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Shell Mounds

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Dauphin Island, AL
Archive of Historical Data, Books, Maps
And Other Materials

Excerpt from the book
"Dauphin Island AL:
French Possession 1699-1763"

by Jo Myrtle Kennedy

"The Island, An Important French Port
The New Capital Of The Louisiana Territory"

French drawing Massacre Island 1704
"French drawing Massacre Island 1717"
Norlet, Jackson 114 Sieur 1717: Veue Isle Dauphine in the province of Louisiana. By 30 20 "North and 287 50" LD.. [BNF catalog: A view with great detail; present are the vessels "Peacock" and "Peace", when they run aground in leaving port at Dauphin Island in May 1717] [Legend.] [HMC Karpinski series F 21 A - 4.] [National Library of France, Department of maps and plans, GE SH 18 pf 138 div 10 p 6] [In Formerly hydrographic service, 138-10-6 archives.]

The new capital of the Louisiana Territory (Fort Louis de la Mobile) needed additional protection at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Massacre Isle (later "Dauphin Island") was ideal as a port to receive ships for trade, settlers, and for naval surveillance.
Massacre Isle became a busy port during the removal of Louisiana's capital from Biloxi to Mobile.

On January 3, 1702, Iberville sent a ship to Massacre Isle with two more of his and Bienville's brothers, Serigny and Chateaugue. On January 5, the younger brother Bienville arrived with forty men. Nicholas de LaSalle came from Pensacola with his family and 80 workmen, and the king's stores. LaSalle has been appointed Marine Commissary, and with forty sailors and ship's carpenters he constructed a warehouse on the island to receive and dispense goods being brought from Santo Domingo and France.

On January 10, Bienville and his brother Serigny left Massacre Isle with three vessels, and sailed up the bay to occupy the new Fort Mobile, sixteen leagues away.

Chateaugue was left in charge of building a fort on the eastern end of the island, with magazines for merchandise and barracks for soldiers. One advantage was that plenty of good fresh water could be found by digging in the white sand only a short distance from the shore and the salty sea. Also, there were excellent fish to be caught in the bay.

In the middle of February, 1702, Iberville returned to the island from Biloxi. His ship had difficulty entering the harbor during a strong northwest wind. Bienville ordered a flat boat built to ferry out over the sand bars to reach the ship.

Soon afterwards, a driving south wind beached a traversier discharging cargo from Havana and Biloxi. The crew dug sand away in the shallow water and tied on empty casks in and effort to float the vessel, but to no avail. On February 23 a high tide finally carried her off the sand bar.

The harbor itself, between Pelican Island and Massacre Isle, offered 30 feet of depth, once ships crossed the shifting sands of the bar. The harbor was desirable not only for its natural protection from winds from the north, northeast, and southwest, but combined with Mobile Point directly across the bay, gave easy defense for the bay and the gulf approaches. The main fear was that a a strong southerly gale would move the bar and close the harbor to large sailing ships. (That fear materialized in 1717 during a hurricane.)

The year of 1702 was a busy one on Massacre Isle, with settlers and cargo arriving often enough to charge the island with an air of excitement. The chief trade was in animal skins brought by the Indians from tribes of Illinois, Natchez, Yazoo, Choctaw, Apalachee, Tinssas, Maubilian, Alibamos, Chicasaw, Oumas, Bayogoulas and other native tribes. Iberville cordially welcomed them all, and rewarded them with gifts, for he wanted to gain an advantage over the British of Carolina who were trying to get the Indians to trade exclusivbely with them.

At the end of February, Iberville took three ships up the bay to Fort Louis de la Mobile, leaving one ship for LaSalle and his family. He appointed Girard as keeper of the royal stores on the island, his duties being delivery of goods to the settlers at the fort and providing gifts for the savages, upon the orders of LaSalle, who was subject to the commandant, Chateaugue.

From that time until 1721, when the capital was moved from Mobile back to Biloxi, and later to New Orleans, the island port was always in use. Vessels came from France to unload before transferring cargo to smaller, shallow draft boats to go up the bay to Mobile. A close realtionship developed between Mobile and Massacre Isle for many years.



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