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Dauphin Island, AL
Archive of Historical Data, Books, Maps
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Excerpt from the book
"Dauphin Island AL:
French Possession 1699-1763"

by Jo Myrtle Kennedy

"Building the Fort - 1717"

On March 9, 1717, L'Epinay, fourth governor of Louisiana, with three companies of infantry and fifty colonists, arrived at Dauphin Island from France on three ships owned by Antoine Crozat, who had been granted an exclusive lease on all French terriory in the Mississippi Valley.
One of L'Epinay's first acts was to inspect the wooden fort that protected Pelican Harbor. He reported the deplorable condition and lack of defense provided by the decaying fort and announced he would have another fort built 'one-half gunshot from the sea'.

As was customary with friendly Indians, chiefs of twenty-four tribes went to Dauphin Island to welcome L'Epinay. According to Penicaut, an early French historian who lived in Mobile at the time, some of the tribes represented were Choctas, Apalachees, Tinssas, Mobiliens, Bayogoulas, Oumas, Natchez, Chicachas, Alibamos, and others. The calumet-smoking lasted two months, as all of them could not come at once. The new governor received them all with a cordial welcome and presented them with gifts from France.

In an effort to minimize rivalries among different officers in the colony, advisors to the King of France had sent written instructions defining duties of each office, and also to establish a Supreme Council of Louisiana to meet at Fort Louis in Mobile or on Dauphin Island.

L'Epinay then journeyed to Mobile, where he ordered improvements to be made on Ft. Louis. The fort was reconstructed of bricks made in nearby kilns and carried by the Indian squaws to reinforce the walls of the much needed fort at the mouth of the Mobile River. A cornerstone bearing the date 1717 existed until the time of U.S. ownership but has since disappeared. The rebuilt brick fort was named Ft. Conde in honor of a great French general. It was the strongest fort on the gulf coast and one of the best-constructed on the whole continent. Fort Conde survived a century of changes that saw the flags of France, England, Spain, and United States fly over the fort until it was finally declared "surplus" by an act of Congress. Fort Conde was sold at public auction in October 1820, and its solid brick walls were blasted down with gunpowder, the rubble being used to fill muddy low-lying riverfront streets in Mobile. (A contemporary note of importance must be injected here, for Fort Conde was of such historical value that the city of Mobile in 1975-76 reconstructed a major part of the fort complete with interior buildings in replica of the design of the early French fort.-JMK)

But by August of 1717, it was obvious that M.Crozat was not equal to the discouraging demands of the colony. Crozat had endeavoured to establish exclusive trade with Indians for markets in Europe, but had met conflict with the Indians and competition with the Spanish. All around, his trade venture had failed.

The other part of his two-pronged ambition had been to discover gold or silver or other precious minerals. That, too, had been unsuccessful. Discouraged and financially exhausted, previously wealthy Crozat admitted the heavy burden of Louisiana too much for him and requested release from his charter in August 1717.

As though fate had conspired to lay the seal upon Crozat's decision to abandon Louisiana, a powerful and destructive hurricane swept into Mobile Bay during the late summer of 1717.

Heading for port ahead of the storm, the "Peacock' entered the cresecent harbor formed between Dauphin Island and Pelican Islands. Twenty-seven feet of water was more than enough for the ship to sail into harbor while dark clouds rumbled with thunder and lightning. With the ship threatening to capsize, the crew quickly lowered and rolled up the sails. The storm steadily increased, howling with growing fury. In the blinding rain, cutting wind, and vlowing sand, island residents rushed to secure whatever they could against the force of the coming hurricane. When the storm abated, Governor L'Epinay toured the island to assess damage from the hurricane. Log houses that had been flooded and demolished could be rebuilt, and damage to the fort could be repaired. But when he viewed the harbor that had made Dauphin Island the hub of the Louisiana enterprise, tragedy fell full force on L'Epinay. Several boats lay in splinters, floating with debris from houses and broken trees. The Peacock bobbed unsteadily but still upright.

Looking toward Pelican Island, L'Epinay was horrifed to see a complete change in the shape of the island. Raging winds and surging tides had swept sand onto the bar, which had been far enough under water to allow ocean-going ships to sail into port. Now the bar was a long arm of white sand joining Pelican Island to Dauphin Island. With the harbor blocked, the Peacock was trapped in the harbor. The captain surveyed the situation and ordered the crew to unload all cargo and tie on empty casks to lift the ship. He barely managed to get out of the harbor by the Grand Croziers (near what is now Sand Island lighthouse).

The hurrticane that closed Dauphin Port in 1717 changed the history of the island, for it became obvious that shifting sand bars could control use of the harbor.

Orders came in October for L'Epinay to transfer the colonial government to Bienville and return to France, ushering in a new era in Dauphin Island history.

Fort Gaines Sand Island Light House Shell Mounds on Dauphin Island Dauphin Island History Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium

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