Fort Claiborne: First American Fort
in the Red River Valley
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 necessitated that the Americans protect their newly-acquired property, much to the chagrin of the French
and Spanish creoles in northern Louisiana, which saw these "depraved Americans" as a threat to their way of life. The conflict between the
American new-comers and the "old inhabitants" along the Red River could be seen with the establishment of Fort Claiborne.

With the original fort of
Natchitoches, St. Jean Baptiste, in ruins, the United States established a new garrison to the north of town. Fort
Claiborne, named after the territorial governor, became a quite substantial locale as it continued to be occupied for close to fifteen years.
Here, the Indian Agent Dr. John Sibley signed treaties with Caddoan, Coushattan, and other tribes - including the famous Caddo chief,
Dehahuit - to begin the process of westward removal. It was also at Fort Claiborne where the
Red River expedition of 1806 by Peter Custis,
Thomas Freeman, and Captain Sparks was launched.

However, the creole parishioners of Natchitoches sued the American government to remove the fort, since they believed that the fort was
built on communal property that was overseen by the church, which was located at the fort's southeastern corner. The suspicion that the
Creole community had against the Americans was evidenced by the abandonment of the original cemetery at the location of Fort St. Jean
Baptiste. The Catholic Creoles removed their dead from the cemetery once protestants began their burials at the newly renamed
"American Cemetery."

Fort Claiborne thus had an active but relatively short life. After the signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, which firmly established the
border between New Spain and the Louisiana Territory, the Mexican Revolution of 1821, and the
American push into North Texas, the U.S.
government established
Fort Jesup along the Spanish Road (Camino de Real) northwest of Natchitoches.

Today, the old location of Fort Claiborne has been reclaimed by the Natchitoches citizens. The site is now occupied by the convention and
visitor's bureau, Louisiana museum and hall of fame, the events center, the Main Street office, and other city service buildings. The only
reminder of the old fort is its guest house, which sits at the corner of Second and Lafayette Streets.
An 1814 map depicts the location of Fort Claiborne along the San Antonio road (once, the Camino de Real). (Library of Congress)
In 2005, James Rosenthal documented the Fort Claiborne guest house for the Historic American Buildings Survey. This is the only extant
remnant of Fort Claiborne. The building is a private residence.