Bon Secour is an old settlement. Its existence since 1793, is certain, and according to local legend the LeMoyne brothers had a hunting lodge at Bon Secour during the French occupation. As a town it has had its ups and downs. During the first period of its life it was the largest, most important settlement in Baldwin County, which then was only the debatable land between the French and Spanish Colonies. With all transportation by water Bon Secour was fortunately situated for it possessed a deep, safe harbor close to the mouth of the bay, and it was on the inland water route to Florida.
It is recorded, in further explorations for France after the LeMoyne brothers separated, that Bienville, the younger, made a journey from Biloxi to Pensacola in the autumn of 1699 and found a safe route overland from Mobile Bay to Perdido Bay. Maps made by the English during their occupation show a portage from the headwaters of the Bon Secour to the headwaters of the Perdido rivers. This inland water route apparently was an Indian portage. Going from Biloxi to Pensacola on this route a small boat could travel the whole distance and never enter the open Gulf. And it was possible for a sloop from Fort Louis at Mobile to be in Pensacola in thirty-six hours, taking one night to come down the Bay, one long day to make the portage, and one night to paddle up the inland water route to Pensacola. Sixty-seven miles in thirty-six hours was fast traveling in those days.
It seems probable that Bienville saw the old masonry structure called the "Mystery Fort" which has recently been excavated. It was a convenient camping place if he had traveled from Dauphin Island to what is now known as Swift's Landing by sailing sloop and come ashore there with his canoes to make the overland journey. It is a much more probable conjecture than the various theories advanced as to who built it in the first place. Mr. White says many of the artifacts found are French in origin. This would be quite understandable if the old building was an overnight stop on the inland water route of long ago.
Speculation on its builders is valueless. It could have been built by Prince Madoc (if he ever came here), except that the Welsh of his period knew nothing of "tabby". It could have been built by any one of several Spanish explorers for a fort, except that it is small for that purpose. It could have been built by Frenchmen except that they left very little "tabby" masonry. All of their "tabby" was used as cement to stick bricks together.
However, from the time that Tristan De Luna left Mobile Bay in 1561 to the time that Bienville came in 1699, there is no record of any legal representative of any country coming to this area. De Graffe, the pirate, and all his kind had it entirely to themselves for one hundred and thirty-eight years. They hid from the Spanish in the safe anchorage behind Dauphin Island and rushed out from ambush to attack the Spanish Treasure Fleet loaded with gold and jewels from Mexico on its customary route from Tampico around the Gulf. Any victims of the pirates who survived could have made their way to Bon Secour, and they certainly would have felt the need of a crude but solid "tabby" block house in which to live in case their neighbors behind Dauphin Island discovered their whereabouts.
If Mr. White is correct, the masonry antedates the French occupational period. If the LeMoyne brothers had a lodge at Bon Secour, Bienville made several journeys from Biloxi to Pensacola and must have come this way more than once, then the "Mystery Fort" is probably the only structure remaining in Alabama where it can safely be said Bienville slept.
Bienville was many men in one. He was a wily politician, an excellent woodsman, a talented sailor and gunnery officer, an administrator who got things done, something of a puritan compared with his contemporaries, an old bachelor in a world where everyone but priests were married, and strangest of all, a dedicated gardener and something of a gourmet. He planted and tended carefully orange trees and native grapevines as well as the ones brought from France, and I am sure he had lemons. He domesticated the pecan, ate the black walnut and hickory nut, and grew peaches and pears at his country place near the present location of Arlington Pier.
He imported strawberries and figs, and since he made a "native wine", he must surely have discovered dewberry cordial and scuppernong wine, two of the delights of the Gulf Coast. He boasted to the women of Fort Louis de la Mobile that he liked Indian bread. His delight in strawberries also is recorded.