Port Dauphin (1MB221), Mobile County, Alabama.


Port Dauphin, on Dauphin Island, served throughout the early years of French colonial settlement on the Gulf coast as a support facility to the main settlements upriver, the town sites of Mobile -- first at Old Mobile, at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff on the Mobile River from 1702 to 1711, and then at the city's modern location at the head of Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Mobile River. The historian Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz referred to Mobile as the birthplace of the French colony of Louisiane and to Dauphin Island as its cradle. In a practical sense the two functioned as one (Hamilton 1976:165).

The first two decades of French colonization of the Mobile Bay area are critical to an understanding of the development of French culture in Louisiane. During this period, the French sought to block English expansion into the region by the presence of settlements in the continent's interior. The area was also the scene of rivalry between France and Spain. In anticipation of the French colonizing effort in the Gulf region, Spain preemptively claimed the best harbor on the Gulf coast at Pensacola Bay and established Fort San Carlos there in 1698, only months before the arrival of the French in the Gulf.

These initial European settlements on the Gulf coast contained few colonists and were poorly supported by infrequent re-supplies from Europe. Colonists at Port Dauphin, Mobile, and Pensacola worked cooperatively to support each other, particularly during the first decade of their existence. However, French-Spanish relations deteriorated during the second decade and ended in war in 1719.

In an effort to insure the survival of the French colony during this difficult period, Governor Iberville, along with his brother and chief lieutenant Bienville, forged military and trading alliances with the local Indian societies. Indians were also present in the colony as slaves, servants, and marriage partners. An appreciation of the Indians' interrelationship with the French colonists is crucial to an understanding of the early years of Louisiane.

The French colonists, though few in numbers, were a diverse group, including soldiers, artisans, Canadian voyageurs, and government officials. Accumulation of personal wealth was the goal of most and trade provided the avenue to satisfy this aspiration. Trade was active between the Indians, the French, and the Spanish. Official policy evolved from openness in the first decade to restrictive mercantile sanctions during the second. Comparing the archaeological record from various sites within the region reveals the effects of official policy on the inhabitants of the colony.

Research interest in this important period has increased in recent years. At the early French townsite of Old Mobile (1702-1711) excavations have been conducted at several structures, and field work continues there today. Limited work at "New:" Mobile (post-dating 1711) was conducted by Sheldon and Cottier (1983). Excavations have been completed at the Dog River site (1MB161; Waselkov 1996). Excavations have also been conducted at Fort San Carlos in 1995 and 1996 (Bense 1996), the early eighteenth-century Spanish colonial site on Pensacola Bay. Diane Silvia (1996) has excavated an early historic-period Indian structure at Bottle Creek and a historic Indian structure west of, and contemporary with, Old Mobile (1MB147).

Research on the French colonial settlement on Dauphin Island is important to the early historic archaeological record, especially for the potential it has to complement the recent discoveries at Old Mobile (1702-1711; 1MB94), Dog River (c. 1725-1763; 1MB161), and the late eighteenth-century Rochon plantation on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay (1BA337).

The focus of this research is directed at the early French occupation on Dauphin Island at Port Dauphin Village. Dauphin Island was established early in 1702 and almost totally abandoned by 1725 (Rowland and Sanders 1932), as residents moved to New Biloxi and to New Orleans after 1719. Little is known about the inhabitants of the island. Why did individuals begin to move to Dauphin Island from Old Mobile in 1708? How did their life ways differ from those of the inhabitants of Old Mobile and of Pensacola? How did the life ways of the soldiers differ from those of the other inhabitants of the colony? Does the archaeological record reflect or contrast with the historic record? At Old Mobile, the answer to this last question has been that in many instances, the archaeology does not agree entirely with the documentary record (Waselkov 1991). Will this be the case with Dauphin Island?

A single large structure site in the Port Dauphin site was excavated in 1997 by the University of South Alabama with support of a preservation grant from the Alabama Historical Commission. This structure is interpreted as a residence and tavern occupied between circa 1715 and 1725. Systematic shovel testing across the rest of the area known from historic maps to have been occupied by the Port Dauphin village turned up only a few more structure sites. The rest evidently have been destroyed by modern residential development and by hurricane scouring over the last 300 years.

Cite this Record

Port Dauphin (1MB221), Mobile County, Alabama.. ( tDAR id: 380882) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8GM88PD

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

URL: http://www.usouthal.edu/archaeology/port-dauphin.html

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1715 to 1725

Spatial Coverage

min long: -88.116; min lat: 30.235 ; max long: -88.086; max lat: 30.259 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies

Principal Investigator(s): George W. Shorter, Jr.

Project Director(s): Gregory Waselkov

Prepared By(s): University of South Alabama

Record Identifiers

1997.005(s): Accession Number

Source Collections

University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum Port Dauphin Village Collection 1997.005

University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies Port Dauphin Village Collection 1997.005

Related Comparative Collections

University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies Old Mobile Collection 2004.077

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-5 of 5)


  1. Port Dauphin Village Site Artifact Photos, Mobile County, Alabama. (1997)
  2. Port Dauphin Village Site Excavation Photos, Mobile County, Alabama. (1997)


  1. Field Specimen Catalog for Port Dauphin Village (1MB221), Mobile County, Alabama. (1997)
  2. Glass Beads from the Port Dauphin site (1MB221), Mobile County, Alabama. (1997)

3D & Sensory Data

  1. A 3D Scan of a Large Lead Seal from the Port Dauphin Village site (1MB221), Mobile County, Alabama. (2000)