1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mobile

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MOBILE, a city and the county-seat of Mobile county, Alabama, U.S.A., in the S.W. part of the state, at the mouth of Mobile River, and the head of Mobile Bay. Pop. (1890), 31,076; (1900), 38,469, of whom 17,045 were negroes and 2111 foreign-born (562 German, 492 Irish, 202 English); (1910 census), 51,521. It is served by the Southern, the Louisville & Nashville, the Mobile & Ohio, the Mobile, Jackson & Kansas City, and the Tombigbee Valley railways; by steamboat lines to ports in Europe, Cuba, Mexico, Central America (especially Panama) and South America; by a coast wise steamboat line to New York; and by river boats on a river system embracing nearly 2000 m. of navigable waters in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. The city occupies about 17 sq. m. of a sandy plain, which rises gradually from a low water front along the river to a range of hills a few miles to the westward. Among the principal buildings are the customs-house and post-office, the court-house, the Battle House (a hotel), the United States marine hospital, the city hospital, the Providence infirmary, Barton Academy (a part of the public school system), a Young Men’s Christian Association building, St Joseph’s church (Roman Catholic), the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Van Antwerp office building, and the southern market and armoury. Mobile is the see of a Roman Catholic bishopric and the headquarters of the United States district court for the southern district of Alabama. In the city are a public library; the departments of medicine and pharmacy of the university of Alabama; the academy of the Visitation, and the Immaculate Conception school, both for girls and both Roman Catholic; the Convent of Mercy; the Emerson normal and industrial school (for negroes), McGill Institute, the University military school, and the Mobile military institute; and 5 m. from Mobile, at Spring Hill, is Spring Hill college (Roman Catholic, founded in 1830, chartered 1836), controlled by the Jesuits. There is an annual celebration in Mobile on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), conducted by the Order of Myths and the Mystics, two social organizations, successors of the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, which was organized in 1830 and long conducted a somewhat similar celebration annually, on New Year's Eve.

Mobile is the only seaport of Alabama. In 1826 the channel from it to the Gulf, about 30 m. distant, had a minimum depth of only 5½ ft. through Choctaw Pass and 8 ft. through Dog River bar; but subsequently the channel has been greatly improved by the United States government, and in June 1908[1] vessels drawing 23 and 24 ft. could pass at low-water to the mouth of Chickasaw Creek above the city. While the channel was still shallow, and rapidly growing railway systems were serving other ports, much foreign commerce was lost to Mobile, the value of the exports falling off from $12,784,171 in 1877 to $3,258,605 in 1882, and the value of the imports, during the same period, from $648,404 to $396,573; but after the improvement of the channel the value of the exports increased from $8,140,502 in 1897 to $26,815,279 in 1908, and the value of the imports rose from $956,712 in 1897 to $4,242,169 in 1908. The foreign commerce consists largely in the export of cotton, lumber, timber, cotton-seed oil, coal, provisions and clothing, and in the import of tropical fruits (especially bananas), sisal grass, coffee, mahogany, asphalt, and manganese and sulphur ores. Vegetables, particularly beans and cabbage, and small fruits are grown extensively in the vicinity, and the city has an important domestic trade in market-garden produce, fish and oysters, hardware, dry goods, grain and groceries. In manufacturing Mobile was second (Birmingham being first) among the cities of the state in 1905, when the value of the factory product was $4,942,331, 41.8% more than in 1900. In 1905 it ranked first in the state in the value of fertilizer, lumber and timber, and in the construction of railway cars; and the manufacture of flour and grist mill products and machinery for lumber mills were important industries.

Founded by Pierre Lemoyne, Sieur d'Iberville (1661-1706), and his brother Jean Baptiste Lemoyne, Sieur de Bienville (1680-1768), in 1702, Mobile[2] was the capital of the French province of Louisiana until 1720, when the seat of government was transferred to Biloxi, in the present Mississippi. The original settlement was at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff, about 20 m. above the present site, to which it was removed in 1710 as a consequence of floods in 1709. By the Treaty of Paris (1763) Mobile, as a part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi, was ceded to Great Britain; but on the 14th of March 1780 it was captured by a Spanish force under Don Bernardo de Galvez (1755-1786), the governor at New Orleans, and Spain was confirmed in its possession by the treaty of 1783. Spanish civil institutions were introduced, and new names, such as Conception, St Emanuel and St Joseph, which still survive, were given to the streets. Yet neither the English nor the Spanish occupation made any substantial change in the tone of the place or the habits of its people, even the negroes holding to their French jargon. The alliance between Great Britain and Spain, at the outbreak of the war of 1812, gave Mobile strategic importance for the military operations in the south-west. Hence, on the 15th of April 1813 General James Wilkinson, acting on President James Madison's instructions, which were based on the claim that Mobile was a part of Louisiana sold by France to the United States in 1803, seized Mobile for the United States. In August 1814 General Andrew Jackson made Mobile his headquarters. He repaired Fort Bowyer, on Mobile Point at the mouth of the bay, and garrisoned it just in time for it to resist attack by the British on the 15th of September. On the 11th of February 1815, forty-two days after peace had been declared and thirty-four days after the battle of New Orleans, a British force captured Fort Bowyer; but it made no move against Mobile, and withdrew on the 1st of April. Now began the Americanization of Mobile, a tide of immigration from the up-country setting in and rapidly changing the character of the place, which had previously been distinctly French. A town charter had been granted by the territorial legislature of Mississippi on the 20th of January 1814, and an interesting feature under the town government was the “tariff for bakers,” which fixed the weight of loaves of bread in accordance with the price of flour. A city charter, dated the 17th of December 1819, was granted by the first state legislature of Alabama, and Mobile became the commercial emporium for Alabama and Mississippi, its cotton exports increasing from 7000 bales in 1818 to 100,000 in 1830 and 450,000 in 1840. In 1826 Barton Academy, still one of the landmarks of the city, was built; but it was not until 1852 that common schools were opened in Mobile county. Branches of the United States Bank and of the State bank were established at Mobile, and in the panic of 1837 the Bank of Mobile was one of the few banks in the United States that did not suspend payment. The Mobile & Ohio railroad, begun in 1848, provided ampler communication with the Mississippi valley, and Mobile's export of cotton rose to 1,000,000 bales in 1861.

During the Civil War Mobile was an important seaport of the Confederacy. A Federal blockade was begun as early as the 26th of May 1861, but trade with West Indian and European ports was continued by a line of swift vessels, which regularly escaped the blockading squadron. On the 5th of August 1864 Admiral David G. Farragut (q.v.), with a Federal fleet of four iron monitors, seven wooden sloops of war, and several gunboats, entered the channel by passing the Confederate defences, Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan occupying the site of old Fort Bowyer on Mobile Point, captured the formidable Confederate ironclad ram “Tennessee,” destroyed one gunboat and drove another aground. One of the Federal monitors, the “Tecumseh,” was destroyed by torpedoes. The Confederate fleet was commanded by Admiral Franklin Buchanan (1800-1874). Fort Gaines surrendered on the 7th, and Fort Morgan on the 23rd of the same month. In the spring of 1865 General E. R. S. Canby (1819-1873), with a Federal force of about 45,000, laid siege to Fort Blakely and Spanish Fort, on the east side of the bay (opposite the city), defended by General Randall L. Gibson (1832-1892) with 5000 men. After twenty-five days of resistance the Confederates evacuated the fortifications and then the city, the Federals entering on the 12th of April 1865. Losses from railway enterprises and the panic of 1873 resulted in the bankruptcy of the municipality in 1879, whereupon its charter was vacated, its property vested in certain trustees acting under the Chancery Court to adjust its debt, and a municipal government under the name of Port of Mobile succeeded the city of Mobile until 1887, when the latter was again chartered. On the 27th of September 1906 Mobile was swept by a hurricane, which destroyed property valued at $5,000,000 or more.

See Peter J. Hamilton, Colonial Mobile (Boston, 1897); and a

chapter by the same writer in L. P. Powell's Historic Towns of the

Southern States (New York, 1900).

  1. Between 1826 and 1908 the Federal government expended $5,148,179 on the improvement of the harbour. The bar channel also has been improved.
  2. The city was named from the Mobile or Maubila Indians, a Muskhogean tribe, now extinct, who occupied the neighbouring region and were Christianized by the French.