Eligible for Designation as a
National Historic Landmark
Axis, Mobile County, Alabama
Drawing of fort from 1705 map of Old Mobile. Image
courtesy of the Center for Archaeological Studies at
the University of South Alabama.
The Old Mobile Site is
the archeological remains of the first permanent French colonial
settlement and the earliest European town on the Gulf Coast of
the United States. Also known by the name of the settlement's
fort, Fort Louis de la Louisiane, it was the first colonial capital
of French Louisiana. The site is situated on the Mobile River,
along what is now known as Twenty-Seven Mile Bluff.
In January 1702, after occupying Forts Maurepas
(1699) and de la Boulaye (1700), a permanent settlement was established
on the Mobile River. The town of Mobile and its fort served as
the capital of French Louisiana until mid-1711, when the settlement
was relocated to the present site of Mobile, Alabama. During this
period, under the leadership of Governor Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville's
brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the French consolidated
control over the north-central Gulf Coast and gained influence
among the Native Americans inhabiting the interior Southeast.
Old Mobile served as the economic and political center of the
colony. From here, traders routinely traveled to the neighboring
Mobilian, Apalachee, Tomeh, Chato, Tawasa, Chickasaw, and Choctaw
villages. Delegations from the more distant tribes attended annual
conferences and gift distributions at the fort. Canadian voyageurs
trading with the Mississippi Valley tribes returned here intermittently
to sell Native American slaves, furs, skins, and foodstuffs and
to purchase European-made trade goods.
The colonial settlement area, as identified
through historical and archeological studies, contained a wooden
fort, a church, and an administrative center. As depicted on
maps dating to 1702 and 1705, houses in the town were widely
dispersed on large lots set within a formal street grid. Fort
Louis was situated along the Mobile River, midway through the
town. At its peak, Old Mobile contained between 80 and 100 structures,
most of which were homes for the approximately 350 inhabitants.
investigations by the Center for Archaeological Studies
at the University of South Alabama, ongoing since 1989, have
identified the remains of private homes, a blacksmith shop,
taverns, and barracks.
Excavation of the remains of a structure at the Old
Mobile site. Photograph courtesy of the Center for
Archaeological Studies at the University of South Alabama.
The Old Mobile Site can be considered
a French colonial counterpart to the English settlement at Jamestown,
Virginia. At both settlements, colonists from different European
societies first adapted to a new environment and unfamiliar
Native American tribes. Historical and archeological research
at Old Mobile may reveal how the French-Native American colonial
frontier society developed and evolved during this initial period
of colonization, just as the two disciplines have contributed
to the understanding of English colonial society in the Chesapeake
The Old Mobile Site is considered nationally
significant as an outstanding example of French colonization
in the Gulf Coast area; for its association with significant
French colonial historical figures such as the Le Moyne family,
Charles Levasseur, Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis, and Henri
de Tonti; and for its demonstrated and potential archeological
significance. Its archeological significance is based on its
association with the beginnings of French colonization of the
Gulf Coast, and the high degree of integrity of the archeological
deposits, even with some disturbance at the eastern edge of
the site due to recent industrial operations.
The Old Mobile Site was listed on the National Register of Historic
Places on May 6, 1976. It was determined eligible for designation
as a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior
on January 3, 2001.