DAUPHIN ISLAND HISTORY
Dauphin Island is rich in history, dating back to around one thousand years B.C. Drawn from far by the endless supply of seafood found in coastal waters, early inhabitants left their mark on the north side of Dauphin Island by forming “mounds” of discarded clam and oyster shells, parts of which still exist and may be explored today.
One large shell mound and several smaller ones in a serpentine formation exist on the north side of the island, located on
Iberville Drive. Although somewhat of a mystery, the Indian Shell Mounds are similar to those of the Aztec and Mayan cultures, and are a lasting testament of the long-term Native American occupancy of Dauphin Island.
According to legend, the first European to visit this area was Prince Madoc of Wales in 1171. The Island and Mobile Bay
were mapped in 1519 by Alonzo Pineda. Over the next century or so, the Island was visited by various exploring nations,
some of whom perhaps tried to settle here. When Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville led French explorers to colonize here in 1699,
they found numerous skeletons-perhaps the remains of a lost colony - and cried out in horror, “Ah! What a massacre!” They subsequently named the island “Massacre Island”. By 1707, he renamed his fort “Isle Dauphine” and the port “Port Dauphin”.
The island remained a French possession until 1763, in spite of Spanish attacks, and became the capitol of the Louisiana
territory. The British captured the island in 1766, only to be seized by the Spanish in 1780. American forces captured the
island in 1813 in an effort to prevent the British from using it in the War of 1812. It was not until 1813 that Dauphin Island
was truly American.
IN ADVERSITY WE THRIVE
compiled by Frances Young
as posted on the Dauphin Island BBS, reprinted with permission
*As Dauphin Island does not as yet have a motto, I feel these words show how the island has survived through many difficulties.
This booklet is a collation of material that I have collected over the twenty-one years that I have been a resident of Dauphin Island. Be assured, there will be
errors. At this time in history very few people wrote. In checking records, we often find names spelled differently or names have been changed entirely with
immigrants taking on an "Americanized version" Although many of our early settlers in the state of Alabama came in through the Creek Indian Passport
System (our U.S. passport system is fashioned after this), Dauphin Island is most unique in that most of our early settlers came in via port. Dauphin's earliest
settlers were French followed by Spanish (Creole) with the Greeks' Irish-Scotch arriving later. Many of the early names on the island were Ladnier, Lamy,
Raley, Sprinkle, Collier, Patronas, Mallon, Bosarge, and Previtoe. If I have failed to mention some it is not intentional. These early settlers survived fierce
hurricanes and until 1954 only had access to the mainland via boat."They depended upon each other and no one went without. You see very few really old
houses on the island due to the shortage of building materials. Old structures of heart pine were torn down and wood was salvaged to build new cabins. The
Penicaut Diary, translated by McWilliams, "Fleur de Lys and Calumet""Colonial Mobile" by Peter Hamilton and the Mobile Public Library, were my most useful
sources. The local people were very helpful and my thanks to all of them.
In the year 1519, not long after Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, Alonzo Piheda mapped the entire Gulf Coast area west of Florida. At. that time
the Spanish claimed the Florida region, but had not established any permanent forts in that area to the west. Legend tells us that perhaps Prince Madoc of
Wales visited this area at a much earlier time. We know that DeSoto's exploration took him through the coastal region of Alabama in 1540. It might be possible
to believe that Isabella waited for him on Dauphin Island and planted the legendary fig trees. It was January 31, 1699, when the explorer Pierre Le Moyne and
Sieur D'Iberville dropped anchor off the southern tip of Alabama. France had laid claim to this vast territory comprising three quarters of what is now the United
States, and named it Louisiana after their king. Due to the fact that the two French ships Le Marin and La Renommee drew so much water, the explorers set
out in longboats to follow the mainland in an east-west direction. Passing by what is now Bayou La Batre and Pointe-auxhuitres (Cedar Point), they found this
island. Coming upon a large pile of bones (possibly sixty men or women), Iberville named the island "Massacre." The island was described as being covered
with pines and cedars and being seven leagues long and one-fourth league wide. (A league in old nautical measure was three miles.) This seems to confirm
the fact that the island lying to the west, Petit Bois, was at that time part of Massacre. The shell banks on the north side of the island were very high and
serpentine in shape. These banks indicated that the island had been in use or inhabited by an earlier civilization. By 1701, the natural harbor on the south side
of the island was in constant use. Sand Island and Pelican Island formed a crescent shaped harbor, large enough and deep enough to accomodate thirty
vessels. It was here that the ships were unloaded and their cargo put on shallow draft vessels to go upstream. (Without dredging Mobile Bay was too shallow
to permit the larger boats access.) The island began to grow. Warehouses were built on the east end of the island. A small stockade soon developed. When the
ship "Pelican" arrived in 1704, with twenty six young ladies, they had no trouble finding husbands. These young women, sent by the King of France, were
known as the "Pelican Girls" They were under the protection of a priest named Huve. Mobile Baptismal records the first child was born on October 4, 1704.
Mobile was called the birthplace of the colony and Dauphine Island the cradle. Although the name "Massacre" hung on for many years, the island was named
officially Isle Dauphine, in 1707. This was in honor of the wife of the heir apparent to the throne of France. In that same year, three vessels arrived at the
roadstead bringing livestock and poultry. The savages that visited the island were extremely friendly. D'Iberville presented them with guns, trinkets and loin
clothes to cover their nakedness. By the time M. Vigne Voison arrived at Isle Dauphine in 1709, a number of families had built homes on the cove facing Pelican
Bay. Voison asked Bienville for permission to build a fort. He constructed it with cannons on top of the dunes, facing the entrance to protect the harbor. He also
constructed the first church at this time.
During the long war between England and France, in 1711, a pirate ship from British Jamaica raided Dauphine. They destroyed everything in sight, but no lives
were lost. M. de La Mothe de Cadillac came to Isle Dauphine on June 5, 1713 to serve as Governor General of Louisiana. M. Durigouin was appointed Director
General and their expenses were paid by M. de Croisat, to whom His Majesty had ceded the commerce of Louisiana. Cadillac built a large palisaded home in
the area of "Cadillac Square" Although Cadillac remained Governor until March 9,1717, he did little to improve the territory. One thing of note was the gathering
of the twenty-four Indian tribes on the island to smoke the peace pipe. This calumet of peace lasted more than two months. During this time the King of France
made a grant to a La Pointe for a large cattle ranch and also granted permission to Jean Phillipe L'Adnier to marry an Indian girl.
A hurricane of extreme intensity hit the island in 1717. The entrance to the harbor was blocked and three ships trapped. Much of the livestock was drowned.
This damage to the port influenced the French to move the capital - first to Pascagoula and then to New Orleans. Although a number of families moved from the
island after the storm, we find two more ships arriving in 1718 with five hundred passengers. War was declared with Spain in 1719. The French attacked
Passacal (Pensacola, Spanish Territory), and in return the Spanish attacked Dauphine. The French were successful in rebuffing the attack. With the move of
the government to New Orleans, the island settled to a comparative quiet period. You can picture the settlement in a clearing on the south side of the island.
Groups of houses are clustered facing Pelican Bay on the east end. Further down to the west we see, high on the dunes, the palisaded fort. About it are sundry
one story buildings. One with a fence around it is the powder house. (Perhaps these are buried under the sixteenth and seventeenth tees at the golf course.)
Cannon point to the sea. The Bourg (town) has some eighteen houses. The commandant house has a sentry box. There are two long houses for barracks and a
guardhouse. The church faces the sea. In 1722 you could find that the island now joined Pelican and was cut away from Petit Bois. Catholic records show a
number of residents and slaves. Some of the names mention Jean Arnauld, Renauld, J. Baudrau, a creole Alexandres, Paqurs, Ollivier. Two of the earliest
land grants were made in 1712 to Arnault and Donoit. Madame Arnauld did deed some of her property to Major Farmer. There were numerous grants made
(luring this time. Strangely the island was still referred to as Massacre in the Isle Dauphine. (Was Massacre the name of the garrison?) . What we now know
as little Dauphin Island was called Isle 'a Guillori, after the family that occupied the island in 1740. (People have lived on Little Dauphin at various times even as
late as the early 1900's. It is now part of the Nature. Conservancy and is protected.) Dauphin Island was occupied by the French until 1764, by the British from
1764 until 1781, by the Spanish from 1781 until 1813, when under orders from President Madison, General Wilkerson took Mobile. This was during the final
battle of the War of 1812. In 1803, the United States had purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, for $75,000. So in truth, during the Spanish
occupation the island by rights belonged to the United States. There were many land grants made during foreign occupation. One of note was made by Joseph
Moro to the Spanish Governor on July 1, 1781. When the British Governor left the island he tried to sell it for five thousand dollars, but had no purchasers. At any
event on December 5, 1783, a spanish grant was recorded to Joseph Moro. At his death he willed this to his niece, Euphrosie L'May. A patent from the United
States to Augustine LaCoste, her son, dated May 22, 1838, covered 2264.12 acres of Dauphin Island. Later portions of this were sold to Garrow, Brown, Lyon
Construction was begun on Fort Gaines in 1821, but it was not completed until 1848. The purpose of the fort was to guard the entrance to Mobile Bay.. The
Military Reservation ran all the way to what is now Cadillac Square and the main road on the island was Fort Gaines 'I'rail. Outside the fort several buildings
were built to house officers. Ten thousand dollars was authorized to build a seacoast light on Sand Island in 1834. Old photographs show a number of
dwellings surrounding the lighthouse. This original lighthouse was replaced by one that cost thirty-five thousand dollars and was one hundred fifty feet in
height. This structure was blown up by Confederate forces to keep the Yankees from spying. The present lighthouse was built in 1873. The keepers house was
a beautiful two-story southern colonial structure. In the 1906 hurricane the keepers house was destroyed and the keepers drowned. Another tragedy occurred
in 1919, when it was noted that the light was extinguished two nights. A landing party found a log stating that the keepers had gone to Fort Morgan to pick up
supplies. They never reached shore. The light was extinguished in 1970. The old wooden keepers house was burned by vandals in 1976. The Sand Island
Lighthouse now belongs to the Department of Interior and has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Confederate forces had taken over Fort Gaines at the beginning of the Civil War and held it for three years. During the battle of Mobile Bay, three thousand
forces were landed on the island, seven miles west of the fort. Against such overwhelming odds the rebels surrendered the fort on August 8, 1864. Admiral
Farragut brought in eighteen ships, plus six small gunboats to battle the Confederate fleet commanded by Admiral Buchanan. The rebel fleet was comprised of
the ironclad "Tennessee" and three smaller gunboats. Fort Powell, located just northwest of the present bridge, was evacuated and blown up by the
Confederate forces. The Confederate Army of the Gulf surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama on May 4, 1865. Inspector. Terry Beasely has been appointed Police
Chief The Mayor, Doris Anderson, expects to assume all responsibilities for running the town as quickly as possible. The council is working actively with all
levels of Federal officials for possible grants. Businesses are now licensed under the town and efforts are being made to improve the appearance of the town.
The Water and Sewer Authority has recently put in a shallow well water system and eventually the quality of water-should-improve. Dauphin Island property
owners have taken over management of the Isle Dauphine and the Golf Course is open to the public. The entire population is supportive of all the endeavors.
So dawns a new era in the history of Dauphin Island.
An 1880 census shows: Collier, Sprinkle, Previto, Williams, Mallon, Bosarge, Steiner, Peters, Raley. The oldest tombstone found in the Dauphin Island Cemetery
is dated 1841, belongs to John Sprinkle, who served in the war of 1812. John Ladnier's wife, who died in 1861, is buried in the Catholic Cemetery. Others buried
prior to 1900 are Sprinkle, Ryan, Patronas, Crawford, Simodel, Bortho. In the 1800's approximately three hundred people lived on the island. There were
numerous artesian wells. The community was self-sustaining. Most of the men were fishermen and oyster catchers. They ran their catch up river to Mobile in
gaff-rigged sailboats. The livestock ran wild and homesteads were squatters without legal deeds. Dauphin Island became a polyglot of many nations. Records
show that Dr. John Collier came from Scotland. The Peters family originally had a Greek name. The Steiners were from Germany. There were many Scotch Irish
and a few descendants of the original French settlers like the Ladnier family. A canal ran up what ig now LeMoyne Avenue. At various times there was a terrapin
farm and a cannery. Old railroad tracks on the northwest side of the island indicate some hauling process.
Earlier in 1885, we find quit claim deeds from Gillette, McNulty, Semmes, Austill, and Mallon to the Dauphin Island Improvement Company. This was to be the
first major developer and in 1910 became incorporated as the Dauphin Island Company. Many other deeds were established by this company. Local people
holding deed from the Dauphin Island Company are classified as having "grandfather lots" In 1900, the Gulf Land and Harbor Company was formed. This
became Dauphin Island Railway and Harbor Company. Both of these properties eventually became Gulf Properties and this company was transferred to Forney
Johnston, Thomas,- Boykin, Vredenburgh, Dewberry, Aparicola and Rester in 1953. In turn, this group sold most of the property to the Mobile Chamber of
Let us go back in time between the Civil War and the subdivision of Dauphin Island in 1953. We know that a hotel was on the Island as early as 1915. Many
people from the mainland came here to vacation. A ferry ran over to Cedar Point at one time. There was a general store and a school that went up to the ninth
grade. Most of the young men quit school early, but the girls were often boarded on the mainland to finish their education. Both the early post office and the
school were located at the shell mound. Fires were a particular concern. The school, which was a two story building, burned one night, as did the general store,
located across from the new post office. Very few old buildings are still standing today. When a family decided to build a new house, they used the heart pine
from the old one.
Hurricanes always played a large role on the island. Both the 1906 and the 1916 storms were severe. There are tales of people lashing themselves to the large
oaks and of the goats climbing up to stay out of the reach of alligators. In 1916 the Methodist Church was destroyed. Of course, at that time, the island had a
great deal more protection, because Sand Island was much larger. Each successive storm eroded more of the protective barrier island. World War I saw
some activity at the Fort. A dance pavilion was built and the local young people enjoyed many good times with the soldiers. At one time in the 1920's, a marine
coaling station was proposed. The island was touted as "The Atlantic City of the South" Bath houses were constructed on the south side of the island. A large
boardwalk to, extend several miles was proposed. Any visitor to the island was impressed by the height of the sand dunes. In the book "Stars Fell on Alabama"
written in .1937, the dunes were described as being sixty feet high. Man And nature has taken a toll on these dunes. Finally the state was prevailed upon to
pass a law restricting vehicle use and as a result the dunes began to stabilize. With World War II came a reactivation of the Military Base. A radar base was
established to protect the gulf coast area from attack. Housing was built for the families of the military. This was a very busy time for Dauphin Island. In 1945
the school had over forty children enrolled. After the Radar Base closed in 1971, the enrollment dropped to nineteen, with only one teacher. A portion of the
Military was turned over to the State of Alabama for use as a Marine Science Consortium and part went to the Coast Guard for use as a recreation base. In
order to pay for the bridge construction, the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, on November 25,1953, put fifteen hundred lots up for sale. This was a lottery type
sale and the majority of the purchasers had never seen the island. The golf course was originally planned in what is now the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, but this
plan had to be scrapped. They did dredge out the lakes in the sanctuary and pulled it up on sleds to the present location. An elaborate clubhouse and casino was
planned with membership open to all land purchasers.
Areas such as Pass Drury and Silver Cay were added later by dredging and finger filling the swamp land. There was a great deal of animosity between the
developers and the native people. Only a few held positive deeds. Among these were the Steiner and Sprinkle Subdivisions. The Steiner property had been
sub-divided and recorded in 1910. Only one old grandfather property remains south of Bienville Boulevard today. All others are north. This small property on the
north side belongs to the Previtos. (One very old map shows Previto squatter on the Fort Gaines Military Reservation). John Sprinkle had taken the Mobile and
Dauphin Island Railroad Company to court in 1896 to reclaim his property. Most of the local people were deeded fifty foot lots in exchange for quit claim deeds.
The bridge to the island was officially opened in July 1955. It was touted as the Three Million Dollar Bridge, but was named after Gordon Persons, a governor. By
1956, the Isle Dauphine and the Beach Casino were completed. The first nine holes of the golf course were completed in 1962. The Riviera Motel, which was
later purchased by Holiday Inn, was opened in 1958. The island attracted many sightseers. Dauphin Island did not become the mecca that the -Chamber of
Commerce had envisioned. By 1967, the Casino had been destroyed by vandals. The Isle Dauphine had been leased as a private country. club and all the
original members had to pay monthly dues in order to remain a member. In the years between the bridge opening and hurricane Camille in 1968, the island
seemed to hit its peak. The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo stirred up large crowds every July and the Dauphin Island Sailboat races drew spectators in
April. Bird watching was always a steady attraction. Once the Audubon Bird Sanctuary was closed to vehicular traffic it was greatly improved. Dauphin Island
became known for the huge number of migratory birds that made this a stop-over.
With the prediction of Hurricane Frederic on September 12-13, 1979, all but a small number of foolhardy people made their exodus from the island.
They never realized how difficult it would be to return. Those who stayed in Mobile did not escape the brunt of the storm. The bridge that spanned the three mile
stretch to the mainland was destroyed in the early hours on September 13. People lined the banks of the canals north of the island, begging rides in the small
boats that were able to navigate the debris ridden waters. Arriving on the island, one found a scene of total chaos. Most were numbed by the monumental task
ahead. There was no direct communication to the mainland. A few radio operators managed to get some messages delivered. No water! No electricity! Civil
Defense went into action. The National Guard was called in. The whole of Mobile County was in a state of emergency. Water was brought over in boats. Ice
brought over in the holds of shrimp boats was only useable to cool food. A central garbage disposal was set up. The Red Cross brought in supplies for those in
need. For several weeks we had no electricity.- The Coast Guard brought a LCU craft that took us on a five hour trip to Brookley Meld. Later we had a people
ferry that took us to Bayou La Batre. We borrowed cars. The inhabitants rallied and supported each other. Almost three years of traveling by ferry to Fowl River
ended when the new bridge was opened in July, 1982. At last people were able to rebuild their homes.
With a beautiful new high rise bridge, Dauphin Island was on the rise. In addition to the Dauphin Surf Club and the Colony Cove Yacht Club, two other
condominiums were built. Things were looking good on the island and then hurricane "Elena" struck on September 2, 1985. We were actually evacuated twice,
as the first blow hit us mildly then reversed itself and struck us with its full fury. The time of recovery was much shorter this time because the bridge was
intact and utilities were restored within a week. many years, the subject of incorporation had been brought up, but vociferously rejected by the local inhabitants.
Finally in November 1988, the majority of the registered voters voted for incorporation. An interim board for councilman and mayor were voted on.
Five months later these same people were unopposed and took term for a permanent period. At this time the mayor is Doris Anderson, the town council is Billy
Patronas, James Boone, Claude Brown, Jeff Collier and Georgia Mallon. We officially became ' a town on January 15, 1988 and the first election took place on
April 12, 1988 with the run-off election on April 26, 1988. The town has open meetings on the first and third Tuesday each month. At the present time, the town
hall is located in the Businessmen's Building. Various sub-committees have been appointed. A Planning Board to consider zoning and other matters has been
selected. John Tyson was appointed Town Attorney, Charles McKnight was selected as Municipal Judge, Walt Yerkes is Town Clerk and Leroy Coulter is
Building Inspector. Terry Beasely has been appointed Police Chief The Mayor, Doris Anderson, expects to assume all responsibilities for running the town as
quickly as possible. The council is working actively with all levels of Federal officials for possible grants. Businesses are now licensed under the town and
efforts are being made to improve the appearance of the town. The Water and Sewer Authority has recently put in a shallow well water system and eventually
the quality of water-should-improve. Dauphin Island property owners have taken over management of the Isle Dauphine and the Golf Course is open to the
The entire population is supportive of all the endeavors.
So dawns a new era in the history of Dauphin Island.