Six Sisters of the Gulf Coast

During the antebellum period along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a string of cities along the shoreline welcomed visitors arriving on steamboats, primarily from New Orleans but also from Mobile. Collectively, that line of watering places along the Gulf Coast—Shieldsboro (Bay St. Louis), Pass Christian, Mississippi City, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula (East and West)—was known as the Six Sisters. Famous for their hotels and salubrious atmospheres, the Six Sisters heavily advertised their attractions locally and in New Orleans to entice tourists to partake of their curative waters and to enjoy their resorts.

In 1790 English general Thomas Shields received title to the area today known as Bay St. Louis after French and Spanish land grants had failed to develop the area. The town of Shieldsboro incorporated on 21 January 1818 and by 1842 included a first-class hotel and numerous boardinghouses for visitors. By 1860 the city had approximately four hundred permanent residents. In 1875 the town changed its name to Bay St. Louis, and three years later the Louisville and Nashville Railroad purchased the New Orleans, Mobile, and Chattanooga Railroad creating a line running all along the Coast, thus ensuring Bay St. Louis’s prominence as a watering hole.

Pass Christian’s history began when François Carriere received a 1781 Spanish land grant. Upon Carriere’s death, his widow, Donna Julia de la Brosse, known as the Widow Asmard, inherited the grant, and when she died in 1799, she deeded 680 acres of land (the area that is now downtown Pass Christian) to Charles Asmard, her former slave. Early in the nineteenth century, New Orleanians began building summer retreats along the four-mile roadway that fronted the Gulf of Mexico, and the town of Pass Christian incorporated in 1848. The area assumed a genteel quality as cotton and sugarcane planters summered there, enjoying saltwater bathing.

To accommodate the increasing numbers of tourists, the Pass Christian Hotel opened in 1836, offering high-style living and social events. The Fourth of July was the liveliest holiday celebrated at the hotel until Gen. Zachary Taylor was honored there in 1848 by a grand ball after his distinguished service in the Mexican War. The next year, Pass Christian established the South’s first yacht club, the Southern Regatta Club, and regularly hosted races for the burgeoning numbers of tourists. By the 1850s Pass Christian had undergone an architectural renaissance as wealthy New Orleanians constructed palatial homes along the coast. By 1860 Pass Christian was known as the Queen City of the Mississippi Coast.

In 1837 three entrepreneurs, John J. McCaughan, James McLauren, and Colin McRae, created the Mississippi City Company. They envisioned a port, Mississippi City, serving as the terminus for the proposed Gulf and Ship Island Railroad, which would haul timber to the Gulf Coast for shipment out of Ship Island Harbor. In 1841, as a result of McCaughan’s efforts, a new county, named after William Henry Harrison, was created. His campaign to make Mississippi City the county seat resulted in the construction of a log cabin on what is now Courthouse Road. As a Mississippi state senator, McCaughan also urged the state legislature to locate the University of Mississippi in Mississippi City, but the proposal lost by one vote. McCaughan’s father-in-law, Dr. William Tegarden, built a grand wharf and hotel, the Gulf View, in 1850. Erecting a private lighthouse to guide steamboats to the Gulf View (known locally as the Barnes Hotel), Tegarden ensured Mississippi City’s place as a tourist destination.

Biloxi, founded in 1699 by Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, for King Louis XIV of France, became part of the Mississippi Territory in 1811 after English and Spanish rule. By 1817, when Mississippi became a state, two of Biloxi’s major landowners were the Ladner and Fayard families. On 8 February 1838 the Mississippi legislature granted permission for Biloxi to incorporate as a town, though it did not do so until 1850. Nevertheless, by the 1840s Biloxi hosted tourists in numerous hotels, including the American, the Magnolia, Nixon’s, Pradat’s, and the Shady Grove. The Biloxi Lighthouse began beckoning tourists in 1848, and they arrived to find fishing, boating, bathing, balls, and billiards.

In the early 1850s George Lynch, a trader-merchant operating a sawmill with Rev. P. P. Bowen on Biloxi Bay near Fort Bayou, rediscovered local iron, sulfur, and magnesium springs that Native Americans had previously used for medicinal purposes. Capitalizing on the believed curative effects of the waters, Bowen constructed marble baths for tourists arriving at what became known as Lynchburg. By 1853 Dr. William G. Austin and the Porter family completed a grand hotel, the Ocean Springs, and the town took that name following year. It subsequently developed into a resort, and over the following decade, hotels and boardinghouses sprung up to accommodate the numerous visitors who disembarked at the steamboat landing at the foot of Jackson Avenue.

In 1813 a visitor to Pascagoula described the village as always having a sea breeze and situated on a beautiful bay. John J. McRae established a cotton depot by 1819, thus opening the region to economic development. In the 1830s the East Pascagoula House opened for guests who wanted saltwater bathing and fresh seafood. The following year, the West Pascagoula House began hosting visitors. The McRae family eventually came to own both establishments, while John J. McRae operated a steamboat line from New Orleans to Pascagoula. However, by 1852 Pascagoula had lost its status as a watering hole after hurricanes, fire, and an incident involving Americans and Cuban exiles who wanted to launch an attack on Spain after the Mexican-American War. These filibusters, as they were called, congregated on Round Island, attracted national attention, and were killed when they invaded Cuba. Pascagoula subsequently expanded as an industrial area, particularly in shipbuilding.

Further Reading

  • Ray L. Bellande, Hotels and Tourists Homes of Ocean Springs (1994)
  • Robert J. Cangelosi Jr. and Liz Ford, in Maritime Resources and History of the Mississippi Gulf Coast (1998)
  • Dan Ellis, in Maritime Resources and History of the Mississippi Gulf Coast (1998)
  • Murella Hebert Powell, in Maritime Resources and History of the Mississippi Gulf Coast (1998)
  • Charles L. Sullivan and Murella Hebert Powell, The Mississippi Gulf Coast: Portrait of a People (1985)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Six Sisters of the Gulf Coast
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 6, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 15, 2018