23. August 2013 09:56
With 62 miles of scenic shoreline and the world’s longest manmade beach, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has an abundance of historic and natural resources. One location in particular played a key role in the history and settlement of the area, Ship Island. Often called the “Plymouth Rock” of the Gulf Coast, this is where many colonists took their first steps on American soil. The island is a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which was named one of the Top Ten Most Visited Places of the National Park System in 2012.
Located 12 miles off the Mississippi coast, Ship Island is a barrier island named in 1699 by French explorers who were impressed with the water anchorage the location offered large ships. During the War of 1812, 60 British ships with nearly 10,000 troops rendezvoused near Ship Island prior to their unsuccessful attempt to take New Orleans. In 1862, the island served as the base for a Union fleet before attacks on the ports of New Orleans and Mobile. The island also served as a prison for Confederate POWs and a base for the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard Volunteers, one of the first black U.S. combat units to fight in the Civil War.
Historic Fort Massachusetts is located on the western tip of Ship Island. It was built for national defense, because both domestic and foreign powers recognized the strategic significance of the natural deep water harbor on the north side of the island. Fort construction began in 1859, but storms, disease, climate, isolation and the Civil War made construction a challenge. Construction was halted in 1866 although the fort was not fully completed and never fully armed.
Today, visitors can enjoy a day trip to Ship Island for fun in the sun and nature exploration. A ferry runs daily March through October with rates ranging from $17-$27. Rangers and volunteers offer free guided tours of the fort. So pack your sunscreen, hat and sunglasses, and head out for a day of discovery on Ship Island. Details are available at www.msshipisland.com.