Municipal Projects

  • Gulf Oak Ridge Overlook (City of Orange Beach)

  • Wacissa Springs Restoration

  • Fort Mitchell Creek Indian Factory

  • City of Selma: Riverfront Park

Honey Bee Tees

Fort Mitchell Creek Indian Factory

In 2008, Wiregrass located and excavated portions of the Fort Mitchell Indian Factory or Trading Post (1RU512), immediately north of the 1813 Fort Mitchell (1RU102). Auburn University conducted extensive Phase III-level excavations at Fort Mitchell, but archaeological investigations involving the Creek Indian Factory at Fort Mitchell had not been conducted prior to the present study. Dr. John Cottier, Auburn University Department of Anthropology, was consulted regarding the possible location of the Indian Factory. Peter Brannon's (1959) Alabama Historical Quarterly article, and David Chase's (1974) archaeological report were helpful in helping us determine where to start looking. Mr. William Benton of the Russell County Historical Commission hired Wiregrass for this project and provided generous funding and knowledge of the area.

Indian Factory

Figure 1. Indian Factory location prior to clearing vegetation and debris.

Shovel testing and excavation units were conducted within the site once the area had been cleared of trees and other vegetation. Clearing was accomplished with chain saws and gas-powered blowers. Judgmental shovel test pits were placed 3 meters apart from one another along the perimeter of the surface brick scatter that was visible after cleaning off the mound. Once satisfied that this was the location of a structure, the large brick/dirt mound was cross-sectioned. This was accomplished by quartering the mound. Numerous trees (including a very large cedar tree) were mechanically removed from the mound. As a result, their stumps and the orientation of the mound dictated to us the most realistic location to cross-section the mound, which was the southwest corner.

Mound Section

Figure 2. Cross-section of mound.

An initial 1.5m x 3m (5' x 10') excavation unit (EU) A was excavated to quarter the mound. This unit extended from the center of the mound at its highest point in a southward direction to the point where the mound leveled off into the ground surface. One additional excavation unit (EU B) was placed north of EU A, and a third unit (EU C) was placed immediately east of EU B. Balks were left between excavation units A and B to offer additional soil profiles. One balk was later removed while the other remains due to deep tree roots.

Mound with Balk

Figure 3. Indian Factory fire box with EU balk left in place.

This archaeological investigation identified the location and general dimensions of the Creek Indian Factory at Fort Mitchell. A cross-section of the large brick/dirt mound revealed the presence of a firebox with intact bricks at the base, which provided very well defined dimensions and orientation. The firebox measures 5'6" x 4'3" and is oriented at 15/195 degrees. The north and east walls of the structure were identified based on linear soil stains at 132cm below datum (cmbd) and 165cmbd, thus revealing the footprint of the trading house. It measures approximately 21' x 21' and is most likely a single pen-style structure. It is situated such that the fireplace is centered on the west wall with a probable entrance on the south side. While the structure encompasses about 421 ft2, site 1RU512 measures 40 ft. by 40 ft. or 1600 ft2.

Archaeological evidence suggests that it was a single pen style structure. Single pen represent the earliest Alabama frontier structure type and average sizes range from 16-21' by 21'. Typical single pen structures had a fireplace centered on the wall to the left or right of the main entrance. In the case of the Indian Factory, the chimney was centered on the west (left) wall while the entrance would have almost certainly been to the south. According to the Alabama Historical Guide to Rural Houses of Alabama, a single gable and an exterior chimney were typical of this style (Wilson 1975). Also, side windows and sometimes front windows were present. Flat glass (probably window glass) was recovered throughout the site, suggesting that there were glass windows at the Indian Factory.

Indian Fire Box

Figure 4. Indian Factory fire box.

A front porch and rear frame sheds were often included during original construction of single pen houses or were added later. Archaeological evidence for additions was not present but letters of correspondence from the Superintendent of Indian Trade, Thomas McKenney, to the Fort Mitchell factor, Daniel Hughes, indicate that multiple buildings were present as part of the factory complex. It is unclear how many buildings were associated with the Factory, but correspondence between McKenney and Hughes clearly indicate that more than one structure was present. Excavations of the 1813 fort by Auburn University revealed numerous features that were associated with the Indian Factory (Cottier 2004). Among these features were two stone wall foundations that overlapped the north wall of the first fort (not far from the Factory). The foundations were made of local sandstone mixed with red clay and mud. It is, therefore, likely that the additional buildings referred in correspondence letters were located not immediately adjacent to the Factory but within the original first fort.

An intact portion of the firebox was located under the large dirt/brick mound that had, for years, been discussed concerning its association and context. The firebox itself measures 5'6" by 4'3" and is oriented at 15/195 degrees. Portions of the perimeter of the structure were identified based on dark, linear soil stains in the unit floor, as described in the above section. Soil stains measured from 18"-24" in width and represent the location where the logs functioning as seal plates would have rotted in place or, in the case of the north wall, where logs would have dropped off of the pier(s) and rotted.

Hearth Cross Section

Figure 5. Cross-section of Indian Factory fire box. All material was water-screened.

It is unclear what type of wood was used for the structure. No burned structural remains are present within the uncovered portions of the walls, although charred wood samples were collected from Features 1 and 3. The nearby 1813 Fort Mitchell was constructed of local pine, and it is reasonable to assume that the Indian Factory was, too. Interestingly, the Choctaw Trading House ledger indicates that several tree species were used in the construction of portions of its factory building. Wood used includes white oak, cypress, mulberry, and sassafras (Plaisance 1954). Old growth longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), however, would have been plentiful on the Fort Mitchell ridge whereas cypress, while present along the backwaters of the Chattahoochee River, would require a nearly 1-mile skid using mules. It is likely, however, that other wood was used for specific buildings needs of the Indian Factory.

Archaeological evidence reveals an artifact assemblage that confirms this structure as the Creek Indian Factory at Fort Mitchell. Perhaps the most compelling argument for this assertion revolves around artifacts recovered from the very well-preserved context of the firebox (Feature1). A cross-section of the firebox revealed the presence of artifacts that fit nicely with the time frame of the Indian Factory, 1816-1820. For example, a military artillery corps button recovered from level 3 (10-20cmbs) of the cross-section was issued during the years 1814-1821, which lines up perfectly with the Indian Factory occupation. Also, the presence of a copper percussion cap (TPQ: 1814-1816) confirms that this structure post-dates the first fort and the earliest manufacture dates are contemporary with the Indian Factory. Furthermore, there is an absence of artifacts that post-date the Indian Factory period. For example, whiteware ceramics (c. 1820-1900) are not present in Feature 1.

Indian Factory Perimeter

Figure 6. Excavations at 1RU512. View of the Indian Factory perimeter walls, as indicated by dark,
linear soil stains (see orange pin flags).

Although bricks were not in common use in frontier Alabama and Georgia, it is apparent that bricks were present at the Creek Indian Factory at Fort Mitchell. While it is documented that 8,000 bricks were delivered to Fort Mitchell for building materials for the second fort, no such records exist for previous activity. Nonetheless, it is likely that bricks were made locally to accommodate small-scale construction activities such as the Indian Factory, or perhaps they were acquired from other structures in the area. Interestingly, there are at least two other contemporary Indian Factories that were built of brick, or had brick components.

The Choctaw Trading House (1803-1822) was located at Fort St. Stephens in Southwest Alabama. In 1812, it was determined that the original building should be abandoned in favor of a "new brick building" which had been built the previous year, a few hundred yards from the old Fort. This was, according to Friar Aloysius Plaisance (1954), possibly the first brick building in Alabama.

Fort Mitchell Drawing

Prior to being moved to Fort Mitchell, the Georgia Factory was last located at Fort Hawkins, Georgia, from 1808-1816. Recent excavations of Fort Hawkins by Daniel Elliot of the LAMAR Institute have revealed an extensive network of bricks. Brick floors, walls, and a chimney with H-shaped brick firebox have all been identified as part of the Fort Hawkins complex. Mr. Elliott indicated, however, that archaeological evidence for the Indian Factory is absent but that the Factory could very well have contained brick as a building material (Elliott, personal communication).

The Fort Mitchell Creek Indian Factory served a unique and important role in the history of Alabama and the frontier United States. Built adjacent to the 1813 Fort Mitchell and the Federal Road, the Indian Factory was strategically located to assist the U.S. government in improving relations with the Creeks. Numerous important Creek leaders such as Little Prince, William McIntosh, and Timpoochee Barnard patronized the Indian Factory, thus giving it added significance. Wiregrass successfully located and identified specific aspects of the Indian Factory after many years of mystery concerning its actual location.