Discover The Fascinating History of St. Helena Island, South Carolina
Today, visitors enjoy learning more about beautiful St. Helena Island outside of Beaufort. This location, accessible via Highway 21, stands out as a center for the development of a remarkable Gullah culture during the 1600s and 1700s. Its population merged elements of West African traditions with the heritages of local indigenous Native American residents and indentured servants from Europe. They produced a unique, distinctive society. It continues to enrich diversity in South Carolina.
A Sheltered Location
This island encompasses approximately 64 square miles of low-lying, mainly rural, terrain. It adjoins marshlands along its southern fringe. The site nestles between Port Royal Sound on the south and St. Helena Sound on the north. Three historic sea islands (Pritchards Island, Fripp Island, and Hunting Island) help shield Saint Helena Island from the Atlantic Ocean.(1)
Early St. Helena Island History
Between the late 1500s and the American Revolutionary War, this region successively fell under the control of Spain, France, Spain, and England. During this period, settlers established plantations in the area. Indentured servants from Europe, captive local Native Americans, and slaves from West Africa worked together on these holdings.(1)
Farming enclaves here (and elsewhere along the Southeastern coastline) developed in comparative isolation. The rural agricultural laborers raised crops which included rice, and other warm-weather plants. They also fished extensively. Some landowners moved elsewhere (while still viewing their land holdings as investments), so the slave population developed some degree of autonomy.(2) Residents of this locale created a unique culture with its own language and traditions.
The Nineteenth Century And Beyond
The 1800s witnessed significant changes on Saint Helena Island. Although plantation slavery continued through the first half of the century under U.S. rule, the Civil War ultimately led to the end of the oppressive system of servitude. During the conflict, slaves in this part of South Carolina reportedly gained freedom during 1861, earlier than slaves in most other locations. Many Gullah enlisted with Union forces.(2)
After the Civil War ended, former slaves on the island became small farmers in large numbers. Some worked in the commercial fishing industry. Unfortunately, a powerful hurricane in 1893 devastated the region.(2) The area did not fully recover economically until the mid-1900s. The island still retains its predominantly rural character today.
Preserving Gullah Culture
During the 1900s, unique qualities of Gullah society came to the attention of many academic institutions in the United States. At the same time, grassroots community interest increased in taking measures to preserve Gullah culture. Congress passed a statute in 2006 allocating funds to establish a Gullah/Geechee cultural corridor extending from northern Florida along the Atlantic Coast to North Carolina.(3)
Further St. Helena Island Info
Have you considered seeking additional information about St. Helena Island or Beaufort in South Carolina? Lisa Weslake and Century 21 Carolina Realty, Inc. offer helpful information about this lovely region of the Palmetto State. Contact us at 843-476-6614 to learn about current realty listings!
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