The Mobile River

The Mobile River

The Mobile River

The Mobile River


The Mobile River presents the first-ever narrative history of this important American watercourse. Inspired by the venerable Rivers of America series, John S. Sledge weaves chronological and thematic elements with personal experiences and more than sixty color and black-and-white images for a rich and rewarding read.The Mobile River appears on the map full and wide at Nannahubba, fifty miles from the coast, where the Alabama and the Tombigbee rivers meet, but because it empties their waters into Mobile Bay and subsequently the Gulf of Mexico, it usurps them and their multitudinous tributaries. If all of the rivers, creeks, streams, bayous, bogues, branches, swamps, sloughs, rivulets, and trickles that ultimately pour into Mobile Bay are factored into the equation, the Mobile assumes awesome importance and becomes the outlet for the sixth largest river basin in the United States and the largest emptying into the Gulf east of the Mississippi River.Previous historians have paid copious attention to the other rivers that make up the Mobile's basin, but the namesake stream along with its majestic delta and beautiful bay have been strangely neglected. In an attempt to redress the imbalance, Sledge launches this book with a first-person river tour by "haul-ass boat." Along the way he highlights the four diverse personalities of this short stream--upland hardwood forest, upper swamp, lower swamp, and harbor.In the historical saga that follows, readers learn about colonial forts, international treaties, bloody massacres, and thundering naval battles, as well as what the Mobile River's inhabitants ate and how they dressed through time. A barge load of colorful characters is introduced, including Indian warriors, French diplomats, British cartographers, Spanish tavern keepers, Creole women, steamboat captains, African slaves, Civil War generals and admirals, Apache prisoners, hydraulic engineers, stevedores, banana importers, Rosie Riveters, and even a few river rats subsisting off the grid--all of them actors in a uniquely American pageant of conflict, struggle, and endless opportunity along a river that gave a city its name.


Joe Meaher is something of a legend on the Mobile River. His family history has unfolded along its banks, upstream and down, in country, swamp, and city. a descendent of the controversial Timothy Meaher—Mainer, sawmill owner, boat builder, steamboat captain, filibuster financier, slave runner, blockade-runner, and businessman—Joe is a vigorous seventy, deeply versed in river incident and lore and extensively involved in managing his family’s timber, farming, and real estate interests. No complete narrative of the underappreciated and fascinating waterway on which he lives is possible without his participation.

Our families go way back. My grandfather and father hunted with his father in the 1930s, 40s, and later when Cap’n Joe was young. in the mid-1970s, his brother Augustine bought my grandmother’s Spring Hill Avenue home, Georgia Cottage. the A. S. Mitchell Foundation, with which his family is involved, helped fund all three of my previous Mobile books, the profits of which have gone to the Mobile Historic Development Commission, and over the years Joe or Augustine has consulted me on preservation issues related to historic houses on both sides of the bay as well as at two cemeteries. After my third book, The Pillared City, Joe, knowing my enduring love for local history, naturally inquired what was next. “The Mobile River,” I replied.

“Have you been on it?” he asked.

The answer was a qualified yes. I have always nurtured an interest in the Mobile River and have my own connections to it, though of a markedly different and less intimate character than Joe’s. During the 1960s, for example, my grandmother often took me down to the docks to watch the stevedores at work. This was always a favorite outing. While other young boys dreamed of growing up to be firemen, policemen, baseball players, or soldiers, I wanted to be a stevedore and spend my days manhandling exotic cargoes from the holds of salt-streaked freighters.

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