Tri-City Ledger -

By Kevin McKinley
Guest Writer 

Difficult mail delivery to Dauphin Island


April 4, 2019

Isham Benjamin MCKINLEY (bottom left) delivered mail to Dauphin Island by sailboat in the early 1900s.

A trip to Dauphin Island almost invariably guarantees beautiful sunsets, white sandy beaches and friendly people who call the island home. My prior assessments of visits to Dauphin Island proved as true as a compass when a late March visit to the island brought me to the Dauphin Island Visitor Center in the Little Red School House and a meeting with Mr. James Hall, the Director, of the Dauphin Island Museum.

The island always held an allure due to the fact that the first cousin of my great great grandfather delivered mail by sailboat to the island and local communities in the early 1900s. Isham Benjamin McKinley was born in Monroe County Alabama in the 1840s, had joined the 1st Alabama Cavalry CSA with my great great grandfather John William McKinley and another young cousin as the boys were teenagers at the outset of the war. They had been captured at Murphysboro, Tennessee and sent to a POW camp called Camp Douglas, also known as Forty Acres of Hell.

After the war, Isham B. McKinley moved around a good bit with his family and in the very early 1900s he obtained a mail contract on Dauphin Island. He used a sailboat in his delivery duties and spanned the route from Coden to Dauphin Island. He died and was buried on the island on May 27, 1903. I usually place a Confederate flag on his grave each year.

While visiting the welcome center in March of 2019, Mr. Hall showed me a trove of information the museum had on Confederates on Dauphin Island as well as some information on the mail carriers who braved the waters to deliver mail to the islanders in the early 1900s.

Although he did not have any documents on Isham McKinley in particular he did have several from one of Isham's predecessor's Mr. Robert Cruse who delivered mail from Coden to Dauphin Island in 1898.

Cruse noted his log showing that the mail trip usually started around 5am in the morning and it was roughly a 12 hour trip between pick up time at Coden and delivery at Dauphin Island. Olive Stomlaugh(sp?) was the postmaster.

Cruse made two trips a week, by sailboat, during November 1898. Yet it was one trip in particular that catches the eye of any reader. He notes one trip in which he ran into bad weather and lost his anchor. He was forced to run aground and seek help. A gentleman helped him in attempting to retrieve the anchor and a puff of wind pushed the ship adrift. Cruse and his helper were stranded and had to be rescued by an oyster boat.

Isham's great grandson once recounted to me that his grandfather talked to Isham at length about the mail route and he noted that it was difficult and if the wind was with the carrier it could be a short trip. However, if the wind fell, and the ship was drifting at a slow pace it could often make for an irritable mail carrier.

The fate of Robert Cruse and the ultimate cause for the demise of Isham Benjamin McKinley, who is buried in the Methodist Cemetery, on Dauphin Island are questions lost to history. Perhaps someday an old envelope or letter will surface, as if delivered from a zip code of the ancients and provide an answer to these mysteries.

Shadows and Dust Volume III: Legacies is available for purchase in the amount of $30.00+$5.00 shipping and handling to PO Box 579 Atmore, AL 36502 or visit Lulu;, Barnes and OR at the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama or by calling 251 294 0293.


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