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History Under Our Feet

All of us at SINHG mourn the loss of historian Doug Bostick, who was to present November's Evening Program on the history of Seabrook Island. We offer this much abbreviated history in his honor.

We don't know the name given by indigenous people to the barrier island they began visiting as long ago as 1400 BCE before it gained its first European-bestowed name. It was one of the many coastal sites that provided these first people with a rich harvest of seafood, deer, boar and fruit for thousands of years. By the mid-17th century, British explorer and adventurer Robert Sanford encountered a thriving community of Native Americans when he arrived on what is now Seabrook Island in 1666, at the height of European explorations of the (to Sanford) New World. Bohicket, Stono and Kiawah tribes were clustered in small, connected villages along the shores of the rivers which now bear their names.

Sanford was in the vanguard of British expeditions under the patronage of Charles II, who had granted rights to a group of wealthy traders and aristocrats, the Lords Proprietors, to any land claimed for Britain in what is now North and South Carolina, Georgia and (in direct conflict with Spanish colonial ambitions) in Florida. The local tribes were soon induced - sometimes by alluring trade goods, sometimes by force - into ceding their lands to the Lords Proprietors, who then began selling off large parcels to settlers arriving from Europe.

Today's Haulover Cut

Our island's first European owner was Thomas Jones, who named the island after himself. It was Jones who dredged and deepened what he named the Haulover Cut (just north of today's traffic circle), connecting the Bohicket and Kiawah rivers. His endeavors greatly improved the transportation of lumber and agricultural products downriver to the Atlantic and to markets in Charleston. At the same time, Jones turned a blind eye to thieves who raided ships (especially Spanish ones) passing on the Edisto River, bursting on their targets from hiding places along what we still call Privateer Creek.

Jones Island's name changed when Ebenezer Simmons bought it from Jones' heirs in 1753. Simmons was a successful Charleston merchant and slaveholder who, like his predecessor, named the island after himself, continuing the cultivation of indigo, rice and cotton for his Charleston buyers. Simmons died ten years later at the age of 63. Soon swept up in the American Revolution, Simmons Island became an important staging point for British troops who used its timber to build the flat-bottomed boats carrying supplies inland. During the war, a major skirmish between British and American soldiers took place at what is now the intersection of River and Bohicket roads.

After the war, the island was purchased in 1816 from Simmons' heirs by William Seabrook, whose name would remain attached to the island from then on. Seabrook, who also owned vast acreage on Wadmalaw and Edisto islands, was the first to grow long-staple cotton. The greater length of the staple made it especially valuable for weaving fine-textured cloth for shirts, trousers and bedding. Fortunately for us, Seabrook drew much of his cotton from his other plantations and left our island relatively uncultivated and its lush maritime forests intact.

The Battle of Haulover Cut

The island remained in Seabrook family hands at the outbreak of the Civil War, but in 1863 it was sold to textile magnate William Gregg even as Union and Confederate troops fought up and down Johns Island and at the river crossing between Johns and Seabrook islands during the Battle Of Haulover Cut, a three-day battle that left thirty-four dead. Gregg refrained from giving the island his name, as did William Andell, who bought it from Gregg in 1881. And like Ebenezer Simmons and William Seabrook, the Andells left much of the island intact, using part of it - mostly today's Jenkins Point - for their dairy herd but leaving most of the island's timber untouched. It's to these early landowners that we owe our island's still-green canopy.

Marjorie Morawetz

The Andells' ownership ended in 1938, when they sold the island to Victor and Marjorie Morawetz, conservation-minded New Yorkers who had fallen in love with the Lowcountry and hadbeen spending their winters at their Johns Island home, Fenwick Plantation. Still, they wanted a beach house for weekend use and to entertain guests and Seabrook Island fit their wishes. They were devout Episcopalians, so much so that Victor's will directed that Seabrook Island be deeded at his death in 1938, not long after he bought the island, to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina for use as a summer camp for children, while also granting Marjorie use of the island for her lifetime. Marjorie died in 1957. During the next decade, the church discovered that its tax exempt status did not extend to a large portion of the still mostly undeveloped island. Yielding to the financial strain, the diocese deeded all but 230 acres of the island, which remains astoday's St. Christopher Camp, to the Seabrook Island Development Corporation, the first entity to begin turning Seabrook Island into the residential and recreational community we know today.

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