Montgomery was originally the site of two Indian towns, Ikanatchati and Towasa, where ancestors of the Alibamu Indians lived. Though Spanish explorers passed through the area in 1540, the first white settlement was by Scottish trader James McQueen in 1716.
A trading post was established in 1785, and Alabama Town was founded in the 1800s. That town was abandoned for a new town of East Alabama. Another group of settlers had built a settlement they dubbed Philadelphia, and a rivalry grew as both settlements worked to make their towns grow and flourish. In 1819, the towns merged to become Montgomery, named in honor of Gen. Richard Montgomery, a Revolutionary War hero. Alabama was admitted as a state in the Union just 11 days later.
In 1834 the Montgomery Railroad Co. was established and a rail route built through the town, linking it to New York City and New Orleans and bringing the population to more than 2,000. The state capital was moved to Montgomery from Tuscaloosa in 1846.
With the Civil War came strong anti-Northern sentiment and secession. Alabama was a slave-based economy, and white plantation owners did not want to lose this important part of their socioeconomic structure. Representatives of six states gathered in Montgomery and chose it as capital of the Confederate States of America. The capital was eventually moved to Virginia, but dedication to the Confederate cause remained strong in Montgomery, even after Union Gen. James Wilson took it back
Despite a slow recovery after the Civil War, the town stood at more than 16,000 people by 1880, due in part to continued railroad expansion. Industrialists began to make their way there, further increasing commerce and the population. By the 1940s, Montgomery had almost 78,000 residents.
Montgomery was the site of landmark civil rights events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Ride of 1961 and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to give up her seat on a public bus occurred in Montgomery, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. founded the Montgomery Improvement Association there, organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This led to a court ruling that Montgomery’s racial segregation on buses was unconstitutional, and the system was abolished. In 1965, King led 25,000 demonstrators on a march from Selma to Montgomery, seeking voting rights for African-Americans and leading to the signing of the Voting Rights Act, a major accomplishment for civil rights
By the late 1990s new construction and changes at Maxwell Air Force Base brought even more economic progress. Modern Montgomery enjoys continued growth and development with a rebuilding of its downtown and a new influx of tourists exploring the area’s rich history.