen who lived between the worlds of the French and the local natives. He was replacing the flint on his .69 caliber Charleville musket, a heavy weapon of ten pounds, in preparation for the upcoming skirmish with British forces. Outside the Fort we ventured into the nearby Indian outpost, and met the Muskogee (Creek) Indians. The children greeted using the Muskogee words the Coureur des bois had taught them. There they found children their age using rocks to crack open acorns, prime ingredient for the unique experience that is acorn bread. We visited the local merchants circled outside the fort, and spent some time with the Blacksmith as he quickly and expertly forged nails in rapid fashion. Next we journeyed westward to a field where a British unit was encamped. Guards patrolled the perimeter, and most of the unit was “enjoying” a lunch of dried meat and fruit, and slightly moldy bread. We spoke with a Royal Artilleryman about the unit’s one pound breech-loading swivel gun. He admitted it was cast with river boat defense in mind, and thus the limited bore, but felt it provided physiological advantage fighting land forces. We met a British Lieutenant that was dismayed at our small French flags, and expressed contempt for our ancestry. He extorted the virtues of the English way and was confident of victory in the upcoming battle.
We walked onward to the site of Fort Jackson, a sizeable frontier fort common to the Napoleonic era. Not much remains, raised dirt shows one bastion, and a small stone building. The rest of the fort site is defined by gentle earthen ditches and ridges. Further towards the river we saw a small, forested hill. Not much to look at now, but it was a ceremonial mound built by the Mississippian Indians over a thousand years ago. We made our way back to the field by the British encampment, where we watched the French and British forces engage in linear fashion. Unlike the skirmish earlier in the day, the Muskogee and Coureur des bois stayed in the relative safety of the trees since they didn’t have the advantage of surprise. The two lines of the regulars and militia approached and raked each other with musket volleys. Men dropped on both sides, but the British line eventually pushed the French off the field.
We left mid-afternoon, as the heat index was in the high eighties; Alabama has a humid subtropical climate. Despite the heat, I heartily recommend visiting the Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site, particularly during re-enactments which bring the Fort to life and offer a glimpse into the past.