Ship Island

Word Count: 1407 |

Thesis: Ship Island, a barrier island on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, has had a rich history throughout the years

I. The Beginning
A. The Discovery of the Island
B. Colonization

II. War
A. War of 1812
B. Civil War

III. Fort Massachusetts
A. Building of the Fort
1. Construction
2. Resume Building
B. Restoration

IV. Physical Changes
A. Lighthouses
B. Hurricanes
C. The two islands

V. Ship Island’s Present
A. Park Service
B. Ship Island excursions
C. The vanishing of Ship Island

Ship Island, a barrier island on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, has had a rich history throughout the years. The Spanish, British, Union, and Confederate have all claimed territory at Ship Island but, it was first discovered by a French explorer. “His name was Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and he discovered Ship Island in February 1699. Ship Island was first used as a base of operations in the exploration of the mouth of the Mississippi River. (Buras 17)” The reason for its occupation as the base has to do with the fact that it is the only deep-water harbor for miles between Mobile Bay and the Mississippi River. That is why the island hosted as such a vital anchorage for the colonist and ships to come in the future. This deep anchoring port is how Ship Island received its name in 1702.
Ship Island hosted as a major pit stop for immigration to the new French colonies of America. The island was used as a key stop between Europe countries and its colonists from 1720 until 1724. After that time period France gave the island to Great Britain by at the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763. Then twenty years later, in 1783, at the closing stages of the American Revolution, Great Britain handed over the island to Spain. The Spanish then used the island for trading their goods to the American colonist. Then in 1810 the United States became the rightful owners of Ship island, as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
War has not only been a big part of ship Island’s history; it has been the foundation on why Ship Island is so famous today. War first emerged on Ship Island in the War of 1812. Admiral Cochran had anchored his fleet of fifty warships right smack between Ship and Cat Island. It was used as the launching point for the great Battle of New Orleans. Then about 1849, the Navy of the United States used the island as a place to disassemble any mercenaries on the barrier island for paramilitary invasion of Cuba.
Mississippi seceded from the Union in January 1861. This made it the second state to be a part of the Confederacy. This meant a civil war was upon the country which was sure to land on Ship Island shore. One of the first acts of the Civil War occurred on Ship Island. An armed rouge group of Mississippi militia captured and took control of the island. The band of men soon departed their post on the island, where it remained deserted until early June. During the month of June Confederate troops landed on the island and placed several cannons around the island. “On July 9, the Union ship Massachusetts came within range of the Confederate guns. The twenty-minute exchange of cannon fire that followed resulted in few injuries and little damage to either side.( Maplges 27)” The battle on that day was the only military engagement that Ship Island would ever participate in.. Shortly after only two months on the island the confederates left their camp in mid-September.
Union forces soon conquered the island. Ship Island was used as the base for the capture of New Orleans. This all took place in the spring of 1862. Ship Island held home to 18,000 United States troops that all lived and were stationed there. Throughout the Civil War the Union troops made excellent use of Ship Island. Union ships usually stopped at the island for repairs and to replenish supplies. “The 1st Louisiana Native Guard, one of the first black regiments in the United States Army, were recruited in Louisiana and stationed on Ship Island for almost three years. (Skrmetta, Peter)” While on the island the troops constructed a small town which consisted of a hospital, barracks, mess hall, and bakery. These were just a few of the buildings said to be found on the island.
Fort Massachusetts is a fort on West Ship Island along the Mississippi Gulf Coast of the United States. It was built following the War of 1812 and remained in use until 1903. Currently it is a historical tourist attraction within the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Construction of the fort began in June 1859, and was part of the united States War Departments fort defense grid. The work was mainly constructed by civilians. The work team usually had up to 100 men, and included carpenters, stone masons, blacksmiths, and stonecutters. When the civil war began however construction on the fort came to a halt. It was not till 1862 when construction picked back up. It was finally ready by fall of 1866. After then on it was watched by a caretaker who took care of the canons and landscape incase any situation arose, where the fort would be needed ever again. Sadly the fort was never used in combat and none of its forty-seven canons were fired.
Fort Massachusetts over the years has taken a lot of damage. A “Save the Fort” movement began in1960s , created by a few locals, had led to the establishment of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Since the fort is unable to be relocated beach protection is one of the many ways to save the fort landmark. . They do this by filing the beach up every year to keep the water from eroding the fort. “In addition, employees from the Historic Preservation Training Center stepped ashore in December 2001 to re-point, replace and reset as needed, the brick walls of the 135 year-old fort. ( Skrmetta, Ken)”
Over the years Ship Island has come across many changes. One of the biggest ones though dates back to 1969. This is when hurricane Camille two the island in half. Now there is a West and East Ship Island. The two islands a fairly different from one another. East Ship is home to a thick forest and many creatures, while West is home to many swamps and the notorious Fort Massachusetts. Hurricanes though seem to be a big factor on the island. Hurricanes are constantly changing the beach and landscape. In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit Ship Island not only lost over two miles in beach but was completely submerged in water. It destroyed many things on the island including the historic Ship Island lighthouse. The ship Island lighthouse has been there since 1999. It was built in honor of the lighthouse before it which was built in 1886. The 1886 lighthouse was destroyed not by hurricane but, was burned down by a bunch of campers.
Ship Island today is a great vacation spot for both the nature lover and the history explorer. It is protected Gulf Islands National Seashore and the National Park Service, which give their time and dedication to protect the islands natural beauty and wildlife. They work together, along with Ship Island Excursions, to keep the island safe for future generations. One main problem however is the island is constantly shifting to the west and is slowly disappearing. The park service has taken high precaution and in recent years planted many sea oats to keep the island safe. Many families now wish to see the island before it is gone forever. It is accessible to the public through a ferry boat business that runs out the city of Gulfport.

“The ferry service was established in 1926 by Croatian immigrant Peter M. Skrmetta. The Skrmetta family continues the business today as a concessionaire with the National Park Service. Capt. Pete’s grandchildren operate the boats and manage beach services. The family takes great pride in providing a safe and enjoyable experience for passengers and hopes to continue taking passengers out to explore the wonders and rich history of Ship Island. (Adonna, Currie)”


Capt. “Pete” Peter Skrmetta, Owner of Ship Island Excursions. Interviewed by Kadin snow March 31, 2008

Maplges, Luthor- Camp Fire of Ship Island Vol. 1, pp.25-31

Bunas, Zach – Ship Island and the Confederacy , Hattiesburg : University and college press of Ms, 1971. 52 Pages

Capt. Ken Skrmetta, Ship Island boat Captian. Interviewed by Kadin Snow March 28, 2008

Currie, Adonna.“ Ship Island Excursions”, April 1, 2008

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