A Brief History of Fort Southwest Point
In 1794 a detachment of federal troops (stationed initially at Knoxville) was assigned to a blockhouse post at Southwest Point. These earliest federal soldiers in the Southwest Territory were identified as belonging to the 12th Company of the 3rd Sub Legion. (MHS; 1793-1794)
From 1792 to 1796, the army of the United States was known as the Legion of the United States and was initially composed of four divisions: Dragoons, Rifles, Artillery and Infantry. A separate Corps of Artillerists and Engineers was created in 1794 and by mid 1798 was composed of 1st and 2nd Regiments of Artillerists and Engineers.
The legion was designed specifically for frontier warfare and had a high proportion of riflemen and light infantry that were usually distinguishable by their caps. Some of these caps (probably constructed similar to those worn in the revolution) were made of leather while others were cut probably from older felt cocked hats and had a visor with an upright front or flap with colored bindings around the edges. There would have been a horse or cowtail mane on the crest of the cap along with a plume and turban (colored cloth) around the bottom edge.
Fort Southwest Point was constructed in 1797 to accommodate a large number of troops. It was located in Kingston, Tn. overlooking the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers. At its peak there were 625 soldiers stationed at Fort Southwest Point. It became the headquarters for federal troops in Tennessee under the command of Colonel David Henley, as agent of war. The U. S. government’s shift to a protectionist role with the Cherokee was seen in how the troops carried their role as peace keepers. Their escort service across Cherokee territory became less to protect the travelers from attack by the Cherokee and more to ensure the travelers did not illegally settle on Cherokee owned lands. In addition, the troops began to further protect Cherokee rights by forcibly removing white settlers who had illegally settled on Cherokee lands.
Several treaties with the Cherokee were negotiated and signed here at Fort Southwest Point. The Treaty of Tellico was negotiated at the fort but was signed at the Tellico Blockhouse.
Roane County’s first post office was located at Fort Southwest Point. The first Indian school was also located at the fort site to teach the Indian children how to speak English.
One significant primary source of historical information concerning the fort that has become available in recent years is the published English translation of the 1797 journal of Louis Philippe. The translated journal (Philippe 1977:101), when put into context with other primary sources that are now known, makes it clear that Fort Southwest Point was in a different location than the earlier Southwest Point Blockhouse, and that the fort was undergoing construction in May of 1797, at its present site.
The first two commanding officers at Fort Southwest Point were Captain Wade and Captain Sparks but were stationed in Knoxville at the time. On February 6, 1797 Captain Sparks and Captain Wade made a public declaration that they would begin fulfilling their duty to remove settlers from the Indian lands according to the terms of the 1796 trade and intercourse act.
Return Jonathan Meigs arrived at Fort Southwest Point in 1801 to serve as both Military Agent for the federal troops in Tennessee and Indian Agent to the Cherokees through the United States War Department.
1802 the fort continued to serve as Colonel Meigs base of operations and as Cherokee Indian agency. It was a place where goods were distributed, not only to the Cherokees, but to passing groups from other Indian tribes as well.
In 1803 four soldiers from Fort Southwest Point were chosen to accompany Lewis and Clark on their expedition. Eight soldiers were originally chosen for this expedition but the other four did not meet the necessary qualifications needed for it.
1804 had Captain Howell Cobb arriving as commanding officer of the fort.
1805 Colonel Meigs spent most of his time in negotiating the purchase of Cherokee lands.
1806 a major reduction of troops at Fort Southwest Point had occurred and was clearly reflected by a reduction in the number of purchases required to sustain the garrison’s needs.
In 1807 Colonel Meigs moved his headquarters from Fort Southwest Point to take over the Hiwassee garrison. He moved the Indian agency to the Hiwassee location also.
1808 Colonel Meigs reestablished a temporary headquarters at Fort Southwest Point.
1809, beginning in March through December, only three men were stationed at Fort Southwest Point.
1811 Nothing else has been found that suggests a continued military use of the garrison at Fort Southwest Point. With the main garrison at Hiwassee it was deemed that no more soldiers were needed at Fort Southwest Point.
Fort Southwest Point is the only fort at the present being restored back on its original foundations. The fort is owned, operated and maintained by the City of Kingston. Restoration of the fort began in 1974 with archaeological investigations from crews at the University of Tennessee. These crews exposed portions of foundations of six fort buildings and amassed a sizable collection of fort-period artifacts. Two more digs since have been done, 1984 and 1996, which showed the locations of thirteen buildings.