Epes, a stronghold never attacked

Plan of Fort Tombecbé in 1737

The construction of Fort Tombecbé, located near the modern-day town of Epes, in Sumter County, was completed in 1737. It was one of four major forts built by the French in the early 18th century in what is now the State of Alabama.

Like Fort Toulouse, Fort Tombecbé was erected to protect the interests of France in America against the westward expansion of the British colonies into Colonial French Louisiana. The fort also served as a trading post, solidifying New France’s relations with the Choctaw nation, who were the most powerful allies of the French in the region. After a period of deep sleep, Fort Tombecbé has been the subject of numerous archaeological excavations by West Alabama University starting in 1980.

A very good natural defence

Photo Kent, Jane & Squirt

Historical accounts suggest that a large Choctaw village existed near the fort, and that French and Canadian soldiers and merchants cultivated farm lands outside the fortifications. Bordered to the east along the Tombecbé River by a steep cliff of almost 82 feet (25 meters) high and to the south by a deep gorge, the location of the fort had a strong natural defence. On the north and west sides, a palisade of more than 30 feet (nine meters) high protected the settlement. Fort Tombecbé has never been attacked. In 1763 following the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France, the fort was ceded to the British and took the name of Fort York.

Photo John Stanton

Mainly because of isolation, garrison at Fort Tombecbé was a difficult task for the Marine troops. That explains why the soldiers were transferred every year. Supply came by boat from Dauphin Island and Mobile. Shipments were often late arriving, creating shortages of flour, clothing and merchandise to meet the demand of Native Americans. In addition, the Choctaw residents regularly complained that the French did not have enough goods. This shortage alone made bartering with the French less competitive vis-à-vis the nearby British traders who were well supplied.

France’s ability to retain its Louisiana colony in America depended largely on its alliances with native tribes. At Fort Tombecbé, a fraternity with the entire Choctaw nation was essential for the protection of France’s holdings, as well as for the food and commodities necessary for daily life. History books and journals indicate that Choctaw women contributed greatly to the daily household duties of the fort, such as cooking and washing uniforms, for more than a quarter of a century.