Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dolphins of the Gulf Coast

Sorry, Sea Mammal Researchers; This is About People Named "Dolphin" !

My Bryant family on the Texas Gulf Coast lived near a family with the curious name of "Dolphin." The surname Dolphin doesn't appear in census records along the coast before 1870. That year was the first year that African-Americans were identified by name in the census. The Dolphins enumerated in 1870 in Alabama and Louisiana (and then in 1880 in Texas) were almost all blacks. Those not residing in Alabama were nearly all born in Alabama or descended from someone born in Alabama.

The story of Hardy Dolphin explains the background of that surname in the South. Hardy Dolphin was born in Caldwell Parish in northeast Louisiana on October 11, 1885. His parents were Gilbert Dolphin (born about 1853) and Fannie Pratt (born about 1856). Both his parents were born in Louisiana. Hardy had a sister named Martha and a brother named Freeman. Freeman had been named for one of his father's brothers. Hardy's family, among a large number of Louisiana blacks named Dolphin, were descended from a group of several hundred slaves brought originally to Dauphin Island, Alabama, in the early 1700's. At the time, Dauphin Island was part of French Louisiana, and in fact was the capital of the territory.

Dauphin Island had been taken into French ownership in 1699 by the French explorer Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville. This barrier island had been noted as early as 1519 by the Spaniard Alonzo Pineda. D'Iberville originally called the place "Massacre Isle" because a large Indian burial ground was found there. But as commerce grew, the French authorities eventually renamed it Dauphin Island. This was to honor Louis, Duke of Brittany, great-grandson and, briefly, heir to the throne of Louis XIV. The Dolphin family name was originally "Dauphin" or sometimes rendered "Dauphine."

"Dauphin" literally means "dolphin" in French. The term was used by the French as a title denoting the heir to the king of France from 1349-1830. Three dolphins were on the coat of arms of the first titleholder. Today the term "dauphin" is frequently used with a slightly derogatory connotation in reference to a person has acquired great wealth or high position, not by his own merit, but allegedly because of his paternal connection.

The 1810 census, the first conducted after Louisiana became part of the United States, counted numerous "Dauphins" or "Dauphines" along the coast of Alabama and Louisiana. Of course, these persons were whites.

But there was apparently a high degree of intermixing among the white and black Dauphins, as mulattoes with this surname began appearing in the census records. Many of the mulatto Dauphins migrated to New Orleans to become part of the intermediate social strata known as gens de couleur libre [free people of color]. Some of these people owned slaves. Other black Dauphins went elsewhere in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi and over time, as they lost their French language skills, the spelling of the name changed. On the other hand, there had been people named Dolphin enumreated in northern states like Connecticut and New Yotk as early as 1810. One such person was Eli Dolphin, described as a "free negro" in 1800 in Rennsaeler, New York. Today, there are blacks and whites named Dauphin, Dauphine, and Dolphin all over the country.

Dauphin Island suffered extensive damage during 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

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