An episode of The Alabama Experience documentary series

Study Guide


This 26 minute program is appropriate for discussions of Alabama history. It would be particularly appropriate for classroom use before or after a field trip to Alabama Constitution Village in Huntsville. Watch From Territory to State here.


Alabama became a state on December 14, 1819. The events which led to Alabama statehood are the subject of this program. Many of these events, including the constitutional convention, took place in Huntsville. After a two-and-a-half minute introduction to Alabama Constitution Village, the program is broken into the following segments:

ALABAMA FEVER describes settlement of the Alabama territory and the steps toward becoming a state.

A CABIN BY THE SPRING describes settlement of Huntsville by John Hunt, followed by many wealthy people from Georgia led by Leroy Pope.

FINE CRAFTSMANSHIP shows a cabinetmaker working with hand tools in the shop where Alabama's constitutional convention was held.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR describes the unexpected visit to Huntsville by president James Monroe in 1819.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS shows a printer demonstrating a printing press like those used in 1819.

FOUNDING FATHERS gives brief biographical information about John Williams Walker, William Rufus King, Clement Comer Clay, and William Wyatt Bibb.

HOME SWEET HOME shows sewing and spinning activities as they were done in 1819.

HOME FIRES BURNING shows cooking and washing of clothes as they were done in 1819.

THE STATE MOVES ON discusses the five towns which have served as capitals of Alabama and the significance of Huntsville in Alabama's history.


Before Alabama became a state it was first part of the Mississippi territory. When Mississippi became a state in 1817, the Alabama territory was created. Most of the first settlers of Alabama came on ships landing in Mobile bay, and towns grew along the rivers which they could use to sail north from Mobile. St. Stephens became an important town during this time and was the first capital of the Alabama territory.

As more settlers came into Alabama from Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, towns sprang up in north Alabama. By 1819, Huntsville was the largest town in the Alabama territory and it served as the temporary capital in 1819.

During the summer of 1819, 44 elected representatives met in Huntsville to write Alabama's constitution. Since there was not a special building constructed for their meeting, they met in a cabinetmaker's shop. That cabinetmaker's shop and other buildings around it have been rebuilt at Alabama Constitution Village. Inside the village people demonstrate what life was like in 1819.

The people of Alabama disagreed over where the capital of the new state should be located. Everybody wanted the capital to be in or near their hometown. Governor William Wyatt Bibb tried to make everybody happy by creating a new town called Cahaba for the capital. Cahaba served as the capital until 1825 but people still disagreed over where the capital should be. In 1826 the capital moved to Tuscaloosa where it stayed for nearly 20 years, but the people still disagreed! In 1846 Montgomery became the state capital and it has been the capital since then.


LIVING HISTORY MUSEUM - A place you can visit to see people costumed the way people dressed at a particular time in history and doing things that people did at that time in history.

HISTORICAL INTERPRETER - A person who works at a living history museum. Their job is to dress and act like people did at a particular time in history.

TERRITORY - An area which has special rights under the United States government but does not have a government with the same power as a state. Most states were territories until they had enough people to meet the requirements for statehood.

STATE - The United States is made up of states united by a federal government, but each state has its own set of laws and its own government.

CAPITAL - The city or town from which the business of a government is controlled.

CONSTITUTION - A written record of the laws which make up a government.

SPRING - A natural source of water.

TWICKENHAM - A town near London, England, for which Leroy Pope named the community he built in north Alabama. The community was renamed Huntsville, in honor of one of its earliest settlers, John Hunt.

CABINETMAKER - A person who builds fine furniture from wood.

GILL - An old-fashioned measure for liquid.

WAG - A joker.


1. Take a field trip to Alabama Constitution Village. You may arrange a tour by calling 1-800-678-1819. They also have suggested activities for before and after a visit.

2. Before viewing the program discuss the GLOSSARY and HISTORICAL SETTING with students. Understanding this information will help them get more from the program. Ask students to listen for words from the GLOSSARY in the program.

3. After viewing the program, discuss the differences between life today and life in 1819. Here are some suggested questions: a.Why did the cabinetmaker provide power for his tools with a foot pedal and not electricity? (There were no electrical tools then.) b. Why was cooking done in a special building or outside? (To avoid catching the house on fire!) c. Why didn't the newspaper have photographs? (Photography was not used in the U.S. before 1839.) d. How could the people of a town not know in advance that the president was coming for a visit? (There was no radio or TV then.)

4. After viewing the program discuss the importance of a constitution as a collection of laws agreed on by a group of people subject to those laws. In advance of the class the teacher might prepare a constitution for the classroom which establishes who is in charge and includes laws which everyone must follow, or writing the class constitution might be a classroom activity with students working together for the common good of everyone involved.


Read more about Alabama's first governor, William Wyatt Bibb.

Governor Bibb designed the Alabama state seal.

Alabama Constitution Village is a part of the EarlyWorks museum complex in Huntsville, Alabama.

Produced by Max Shores at The University of Alabama Center for Public Television & Radio.

For additional information about using these materials in your classroom, call Alabama Public Television Educational Services, 1-800-239-5233

Alabama History Films