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  • Writer's picturecdellarosa

Hilton Head History Series- Part 1: The Beginning

Incorporated as a town in 1983, Hilton Head Island is home to more than 40,000 residents who live year-round in our renowned environmentally planned resort and residential communities. Yet much of the Island remains as it was when sighted from William Hilton’s ship more than 350 years ago. Over the centuries, Hilton Head Island’s natural beauty, spectacular seascapes, exceptional ecology and South Carolina historical sites have beckoned generations of explorers—with Native Americans, English, Spanish, French colonists, pirates, African-Americans and soldiers all leaving their footprints on the sands of South Carolina’s Treasured Coast.

When William Hilton landed in the Lowcountry in 1663, he was greeted by Spanish-speaking Indians from the Yemassee tribe, who had migrated north from Florida 100 years prior. He also encountered the native Escamacus Indians, but little is known of the earlier native civilization that inhabited the Island as far back as 4,000 years ago. Remnants of mysterious shell rings, measuring up to 240 feet across and nine feet high, can still be found on the Island. Yet, like the enigmatic rocks of Stonehenge and the carvings of Easter Island, their secrets remain hidden. Today, you can view these artifacts of Hilton Head Island history at Sea Pines Forest Preserve and on the north end of the Island, off Squire Pope Road in Green Shell Park.

In 1698, the Lord Proprietors granted several islands and some of the Lowcountry’s mainland to John Bayley. While the entire area was named Bayley’s Barony, Hilton Head Island was referred to as Trench’s Island, in honor of Alexander Trench, the Bayley’s property agent and collector of land-lease fees.

John Barnwell became Hilton Head Island’s first English settler in 1717 after receiving a grant of 1,000 acres in what is now Hilton Head Plantation. However, Hilton Head Island did not gain worldwide recognition until 1790 when another planter, William Elliott, successfully raised the first crop of long-staple Sea Island cotton. Elliott, with the help of his neighbor, Will Seabrook, pioneered a new type of fertilizer for the cotton, resulting in record crops and wide acclaim for the Sea Island cotton.

The antebellum Zion Chapel of Ease Cemetery and Baynard Mausoleum, situated among ancient moss draped oaks and facing the waters of Broad Creek, is the burial place of several of Hilton Head Island’s original colonial families. The chapel was completed in 1788 and the Baynard Mausoleum was built in 1846. It is the oldest structure still standing on the island, and more Revolutionary War soldiers are buried in this coastal cemetery than anywhere else on the coast other than Charleston. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery and mausoleum is owned and maintained by the Heritage Library and the site is open to the public for respectful visits.

Coming Soon- Hilton Head Island History Series Part 2 : The Civil War

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