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Ship Island History
Long a tradition, island hopping is as venturesome today as it was 300 years ago. The pirates did it, the bootleggers did it, and the early French and Spanish families joined together in traditional celebrations through the centuries by having reunions either on the mainland or at the barrier islands.
Annual picnics were hosted at Cat Island by the Cuevas Clan lasting for days. Before Juan Cuevas died in 1849, he gave his last great party in 1844. Cat Island, just west and north of Ship Island, is easily visible from the Mississippi coastal shoreline. It was at Ship Island that Fort Massachusetts was built during the period from 1858 to 1872. It was at Ship Island and nearby Cat Island that the British anchored warships carrying 10,000 men while massing for their ill-fated attack on New Orleans in 1814. It was Cat Island where Pass Christian's Christian Ladner herded cattle in 1748. It was at Ship Island where the forerunners of the Casket Girls arrived in 1704. It was at Ship Island that D'Iberville landed on February 10, 1699 to find the natural safe harbor for his ships.
The gulf channel shoots out from the Port of Gulfport in a straight line to the old fort Massachusetts at Ship Island. Access to this Gulf barrier island is provided by the Skrmetta family owned excursion vessels which depart Gulfport on a daily basis. The one-hour cruise to Ship Island aboard the sleek aluminum 350-passenger craft is accommodated on the "Gulf Islander" or on other sister ships.
Today the National Park Service maintains the fort and provides free daily tours by Park Rangers who recount the history and legends of the island and fort. Besides hiking amongst the sand dunes -- picnic grounds, sun-bathing and snorkeling in the clear waters are made enticing to many visitors.
Ship Island was selected by USA Today Travel as one of the top ten beaches in the United States. Facilities include boardwalk, shade pavilion, showers, dressing rooms, snack bar, and beach rental paraphernalia.
Ship Island is not as visible to its closest mainland point as is Cat Island with its pine trees and tall sand dunes almost always within sight from Highway 90. Detailed maps graphically described by cartographers of the French, English, Spanish, and Americans, indicated the water-depths of the channels and harbors. Leading between the two islands from the Gulf into the Sound was a deep and wide channel affording anchorage for large sea-going vessels. Mississippi timber and lumber was always shipped or barged out to the islands for foreign ships to take back to their lands.
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