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Dauphin Island Celebrates Landing
by Jim Hall, DICN Editor

On an overcast and rainy day in early February, 1699, Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d'Iberville anchored off shore of what later became know as French Louisiana. Today, we know the area as Mobile Bay. Earlier in his voyage, d'Iberville, had found the territory we call Pensacola to be occupied by the Spanish. Without specific instructions from the crown, he had sailed westward to find a place to establish the first French settlement along the Gulf coast. As his ships approached the mouth of the large bay (Mobile Bay), an island was visible to the northwest, but did it have a suitable harbor? He dispatched two long boats, one under the command of his younger brother, Bienville, a brash 21 year old lieutenant. The boats returned to the ships the next day, but rain, wind, and fog had made soundings difficult and Bienville had failed to find a harbor. On the following day, a break in the weather led d'Iberbille to search for a harbor himself. At about two o'clock in the afternoon, his party was met with a hard rain, a brisk gale, and such dense fog that they could not see their ships.

By evening the men were to exhausted to row back to their ships, so d'Iberbille elected to spend the night on the island. The next morning, d'Iberville began to explore. In his journal he recorded finding on the "southwest end" of the island a "spot where more than sixty men or women had been slain." Along with the skeletal remains were "some of their household belongings." Thus, the name Massacre Island. Due, probably, to the bad weather, d'Iberville failed to find the narrow pass into the harbor on the north side of Spanish Island.

Again moving westward, he established Fort Maurepas, at the site of present-day Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Within a short time of establishing Fort Maurepas, d'Iberville realized that access to the vast river systems which led northward from that large bay where he had first landed, was key in forging military and trading alliances with the large local Indian societies which lived in the interior. So in late December 1701, he issued the order to move the colony back to Mobile Bay.

Only a few years later, the growing population in the island disliked the name Massacre finding it "harsh" and perhaps Bienville, then governor, thought a new name would bring a new image. He decided to change the name of the island to Isle Dauphine and the port to Port Dauphin.

In French, dauphin refers to the male heir to the throne and his wife is the dauphine. King Louis XIV approved the name change in 1712. Dauphin Island can claim an important and colorful place in the history of French Louisiane as the oldest permanently occupied settlement in the region. Since those days of the early 1700s, the Island has also been occupied by the British, the Spanish, the United States, the Confederate States, and following the end of the Civil War, the United States - six flags!

Editor's note: credit for the details of the Island's early history to Mr. George Shorter, Center for Archaeological Studies, University of South Alabama. Longer version written and published in the DICN, Vol 1, No.3, Spring of 1997.

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