The Old Federal Road

As the 1700s drew to a close, there was no real land route connecting "Washington City" and the rest of the east coast with New Orleans.  Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road could get you to Nashville, but that was the end of the line.  In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson sent units of the U.S. Army to develop the Natchez Trace into a road he wanted to call the "Columbian Highway".  The Trace allowed mail delivery and an established route for extremely adventurous souls, but it was long and treacherous.  Jefferson obtained permission from the Creek Nation to build a "horse path" through their territory in 1805, and he saw that as an opportunity to build another road.

Map of the Old Federal Road (courtesy of the University of Alabama)

Several attempts were made to blaze and survey the horse path, and on November 30, 1811 two groups from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Regiment met in what is now southern Montgomery County, completing the Old Federal Road.  The next six months saw nearly 4,000 "immigrants" travel the Road looking for new land and opportunities.  The Red Stick religious movement was already underway in the Creek Nation, and when that movement turned to violence the Road became a war path.  General Andrew Jackson ended the Creek War at the Battle of Horsheshoe Bend, and the subsequent Treaty of Fort Jackson on August 9, 1814 restarted the big land rush.  The next five years of rapid influx and population rise would come to be known as "Alabama Fever".

The next photo shows the marker that was placed near the location of the spot where the trailblazers met and the Road was completed in 1811.  The reverse side is dedicated to nearby Manac's Tavern, but that will be the subject of our next post.  You can read the text of the marker below in the photo or in the subsequent quote.

The Federal Road historical marker, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

The Federal Road

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase acquired 828,000 sq. mi. for the U.S., doubling its size. The Federal Road was built to provide a shorter route from Washington to New Orleans and the new territory. The Treaty of 1805 with the Creeks authorized traversing their lands. Entering Alabama at Ft. Mitchell near Columbus, GA, it came through Mt. Meigs, to Pintlala, Ft. Deposit, Burnt Corn, Ft. Stoddert, then Mobile. The 1814 Treaty of Ft. Jackson made much fertile Creek land available to grow cotton; this lure, “Alabama Fever”, drew many thousands of settlers to central Alabama. In 1860, spans were still in use, but the Road was gone.
— Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Historical Preservation and Promotion Foundation, Alabama Historical Association

Intersection of Cloverfield Road and Federal Road, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

There's a much older marker about two miles west, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1932.  I've included photos of that marker and its surroundings next.

D.A.R. Federal Road historical marker, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

Intersection of Federal Road and U.S. 31 in Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

My goal in this post was to cover the basic concept of the Old Federal Road.  If you're interested in further reading, there's some great stuff at this website maintained by Auburn University-Montgomery, or if you're really adventurous you can dig into the original report that led to creation of that website.  My next post (or two) will focus on some of the specific locations in the Montgomery area that played a big part in the existence of the Road.