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[photo] Reconstruction of Fort Massac at Fort Massac State Park
Courtesy of Fort Massac State Park

In 1757, in order to protect their communication lines and supply routes to forts on the upper Ohio, the French ordered a party to scout the area adjacent to the mouth of the Tennessee River and to build a suitable fortification. Under the authority of Captain Charles Phillipe Aubry the French erected a fort and named it Fort Ascension. The fort was strengthened in 1759 and renamed Fort Massiac in honor of a minister of the French Marine. The French held the fort until 1765 when it was surrendered to the British under the terms of the treaty of 1763. While the British had plans to occupy the fort this was not carried out, and on June 28, 1778, George Rogers Clark, the older brother of William Clark, came with a command of 160 men, and landed at the mouth of Massac Creek a few hundred yards east of the fort. Clark and his men were on their way to capture the British garrison at Vincennes.

In 1794 President George Washington ordered General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to fortify and rebuild Fort Massiac. A detail of men under Captain Thomas Doyle arrived at Fort Massiac on June 12, 1794, and by October 20, 1794, they had erected a fort, which was named Massac, an anglicized version of Massiac. By 1797 Fort Massac became a major port of entry for settlers coming down the Ohio and entering the Illinois country. Fort Massac was placed under direct control of Alexander Hamilton in 1799. Plans to garrison 1,000 men at the fort as a response to a French threat were abandoned in favor of a new fort down river at Grand Chain. In 1802 a garrison was established under the command of Captain Daniel Bissell. In 1804, a detachment of troops from Fort Massac occupied New Madrid in present-day Missouri.

Fort Massac State Park presents a commanding view of the Ohio River; Kentucky is on the further shore
Courtesy of Fort Massac State Park

On July 2nd the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn wrote to Meriwether Lewis: "You will call on the Commanding Officers at Massac and Kaskaskais for such Non-commissioned Officers & privates as will be necessary to accompany you on your tour to the Westward," (Jackson 1962, 102). On November 11, 1803, Lewis and Clark arrived at Fort Massac. Lewis hoped to find eight soldiers who had volunteered for the Corps of Discovery at South West Point, Tennessee, but they were not present. Lewis hired a local woodsman named George Drouillard, the son of a French father and Shawnee mother, to find the soldiers and report with them near St. Louis at the east bank of the Mississippi for the expedition west. Only two volunteers from Fort Massac met Captain Lewis's standards, and became members of the expedition. On November 13th, the Corps of Discovery left Fort Massac.

In 1805 Aaron Burr came to Fort Massac for a meeting with General Wilkinson. It is believed that Burr tried unsuccessfully to enlist Wilkinson's participation in a scheme to establish a nation west of the Alleghenies. In 1811, the New Madrid earthquake caused severe damage at the fort, but the damage was repaired and the fort became headquarters for the 24th Infantry. The fort was evacuated in 1814 and its garrison was moved to St. Louis. Nearby settlers stripped the fort of its wood and bricks.

In 1903, the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased 24 acres surrounding the site and on November 5, 1908, it was officially dedicated as Illinois' first state park. The present site of the fort was excavated in 1939 by a team of archeologists directed by Paul Maynard under the sponsorship of the State of Illinois, Division of Parks and Memorials. World War II interrupted the work and at that time Maynard reconstructed the ditch. In the early 1970s a replica of an American fort at Fort Massac was reconstructed off the original site of the French and American forts. This replica, based on the 1794 American Fort, was brought down in the fall of 2002. A replica of an 1802 American fort is currently under construction, to be complete by August 2003. The original site, where all the forts were built, has the archeological outline of the original 1757 French Fort. Geographically, the Fort Massac Site overlooks the Ohio River and is situated on a rise of ground about 50 feet above the water level. The site commands a view of about three miles upstream and downstream.

Fort Massac Site is located at 1308 E. 5th Street, Metropolis, Illinois. Metropolis is on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, looking across to Kentucky, some miles down river from Paducah, Kentucky on the opposite bank. Take Exit 37 off I-24 through Metropolis. Follow Hwy. 45 through Metropolis and follow the signs to the fort. For more information visit Fort Massac State Park's website or call 618-524-4712.


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