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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Bayou la Batre - Dauphine Island

Bayou La Batre

On many early maps Bayou La Batre was called River Derbanne. It seems that a Frenchman, Francois Guyon Des Pres Derbanne was lost in the area and the waters were given his name. In the early French days a battery was located at the mouth of the bayou, therefore the bayou was later called River Batterie. In time the name evolved to Bayou Batterie – Bayou Labatree and then Bayou La Batre. Even though the site was only thirty miles south of Mobile, it was a wilderness. The land was covered with towering pines and giant oaks. Fruits and nuts were plentiful, as were wild animals. The waters of the numerous bayous meandered about the area, and the bay where they emptied provided an abundance of seafood.

In 1832 the missionary Father Chalon visited Bayou La Batre. He was forced to abandon his horse for a pirogue, a small boat, because the area is marshy and has many bayous. He stayed the first night in a cabin which had a bed with only some bits of straw. He wrote, “I shall never again disdain the straw; the following nights I missed it…. If you want to see Frenchmen whose costume and simplicity call to mind the manners of the 12th century, I would strongly advise you to take me as your guide and I will conduct you to Bayou-la-Battrai. If you want to hear French spoken as it was written by Joinville, [Jean de Joinville, 1224–1319, a chronicler of medieval France] come first to Mobile, and I will lead you to Bayou-la-Battrai. In the midst of these good farmers I found myself transported to an era which antedates ours by at least four centuries. …. It is true that they are very poor. I must also add that they are profoundly ignorant; but far from commerce with the world, they had not contracted its vices; their poverty was the rampart which saved their faith. They possess nothing that could tempt the cupidity of men; and so they have been abandoned to themselves as if they lived in terrignota;” (S) “Bayou La Batre: A Sketch”, by Archbishop Oscar Hugh Lipscomb, The Alabama Review, January 1966, PP20-27.

Dauphine Island

On 1/31/1699 the explorers Pierre Le Moyne and Sieur D’Iberville dropped anchor off the southern tip of Alabama. France had laid claim to this vast territory comprising three quarters of what is now the United States, and named it Louisiana after their king. Due to the fact that the two French ships, Le Marin and La Renommee, drew so much water the explorers set out in longboats to follow the mainland in an east-west direction. Passing by what is now Bayou La Batre and Cedar Point, they found this island. Coming upon a large pile of bones (possibly sixty men or women), D’Iberville named the island “Massacre.” The island was described as being covered with pines and cedars and being seven leagues long and one-fourth league wide. A league is about three miles. By 1701, the natural harbor on the south side was in constant use. Sand Island and Pelican Island formed a crescent shaped harbor, large enough and deep enough to accommodate thirty vessels. It was here that the ships were unloaded and their cargo put on shallow draft vessels to go upstream. Mobile Bay was too shallow to permit the larger boats access. Mobile was called the birthplace of the colony and Dauphine Island the cradle. Although the name “Massacre” hung on for many years, the island was named officially Isle Dauphine, in 1707. In 1711 pirates from British Jamaica attacked the colony on Dauphin Island. There was a lot of destruction, but no lives were lost. A hurricane of extreme intensity hit the island in 1717. The entrance to the harbor was blocked and three ships trapped. Much of the livestock was drowned. The damage influenced the French to move the capital first to Pascagoula, then to New Orleans. A number of families moved from the island after the storm. Two more ships arrived in 1718 with five hundred passengers. War was declared with Spain in 1719. The French attacked Pensacola, and in return the Spanish attacked Dauphine. The French successfully opposed the attack. Dauphin Island was occupied by the French until 1764, by the British from 1764 until 1781, by the Spanish from 1781 until 1813, when under orders from President Madison, General Wilkerson took Mobile during the final battle of the War of 1812.


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