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Dauphin Island, AL
Archive of Historical Data, Books, Maps
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Island Has A Rich History
"Historically Speaking"
By Emily S. Hearin

For the Mobile Press Register
Monday, February 13, 1995

The story of Dauphin Island begins in the French court of Louis IV, the Sun King. It was February 1, 1699 on orders of the French King, that the LeMoyne brothers, Bienville and D'Iberville, landed on this small island to found a French colony, providing an anchor for the establishment of the French colony of Mobile.

Dauphin Island's history may have begun before Christopher Columbus set foot on the shores of the Americans. It was reported and believed by many that Madoc Gwynedd, a Welsh navigator, came to the white beaches of Dauphin Island in 1170.

A bronze plaque in front of the old inn at Fort Morgan states, "in Memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind with the Indians the Welsh language." The memorial was erected by the Richmond, Virginia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and it was dedicated by the Virginia Cavalier Chapter of the DAR.

Dauphin Island is a narrow strip of land extending from the southernmost point of Mobile County. On a modern map, it has the shape of a fish. The island is 15 miles long and is located 30 miles from Mobile. It is connected to the mainland by a concrete and steel bridge, which was built after the original bridge constructed in 1955 was heavily damaged in Hurricane Frederic in 1979.

Dauphin Island was first known as Massacre Island to the French explorers because they found large piles of human bones there. They also discovered the nesting sites for the giant loggerhead sea turtles and huge piles of oyster shells.

Bienville and D'Iberville changed the name of the island to Dauphin in honor of the eldest son of the King of France. At one time, it was the capital of two-thirds of what is now the United States. The French government directed the destiny of French Louisiana during the early years of exploration and the establishment of the French colonies along the Gulf Coast. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson purchased thousands of acres west of the Mississippi from the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in a transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Mobile and Dauphin Island have a rich story to tell with a long history and eras of cultural change - first. The French and Spanish explorers bringing their old world customs to the Gulf Coast, then the losing fight of the confederate States of American and finally the area becoming a part of the United States.

A Dauphin Island Tricentennial Commission has been formed to celebrate in 1999 the historic landing of the French explorers in 1699.

The Tricentennial 300 commission has many ambitious plans for the celebration in 1999. On of the most interesting ideas is an out door drama such as the one located in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina titled "Unto These Hills" which tells the story of the Cherokee Indians.

Dauphin Island is home of an annual sailing regatta, the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo and bird migration in the spring. It has long been a vacation spot for tourists and is becoming more and more desirable as a permanent home for people from all over the country who enjoy its beauty and tranquility.

On the eastern end of the island stands Fort Gaines, running west of the fort is a big sand dune. Most of the island lies north of the big sand dune. Most of the island lies north of the big sand dune and is covered with palmetto, pines, oaks and trees of many varieties. It is unusual for an island to be so wooded.

In 1987, the residents of the island voted to become an incorporated town. The past years have been marked by slow but steady progress. The citizens elected a mayor and a council that has written ordinances, negotiated contracts, hired people, and firmed an organization for future planning and development.

The Dauphin Island 300 Commission is an example of civic pride. The purpose is to plan a celebration of the landing of the French explorers on the island. The Commission Board has held meetings and all kinds of plans and ideas have been discussed and brought forth for this occasion.

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