Fort Dearborn

Governor Claiborne’s main effort, during his administration, was exerted to place the Natchez district in a condition of military preparedness in case of war with France or Spain, the relations of those countries with the United States being such that some fortuitous circumstance was at any time likely to precipitate hostilities. He was anxious also, at the time when it was reported that Gen. Victor and 10,000 French soldiers were on their way to New Orleans, to occupy that city with his Natchez militia. But before that, as a military center, for the storing of arms and ammunition, for the militia as well as for the United States army, and for wholesome effect upon the Indians, he urged upon the general government the erection of a blockhouse and barracks in the central part of the district. In April, 1802, he was informed that President Jefferson favored the suggestion, and would order a detachment of troops to occupy such a position as might be desired. The governor replied that he would arrange at once for the building of a small blockhouse for temporary use about 400 yards from his house and about the same distance from the town of Washington. In July, he reported that a lieutenant and 36 men from Fort Adams, were stationed near Washington. The site for a blockhouse was selected on the land of Joseph Calvit, who proposed to give enough for the purpose. But as the project ripened, the governor decided to create a larger military reservation, and bought from Mr. Calvit, early in 1803, at $15 per acre, 43 acres on a beautiful high ground, abundantly supplied with timber and spring water. By March 1 the work of building was begun according to plans furnished by the secretary of war, Henry Dearborn, afterward a general in the War of 1812, and in his honor the name Fort Dearborn was given.

In August, 1807, Gov. Williams asked Col. Jacob Kingsbury, in command at Fort Adams, to station a detachment at Fort Dearborn, because there were strong grounds to suspect an attempt at insurrection by the blacks at Washington and vicinity. Kingsbury sent a guard under the command of Lieut. John Bowie. In March, 1808, he asked Kingsbury to put a permanent garrison at Fort Dearborn, because it was a desirable location, because a garrison there would be in the public interest, and because the works must go to ruin in a few years if not occupied. When the army at New Orleans, stricken with fever, was ordered to the town of Washington in 1809, Fort Dearborn came into greater prominence than ever. Gen. Wade Hampton was then in command, with his headquarters there, and Maj. Zebulon Pike was ordered there with all the infantry. Wilkinson returned to command of the Mississippi military district after he had been acquitted by the court martial, and made his headquarters at Baton Rouge or New Orleans. The military at Cantonment Washington were discussing the court martial of Col. Gushing at Baton Rouge in December, 1811, when Col. Simonds received orders (Dec. 20) to move to that place, to receive further orders. A hundred men were sent to Natchez to prepare transports.

Afterward Cantonment Washington was the scene of organization of the Mississippi regiment, in 1812, under Col. F. L. Claiborne, and thence they marched to Baton Rouge. Here also, other commands of militia were organized for the Creek war, in 1813 and 1814, and the prisoners captured at New Orleans by Jackson were here for a few weeks under guard in 1815.

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Source: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, by Dunbar Rowland.

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