The well-preserved ramparts of Fort Gaines have guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay for more than 150 years. Now a historic site, the Fort stands at the eastern tip of Dauphin Island where it commands panoramic views of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Fort was recently designated as one of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites in America due to on-going shoreline erosion.
Long before Spanish and French explorers reached these shores, Dauphin Island was popular with Native Americans who came there to fish, hunt and gather oysters and other shellfish that grew in profusion in Mobile bay. Traces of their presence can still be seen today at Shell Mound Park on the Island’s north shore.
When the French landed on Dauphin Island in 1699, they found so many skeletons scattered on the beach that they thought a massacre had taken place there. The French named the island “Massacre Island” and established a settlement on the island. The colony was raided by pirates in 1711, but the settlement survived. By 1717, Dauphin Island was the home of the French Governor General of Louisiana, who lived in a home at today’s Cadillac Square. It was the French, in fact, who gave the island its name, after a member of French royalty, “Dauphine.”
The island passed through British and Spanish hands before becoming part of the United States. To defend its new territory of Alabama, the government built Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island between 1819 and 1853.The fort played an important role in the Battle of Mobile Bay and it was within sight of its walls that Union Admiral David G. Farragut issued his immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” After Farragut and his ships forced their way into the bay, Union soldiers laid siege to Fort Gaines, which surrendered on August 8, 1864.
Dauphin Island has emerged as one of the most beautiful and peaceful settings on the Gulf Coast. The island today is a resort area, famed for its beaches and fishing. Dauphin Island offers beautiful beaches, pristine environments, coastal amenities and a rich history. It is truly a jewel of the Gulf Coast.