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Homes & Land of Beaufort

Covering Historic Beaufort, the Sea Islands and surrounding areas.

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Beaufort, the Gem of the South

Beaufort, South Carolina is a part of the Lowcountry that needs little introduction. Rich in history, culture and spectacular beauty, the area has a reputation of turning visitors into residents.

For centuries, Native Americans, the Spaniards, the French, the Scots and the English all found the area worth fighting for, even to the death. In 1520, Captain Francisco Gordillo landed on what is now Saint Helena Island, naming it Santa Elena. For the next 200 years, rights to Santa Elena would change hands several times, first in 1562 with the arrival of French Captain Jean Ribaut. It was Ribaut who named Port Royal (Porte Royall).

French settlers established a colony on Parris Island, building Charles Forte just across the harbor in honor of King Charles IX.

Spanish Explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles destroyed the French colony just a few years later, killing Ribaut and establishing Spanish posts along the coasts of present day South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. For the next 21 years from 1565 to 1586, Santa Elena would be the capital of Spanish Florida.

The Lords Proprietors of Carolina
By the mid-1600s Santa Elena was deserted, though Spain continued to claim ownership. The arrival of the English to this area was led by Sea Captain William Hilton on behalf of the Lords Proprietors. King Charles II had granted land in what is today South Carolina to eight Lords Proprietors Sir John Colleton; George Monck, Duke of Albemarle; Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftsbury; Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon; Lord Craven; Lord Berkeley; Sir George Carteret; and Sir William Berkeley. Later, the Duke of Beaufort, Henry Somerset, was elevated to a Lord Proprietor, which is the origin of Beaufort's moniker. Beaufort Town was chartered in 1711, becoming the second-oldest city in South Carolina behind Charleston. Many residents of South Carolina did not like to be ruled under the Lords Proprietors who were free to enact their own constitutions and laws.

In 1715, several Indian tribes headed by the Yemassee Indians rose up in protest of unfair trade practices, encroachment of their land and poor treatment. Hundreds of settlers were killed before the uprising was quelled by then Governor Craven. In 1719, South Carolina became a crown colony abolishing the proprietary colony system, assisted in part by the Yemassee Wars aftermath and need for more established rule.
Battle Ground
War would ravage much of Beaufort during the American Revolution and the Civil War. According to the South Carolina Historical Society, prior to the American Revolution, South Carolina was Britain's richest North American possession.

In February 1779, the British focused on the Lowcountry in what is today referred to as the Battle of Port Royal/Beaufort. The Americans successfully repulsed their British counterparts. There would be several more skirmishes in Beaufort County at Coosawhatchie (1779), Fort Balfour/Pocotaligo (1781), Savannah River (1782), Beaufort (1782), and Port Royal Ferry (1782).

By 1783 when the war had ended, South Carolina had the "highest per capita war debt in America," making it difficult for the colonists.

Beaufort was also prominent in the Civil War. The Milton Maxey House, also known as the Secession House, is located on Carven Street in historic Beaufort and was the site of the first meeting to discuss seceding from the Union. South Carolina was the first state to secede on December 20, 1860. Several southern states followed. Nearly a year later on November 7, 1861, the Union Navy entered Port Royal Sound. By mid-day, the Confederates had suffered defeat with the loss of Hilton Head, then Pinckney Island. Beaufort would remain occupied by the Union for the remainder of the Civil War.

The Economy
In the 18th Century and throughout the 19th Century, the Lowcountry's economy prospered producing rice, indigo and later Sea Island cotton. Wild rice, indigenous to the area was supplanted in 1693 by fine cultivated rice introduced by a visiting sea captain from Madagascar. Indigo dye also became a crop for Lowcountry plantation owners. Eliza Lucas, the daughter of a British Army Officer is credited with perfecting a method of making cakes or blocks from the Indigo that could be turned into dye. At the time, indigo was in great demand for use in military uniforms, coats, textiles, paint and printing and had only been available through French suppliers. Many plantation owners produced both rice and indigo.

Even with the success of rice and indigo crops, it was the introduction of extra-long staple cotton, termed Sea Island cotton that led to prosperity in the region. Known for its extra-long silky fibers, it is considered to be the finest, most expensive grown in the U.S. Cotton would bring wealth and security to many plantation owners in the Lowcountry. According to writer Joseph McGowan, author of History of Extra-Long Staple Cottons, "The first successful crop of Sea Island was produced by William Elliott on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in 1790." Although other areas of the country would try to duplicate the Lowcountry's success, the long-staple cotton did not grow as well outside the temperate climate on the Sea Islands.

The era of prosperity for cotton plantation owners would end by the late 19th Century with the migration of the boll weevil. By the 1920s, it had devastated the industry and entered South Carolina. In the years that followed, many farmers began to diversify their crops. Some tried to reintroduce Sea Island cotton, but the crop would never find the same success it had in the century prior.

Gullah Culture
The Gullah culture is an important fabric of the Lowcountry's history. It is believed that Gullah originated in the Angola region and came to the Lowcountry as thousands of slaves from the area were brought here to work the plantations, harvesting rice, indigo and cotton. The work was hard and they maintained their courage through spiritual songs and stories that are now a distinct part of Beaufort's rich legacy.

Following the Civil War, freed slaves established their own unique communities. The Gullah language, sometimes referred to as Sea Island Creole English, has been preserved throughout the generations.

Each year, Beaufort hosts The Gullah Festival of South Carolina which takes place throughout the historic streets and at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. The festival is a favorite among locals and residents who look forward to the rich, spiritual songs and stories about the Gullah's heritage, hardships and lifestyle.

St. Helena Island is also a great destination to visit old structures such as a praise house, Brick Baptist Church, the Oaks Plantation, and the Penn School that were once the centerpiece of the Gullah community.
Natural Disasters Hit Beaufort
The 1893 storm season was one of the worst in recorded history. It produced 12 tropical storms, 5 of which developed into major hurricanes. The sixth storm of that season is known as the Sea Islands Hurricane, colliding with southern South Carolina and the Sea Islands on August 27th. Many of the Sea Islands were underwater; homes and farms were destroyed, and it is believed to have killed nearly 2000 people. The America Red Cross' own Clara Barton helped with the relief efforts, assisting in the devastation and helping to find shelter for nearly 20,000 refugees.

Ditches were built to drain the areas of the Sea Islands. It would take nearly a year before the area recovered.

Nearly 15 years later, the City of Beaufort would be in the center of another major catastrophe. On January 19, 1907, a fire spread through downtown destroying more than 40 buildings and razing five square blocks of Main Street. Believed to have started in the general merchandise store, F.W. Scheper, the fire spread quickly. Steam fire engines from the Naval Station at Port Royal and from neighboring Savannah joined the efforts. Downtown Beaufort would not be fully rebuilt until well into the 1920s.

Beaufort Today
Today, downtown Beaufort is designated a historic district by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with nearly 100 homes, buildings, forts, churches, cemeteries, and inns listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The U.S. military helped to bring prosperity once again to the region with the opening of training facilities on Parris Island. The region now houses three military bases, the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, and the Naval Hospital and the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS).

Beaufort is one of South Carolina's fastest growing counties, attracting new residents to the area for both professional and leisurely pursuits. Healthcare, the military, education and tourism are just some of the industries that continue to flourish in the area. In the healthcare industry, Beaufort Memorial Hospital has partnered with Duke University Medical Center in bringing innovative treatments for cancer and heart disease as well as research to the Lowcountry.

Real estate has also burgeoned in the region for the past decade. The current buyer's market has offered investors and primary and secondary home buyers unprecedented opportunity. The small town community feel brings families from all over the country interested in experiencing pristine waterways, unique vegetation and activities such as golf, tennis, fishing, boating, crabbing, shrimping, biking and more.

The area also has a thriving art community. Author John Villani included Beaufort in his book, The 100 Best Art Towns in America. The Arts Council of Beaufort County and the Beaufort Art Association provide creative outlets for local artists and patrons.

Beginning October 26 - 28, the Historic Beaufort Foundation offers a sneak peek into private homes with the annual 2007 Fall Festival of Houses & Gardens. Several private homes will be opened during this time. Proceeds benefit the Foundation.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Beaufort is its residents. With neighbors who are friendly, interesting and always willing to pitch in for local and national charities, this community is known as much for its hospitality as for its indigenous beauty. The community is committed to preserving the trees, wildlife and greenspace that make the area unique and volunteerism abounds.

To learn more about Beaufort, visit the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce site at

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