History of Port Royal Island
The recorded history of Port Royal Island dates back in the early 1500’s when Spanish explorers built settlements on this picturesque stretch of South Carolina coastline. Regrettably, the majority of these early Spanish settlers perished from disease. In 1562 French explorer, Jean Ribault arrived as part of a 50-man expedition and colonized the area. Ribault officially founded and named the quaint seaside island and surrounding sound, Port Royal, the French translation of “royal port”.
As the name suggests, Port Royal Island is situated perfectly geographically to form a large sheltered natural port. Due to its natural-formed harbor, wealth of natural resources and strategic location, Port Royal Island has a long lineage of military tradition. This scenic coastal expanse has housed military installations dating back centuries with inhabitants such as the Native Americans, Spanish, Scottish, Dutch, French and English. Today the area is home to the United States Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Navy Hospital Beaufort as well the renowned Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Port Royal’s naturally formed shipping harbor and ideal geographic location was the site for some of the most historically significant military battles in United States history. This tranquil unassuming stretch South Carolinian coastline staged the 1778 Battle of Beaufort during the Revolutionary War where the British unsuccessfully tried to seize the port. In 1861 one of the first amphibious assaults of the Civil War took place during the Battle of Port Royal. The United States Navy and Army invaded and captured the vital shipping harbor from the Confederate forces, which they held and operated through the duration of the war.
Aside from colonization and military conflict in which control of the port and surrounding territory changed hands many times to a variety of nations, that isn’t all Port Royal is known for. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was first read publicly during Christmas under the Port Royal Proclamation Tree. Port Royal is home to many of the remaining members of the Gullah people, direct descendants of West African slaves. The Royal Port Penn Center is a hub of Gullah arts and culture and features a museum dedicated to this fascinating group of people. Royal Port Island is also home to the annual Soft Shell crab Festival and the yearly Community Oyster Roast.
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