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When Alabama was a territory its capital was St. Stephens, in Washington county.  The convention that framed the constitution under which it was admitted into the Union was held in Huntsville, where the first legislature met in October 1819, and the first governor was inaugurated, Cahaba became the seat of government in 1820.  In 1825 the capital was removed to Tuscaloosa and in 1846 it was again removed, this time to Montgomery - [Age-Herald] (Hamilton Times, Marion County AL, April 9, 1891 - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney)

The State Capitol at Cahaba - 1820 - 1825

The Old State Capitol 1826 - 1847

Photo from: Memories of Old Cahaba by Anna M Gayle Fry 1908

Photo from: Alabama Supplement, by P. W. Hodges, Dothan, AL, 1918 - Published by The Macmillian Company 


                A recent statement in a Mobile paper to the effect that Cahaba was never the capital of Alabama shows how soon facts in the history of our own state are forgotten.  Although scarce three quarters of a century have elapsed since the territorial chrysalis became a full-grown state.  Its infancy seems to be almost as mythical to the present generation as that of the Aztecs.

                When Alabama was organized into a territory its Legislature met at St. Stephens and the two sessions of its Legislature were held at that little town in the wilderness.  This was in 1818, and by an act of Feb. 13 of that year, a committee was appropriated to examine and select a suitable site for a permanent capital, having regard to commercial and other advantages.  This commission was composed of C. C. Clay, Samuel Dale, James Titus, William L. Adams, and Samuel Taylor, and the same act authorized the governor to arrange for the purchase of such site as might be selected.

                In selecting Cahaba the commission doubtless had in view the accessibility of the place by steamboats, and it is probable, also, that they were influence by the greater population of South and Central Alabama, where the hardy pioneers were already seeking homes in large numbers.  At any rate the place selected was at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers, and by an act of November 21, 1818, the Governor was authorized to conclude arrangements with the Federal government for the transfer of the land, and was also empowered to lay off and sell lots, and to have temporary buildings constructed for the use of the new government.  The sum of two thousand dollars was appropriated to erect the buildings and to defray the expenses of removing the records, etc to Huntsville, which was designated as the seat of government ad in terim.

                Thus the first and second sessions of the Territorial Legislature were held at St. Stephens, in 1818.  It was at one of the sessions that the county of Cahaba was organized, composed of the territory which is now covered by parts of the counties of Hale, Bibb, and Chilton, but in 1820 the name was changed to Bibb, to honor the first governor.  When this legislature adjourned it was to meet at Huntsville on the fourth Monday in October 1819.  Meantime, the territory was admitted into the Union, and thus at Huntsville was held the first legislature of the state of Alabama.

                On the 30th of November 1819 a resolution was passed that the two Houses should adjourn on the 15th of December to meet at Cahaba on the first Monday in November 1820.  This was the second session.  In June 1821, a called session was held and the third regular session assembled on the first Monday in Nov. 1821.  In his message to that session Governor Bibb called attention to the fact that the buildings had not been finished and recommended an appropriation to provide the house with shutters and to fence in the lot so as to preserve the buildings and grounds from depredation.

                The seat of government being thus established, the legislature continued to meet annually and the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eight sessions were held at this place, the last in 1826, after which the capital was removed to Tuscaloosa.  While the seat of government remained here Cahaba enjoyed a brief period of prosperity, and became the center of fashion in the young state.  Perhaps no city or town in Alabama has seen more great and noble men among its law makers than did this little village in the wilds of the canebrake region, within hearing of ferocious animals and scarcely less ferocious Indians, whose stealthy footsteps threaded the neighboring thickets, and whose black eyes often gleamed with hate and wonder as they peeped through the leaves at the strange spectacle.

                Here came the Bibbs, Caines, Pickens, Winstons, Shortridsges, Moores, McVays, Clays, Martins, McClungs, Murphyus, Bagbys, Gayles, Fitzpatricks, Dales, Tyons, and many more whose names and deeds are part of the history of Alabama – names which were afterwards famous in the halls of Congress, in the gubernatorial chair, in the courts of foreign nations, and at last were prominent on the tented field, to lay down their lives amid the class of arms, and to seal with their blood their devotion to home and the rights of their States.  The years when Cahaba was the capital of a young state was favorable to the development of the highest type of American manhood.  Many of them were gentlemen of culture and refinement, with all the scholarly attainments of the olden time, full of courage and chivalry, fit types of the class of men who found nations and build states, and in every way fitted to start a young giant in her career to prosperity and greatness.

                And here too assembled the glorious women who were in every way fitted to be the wives and mothers of heroes and statesmen.  From the towns and villages, from the fertile plantations came the wives and daughters of the lawmakers with their friends and visitors, and we are told of many a ball and assemblage of wealth and beauty and talent, where joy and festivity and happiness reigned supreme, and the “grave and revered seigniors” threw off for time the cares of state and the vexations of making laws and joined in the relaxing scenes of the hour.

                But, alas, even while in the zenith of her greatness “Ichabod” was being traced on the lintels of the hospitable homes of Cahaba, and the shadow of coming departure was hovering over the little city.  On the 28th of Nov. 1825, Mr. Martin of Limestone, “obtained leave to introduce a bill to be entitled an act for the removal and permanently locate the seat of government for the Sate of Alabama, etc.  The governor (Israel Pickens) had alluded to the subject of removal in his annual message and on the 2nd of December, on motion of Mr. Mardis, that portion of the message was called up and by a vote of 37 to 25 it was “Resolved, that it is expedient to remove the seat of government of the State of Alabama, from the town of Cahaba………….. But the fact had gone forth and in January 1826 an act was passed by which Tuscaloosa “is hereby designated as the permanent seat of government.”………

                This was the beginning of the end.  The town remained the county seat of Dallas county till 1866, I believe, but is main claim to importance had departed, and it gradually faded away.  With its decadence and death this article has nothing to do, as I only desired to revive interest in the old town as the former capitol of the state, for the benefit of the younger generation of Alabamians.

                By the way an authority on Indian names thinks that Cahaba is a contraction of Cahabadiah, which is an English form of the Muskokee word Kahapataye, meaning “cane spreading out.”  I think this is right. It is a Creek Indian word and refers to the extensive cane-brakes in the region of country traversed by the Creek and River – [J. D. BARRON, Montgomery Advertiser] Source: Hamilton Free Press, Marion County AL, March 29, 1894 - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney



On Monday, December 14, Alabama as a state was 98 years of age.  Proper attention was given the event in the schools and educational institutions of the several counties. The sate became a part of the Union December 14, 1819.  Prior to that time it was a part of the Mississippi territory, becoming the territory of Alabama in 1817 with William Wyatt Bibb of the state of Georgia, the first governor. The territorial capital was St. Stephens, now gone from the map, and the first state capital Huntsville, which become so with the admission of the state. Governor Bibb became the governor of the new state, and lands having been given by the general government at Cahaba, in Dallas County the capital in 1820 was moved to that place.  Like St. Stephens, Cahaba has disappeared from the map, the site now being the sites of great plantations.  In 1826 the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa, and in 1847 the new capital at Montgomery built by the people of the city, was reported ready for the following legislature. (Marion County Republican, Marion County, AL, Dec 23, 1908 - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney)

ST. STEPHENS - The First Capital of Alabama
     The present St. Stephens, the county seat of Washington county, is not the site of the original capital of Alabama.  Nearly a half century ago the told town was totally abandoned and the present town was established upon the range of the Tombigbee from the west. Through the courtesy of the circuit Clerk I was enabled to visit old St. Stephens.  Approaching the old town from the west one first meets with the ruins of once handsome houses.  The giant shade trees stand in regular order about the premises of the inhabitants of a century ago.
      The regularity of these majestic oaks show that they must have been planted by the first white inhabitants of Alabama.  Lofty marble columns overgrown with wild ivy and over-topped by the fullest trees here and there mark the resting places of the dead of the long ago.  Pulling away the clinging ivy I read the inscriptions of a number of these monuments but no familiar name was found.  About the premises still grew amid the wild and tangles growth the crape myrtle and fig. Coming to the town proper one can easily trace the regular thoroughfares. The streets were regularly laid out were wide and shady and the sidewalks were paved with stone.  The foundations of many residences were of the well quarried stone from the native hills and remain intact. There is show n the cellar of the principal hotel of St. Stephens, laid in solid stone masonry, but in the midst of which now tower the largest trees.  About the center of the old capital city stand the ruins of the state bank.  Its stony vaults indicate the rude protection which was given the treasury in the days when iron safes were unknown.  The greatest interest centers in the foundation stones of the old capitol building.  It was a diminutive structure, not exceeding 30 by 40 feet in its dimensions. The relics prevailing about it show the care and pride of the founders of the commonwealth in the erection of the primitive capital. The mingle vine and riotous weed now fill its old foundations, while a giant oak towers near its entrance.  One would image that he could almost see the fathers of a century ago seated underneath this immense tree discussing the fate of the coming commonwealth.
      That which occasional the greatest surplus was the size of old St. Stephens.  To ride about the ruins and along its regular streets, the visitor is impressed hat there must have been at one time a population of at least 5,000. The limits of the town terminate within a half mile of the Tombigbee River.  From the outskirts of St. Stephens proper down the river's bank are the foundation ruins of craggling homes. Upon the highest points in the neighborhood of the extinct capital, are the remains of Fort St. Stephens, which was erected in the early days of the century.  It commands a magnificent view especially of Clark county, which lies just across the river. The old earth works remain in regular order. They would no doubt have been leveled to the earth but for the great trees which have gown upon them, and which have held them together.  The gateway to the fort are clearly marked.  Beneath a cliff which overhangs the turbid waters of the Tombigbee fully one hundred feet, and difficult of approach, is found the magizine.
      I was greatly interested by the statement made relative to the town of Rodney which was adjacent to St. Stephens.  History gives no account of Rodney, and yet the old town records show that there was such a town existing upon the suburbs of St. Stephens.
 There is a tradition that the original inhabitants of St. Stephens utterly refused to allow a preacher to lift up his voice within its precincts.  A plain Baptist preacher once entered the town and proposed to preach.  He was ruthlessly seized by a godless populace and unceremoniously hurried into a small skiff and rowed to the opposite bank of the river with the solemn warming that if he should again set foot within St. Stephens he would be decked out in a garb of tar and feathers.  With uplifted hands according to the tradition, the minister in honest indignation, foretold the decay of St. Stephens and its ultimate abandonment.
     A half day spent about the ruins of Alabama's first capital was not regarded by the writer as thrown away.  (Source ;Hamilton times, Marion County AL, Oct 6, 1892 - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney)

CAHABA - Memories of Old Cahaba by Anna Gayle Fry 1908


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