Southern Illinois History Page

To find a fort: The search for Sturdivant's lair

Springhouse Magazine

    ROSICLARE, Ill. (April 1998) — To locate Sturdivant's Fort, we started with what was known. Early authors mentioned that it was somewhere on a high bluff overlooking the Ohio River near the present town of Rosiclare, Ill. One of the first sites we checked was Jack's Point, just south of the mouth of Big Creek. The name "Jack's Point" brought to mind the stories we had heard of "Bloody Jack" Sturdivant. Could this point be named for him? This site was rejected after abstracting deed records for the north shore of the Ohio River revealed Roswell Sturdivant's land. It was in Section 33, which placed it just north of Rosiclare. Jack's Point was in Section 27. The contract for deed states that this property, containing 95 acres on the bank of the Ohio, was sold by Amos Chipps to Roswell Sturdivant for $2000 on Nov. 17, 1820. The legal description was "beginning at the mouth of the spring branch on the Ohio river, thence up the branch with a line run by Lemuel Ha rrison between William Jackson & John Morris to a hickory ash and hackberry marked T, thence south 55 west until it strikes the old section line, thence with the said line to the southwest corner of said fraction, thence east with the surveying line to the Ohio river, thence up the river with its meandering to the mouth of said spring branch, it being Range 8, Township 12 and Fractional Sections 33 and 34, containing the aforesaid 95 acres more or less."
    With this deed, we asked abstractor Connie Gibbs of Golconda to help us locate the exact property of Roswell Sturdivant. She found that Amos Chipps had sublet the contract for deed to Edmund Searcy on Jan. 26, 1821, who paid Chipps $1700 and was to collect the balance from Sturdivant when due. When the payment came due, Sturdivant refused to pay Searcy, claiming that Searcy could not produce the deed. Then Amos Chipps told Searcy that James Ford was holding a mortgage on the property and the deed. Ford was brought into court and forced to sign his interest over to Searcy for five shillings, Ford claiming he did not know the boundaries of Chipps' part of the property. Searcy won the case and Sturdivant evidently paid what he owed.
    After the attacks on Sturdivant's Fort, a deed was brought into the county courthouse on Sept. 13, 1824. One Samuel Omelvany claimed he had purchased this property from Roswell Sturdivant on Oct. 7, 1820, for $1000 (Pope Co. Deed Book A, P. 153). The deed was signed by Roswell Sturdevant and attested to by Merrick Stuirdevant and James Steel. It seems from the dates on the deeds that Roswell Sturdivant sold this property to Samuel Omelvany before he ever owned it.
    The abstracting of the property with the above deeds proves Sturdivant's property lies along the high bluff in Section 33 just north of the present Rosiclare water tower. This property is today owned by Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Fowler. The fort site encompasses their entire yard. Fortunately, when their home was built, it was built far enough away from the bluff that it did not destroy the fort site.
    Gary DeNeal and I visited the Rosiclare bluff several times during the month of March 1998. We also studied old maps, aerial photographs, soil and water conservation maps, Ohio River U.S. Corps of Engineers maps, etc. On April 6, Gary and I again visited the Rosiclare bluff. This time we went house to house, interviewing each home owner. We finally came to the Fowler property. We were already convinced from the abstract that the fort had been on their property. Now we wanted to look for ourselves. What would be left after 175 years?
    The Fowlers graciously allowed us permission to view their property. The east side of the house, facing the river, immediately revealed irregular elevations in the soil, easily detected as the foundation of a large house. Around the house site were long elevated mounds similar to what is found on Civil War battlefields. We walked around the yard, and with my dousing rods, we were able to mark with red flags the perimeters and the layout of the fort. We found that the log house in the center of the fort was approximately 60' x 60'. In comparison, the Old Slave House in Gallatin County is 50' x 50'. There were six rooms, three on each side, separated by a 4' hallway running east and west. The front two rooms, facing the river, measured 20 1/2' x 28'. The back four rooms were of equal size and measured 17' x 28'. There was an extension on the northwest corner of the house, 18' x 18'. Extending from the corners of the log house were four corridors approximately 100' long, evidently leading to the corner blockhouses. There was a palisade surrounding the perimeter of the house. There was also an outer perimeter palisade encompassing the entire property. From documents, we know that the house was 1 1/2 to 2 stories high.
    We were standing on the very site of the counterfeiters' den. It was here that men lost their lives pursuing a life of crime. It was here that William Rondeau was almost killed. It was here that men of principle came head to head with the unscrupulous. Who really won? Roswell Sturdivant was convicted of assault and battery, but he appealed and finally the case was removed from the docket of Pope County. There is no evidence that anyone paid the price for the crimes of the Sturdivant Gang.
    For more on the Sturdivants in Southern Illinois' history check out James Hall's account on Sturdivant the Counterfeitor and Ron Nelson's main story on The Raid on Sturdivant's Fort.
    Springhouse Magazine originally published all three articles in their April 1998 issue and are reprinted with permission. For back issues of Springhouse, contact publisher Gary DeNeal.
    Author Ron Nelson can also be reached via the web.
Created April 24, 1999 by Jon Musgrave © 1999