Fort Madison

Brief History of Fort Madison

In 1808, a small military post, Fort Belle Vue, was built on the West side of the Mississippi about ten miles above of the rapids North of the mouth of the Des Moines River to protect U.S. trade with the Indians and discourage foreign traders, particularly the British.  Sometime later the fort was renamed Fort Madison in honor of President James Madison.

Home to about 60 men of the First U.S. Infantry, the fort was not in the best location to make a strong defense, but was suitable for Indian trade.  Between 1808 and 1813, Indians traded lead and furs for guns, blankets, traps and other goods at the northernmost U.S. trading depot in the Mississippi Valley.

John Johnson's 1810 Plan of Fort Madison
John Johnson’s 1810 Plan of Fort Madison

In 1813, Indians friendly to the British attacked and laid siege to Fort Madison.  Not being able to properly defend the fort for a long period of time, the military set fire to the fort and escaped downriver.

In 1965, work began on some construction at the site of the Sheaffer Pen Company and archaeologists were called in to investigate the site as it had been rumored that the original location of the fort lay underneath the company’s parking lot.  Enough evidence was found of the fort’s foundations to confirm its location.

The above information was taken from “Fort Madison 1808-1813″ by Marshall B. McKusick as printed in the 2009 book Frontier Forts of Iowa, edited by William E. Whittaker.

For more, click the following link for an article, written by Brenda Knox in 2009, about the history of Fort Madison: History:  ”Fort Madison’s Fort.”

In 2011, the Office of the State Archaeologist at the University of Iowa published the report Investigating the Archaeological Context of the Original Fort Madison (13LE10) Battlefield and Black Hawk’s Ravine, Lee County, Iowa by Joe Alan Artz, John F. Doershuk, Cynthia L. Peterson, and William E. Whittaker.

Fort Madison Burials

We received the following information from Eugene Watkins, site manager at the “Old Fort Madison” in Riverview Park, concerning the deaths and burials of soldiers between 1808 and 1814 at or near the Fort Madison site.

I wanted to pass on the names that we have collected so far of the soldiers who are currently buried here in unmarked graves and threatened with development.  The exact location of the fort’s cemetery is unknown but it is believed to be near where the fort stood.  The fort site and adjacent battlefield area are vacant parking lots today slated for development, which, if purchased and built over, will cost us the last obtainable battle site associated with Tecumseh’s 1812 offensive as well as one of Iowa’s largest battlefields and earliest settlements.  We hope to place several battlefield interpretive markers on city property around the edges of the site, as well as a small memorial sign listing the men who are still buried here on 28 May 2012.

Soldiers Buried at Fort Madison 1808-1813

Sergeant Samuel Keeley
12 October 1808 (Disease) Pinkney’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Corporal George Ilginfritz
March or April 1809 (Disease) Pinkney’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Nicholas Tracy
2 August 1809 (Disease) Pinkney’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private John King
19 September 1809 (Disease) Pinkney’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Daniel O’Flanagan
22 February 1810 (Disease) Pinkney’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private James Moore
October 1811 (Disease)  Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Hugh McNeal
5 February 1812 (Disease) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Corporal James Leonard
3 March 1812 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Gregory Rogan
April 1812 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private John Cox
5 September 1812 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Thomas Sampson
2 June 1813 (Drowned) Owens’ Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Samuel Heritage
8 July 1813 (KIA) Desha’s Company, 24th U.S. Infantry

Private John Minard
8 July 1813 (KIA) Owens’ Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Corporal William Elsey
16 July 1813 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private Thomas Faulkner
16 July 1813 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private John Bowers
16 July 1813 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Private John Ritts
16 July 1813 (KIA) Stark’s Company, 1st U.S. Infantry

Taylor’s Rock River Expedition August-September 1814

Private John Pointer
31 August 1814 (Buried at the Ruins of Fort Madison on 1 September)
Callaway’s Company, U.S. Rangers

I have collected some biographical information on nearly all these men, although it relates almost entirely to their military careers.  Little if anything is known about them before their enlistment.  The deaths of Corporal Ilginfritz and Private Rogan cannot be confirmed one hundred percent at this time, but the evidence indicates that they did die.  There may be more soldiers buried here as well.  So far I have not been able to obtain the records for the artillery detachment stationed at Fort Madison or for any of the militia or ranger companies that occasionally served at the fort.  These units may have buried men here too.

Save Fort Madison

An effort is currently underway to try and save the remains of Fort Madison from probable future development of the site.  Since the confirmation of the fort’s location in 1965 – under a parking lot – the site has been sold a couple of times the latest being to developers in 2007.  For more information, please go to the following website:

Save Fort Madison

Fort Madison in the News

FM saw early stages of War of 1812.
Fort Madison Daily Democrat, March 22, 2012

Man traces family back to Old Fort soldier.  The Hawk Eye, August 9, 2010

Possible burial site.  Keokuk’s Daily Gate City, February 19, 2010

Letter points up Fort’s woes.  The Hawk Eye, December 3, 2000

Other Related Links

Thomas Hamilton, First Infantry by Thomas G. Shaw & David M. Grabitske
Thomas Hamilton was in command of Fort Madison during the War of 1812.