The History of Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island is a scenic barrier island located at the mouth of Mobile Bay and a must-visit Gulf Coast destination on any Alabama vacation.

Although the island is known as a relaxed island travel destination today with plentiful options for outdoor activities, wildlife viewing, and beachgoing, there’s a vibrant history with many fascinating stories behind it.

Dauphin Island history dates back to at least the Mississippian Period (1000-1550 AD) as evidenced by the shell mounds on the island. Before it became a part of U.S. Alabama Territory, it was controlled by the English, French and Spanish at various points.

Several comfortable lodging options including vacation rentals and homes are just a short distance from fascinating and actively maintained historic sites. The intriguing history here is certainly one of the top reasons why it is a major tourist spot today.

dauphin island history

An Overview of Alabama’s Little Island That Could

As the Mobile Bay was rich in aquatic life, Native American tribes such as the Creek, Seminoles and Choctaw used to frequent Dauphin Island to hunt, fish and gather the shellfish that can be found in abundance here throughout the year.

Drawn from afar by the endless supply of seafood found in coastal waters, early Native American inhabitants left their mark on Dauphin Island by forming “mounds” of discarded clam and oyster shells, parts of which still exist and may be explored today.

The Start of European Settlement

When Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville led French explorers to colonize here in 1699, they found numerous skeletons and cried out in horror, “Ah! What a massacre!” The skeletons were actually from a native burial mound that had been broken open during a hurricane. They subsequently named the island “Massacre Island.”

By 1707, the island was renamed “Isle Dauphine” and the port “Port Dauphin” after Louis XIV’s great-grandson, and it served as the capital of the entire Louisiana Territory. “Dauphin” is also the French word for dolphin, and to this day the island is often mispronounced as “Dolphin Island.”

The Pirate Raids

In 1711, pirates raided the French settlement. However, the settlement survived the raid and went on to prosper. During this period the port became a major trading depot with ships arriving from Haiti, Mexico, France and Cuba. As Mobile Bay was too shallow for seafaring ships to enter, they used to unload goods and passengers in Dauphin Island and small boats would carry them to the mainland.

The Arrival of Cadillac

By 1713, the French Governor General of Louisiana, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, had made Dauphine Island his home in the area that is known today as Cadillac Square. In 1717, a hurricane ravaged the island; the Governor General relocated elsewhere, and the capital was moved.

Trading Hands

The island went to the British in 1766 and then to the Spanish in 1780. It became a part of the United States of America in 1813 when it was captured by the American forces who wanted to prevent the British from using the island during the war of 1812-14.

The US government decided to build Fort Gaines to protect its territory in 1821 and the construction went on till 1853.

dauphin island civil war history

Dauphin Island in the Civil War

Confederate forces occupied the island in 1861 during the Civil War. Union forces later captured it during the famous Battle of Mobile Bay which took place 1864 under the leadership of Rear Admiral David G. Farragut.

The island then went on to become a peaceful settlement and tourist attraction. In 1955, the completion of the bridge connecting the island to mainland led to major economic growth in the area and a greater influx of tourists.

A Look at Dauphin Island Today

Today Dauphin Island is a vacation getaway with pristine beaches, a variety of comfortable lodging options including homes, vacation rentals, and premier fishing spots.

The island can be reached via both the bridge and boats/ferries from the mainland, along with a small airport. There are a number of activities that you can enjoy on Dauphin Island along with visiting the historic locations that still stand.

dauphin island beaches

Stop by well-preserved Fort Gaines

Whether you’re a history buff or aren’t all that interested, no trip to Dauphin Island can be complete without a tour of Fort Gaines. It’s one of the most well-preserved forts in America, and the site remains active to this day with historical reenactments, guided tours, a museum, and gift shop.

See the history of the island brought back to life as you watch reenactors perform blacksmithing or a cannon firing demonstration.

Take the Ferry to Fort Morgan

The Mobile Bay Ferry is in close proximity to many vacation homes and rentals on the island and takes tourists from Dauphin Island across the Mobile Bay to the Historic Fort Morgan area.

This fort was built between 1819 and 1833 and also played a major role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. It was used up to World War II as a critical seacoast defense.

Indian Mound Park

Indian Mound Park is located on the northern end of the island near many vacation rentals and serves as a wildlife refuge and historic site. Former Native American tribes discarded vast amounts of oyster shells here, creating shell mounds that can still be viewed today.

One large shell mound and several smaller ones in a serpentine formation can still be seen at the park – a testament to the presence of Native Americans in the island.

Cadillac Square

Cadillac Square is a historic park that was the former home of French Governor Cadillac and offers beautiful oak trees amidst facilities for picnicking and frequent events.

cadillac square park dauphin island

Other attractions

Dauphin Island is a paradise for bird-watchers, as it is an important habitat during migration season. Over 350 species have been spotted on the island. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary, spread over 164 acres, is a designated sanctuary on the island with a variety of landscapes to explore on trails and boardwalks.

With its pristine white sandy beaches and clear blue waters, the beaches on Dauphin Island are another major tourist attraction. Relax under the sun with an umbrella and enjoy a drink on the beach while snapping photos of an unbelievable sunset, or swim in a warm and inviting ocean with your family.

The island also has several parks where you can unwind with the whole family, next to some top-tier lodging and homes for rent.

Travel to Dauphin Island and learn about its fascinating history firsthand, along with everything you need to relax and enjoy a stress-free family vacation in a pristine natural setting.

We can help you find the perfect rentals for your needs and answer any questions about traveling here, so feel free to call us at (251)-861-3311.

ACP Real Estate

900 Bienville Blvd.
P.O. Box 1177
Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528

(251) 861-3311

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