Daufuskie Island – An Ancient Island with a Free-Spirited Vibe and a Rich History
The Lowcountry is stepped in history. Every year thousands of people visit and some become so infatuated with its history and lifestyle, they move to the area.
Daufuskie Island is only accessible by boat or ferry. Though only minutes from Hilton Head, the ambiance feels as if you’ve stepped back in time. Ten thousand years ago, the slice of land was inhabited by Native Americans. There were more than a few Native American tribes, but it was the Yammacraw Indians who claimed its name as “Daufuskie.”
The island’s distinctive shape is what inspired the name which translates to “sharp point of a feather.” Arguably the shape is more like an arrowhead, but its first inhabitants observed it more as a feather and perhaps, during that time, it indeed was shaped that way. Whatever the case, arrowheads and other artifacts have been found on the island. Movies and books have tried to crack the code, so to speak, of its mysterious past. One thing remains — it is an entity unto itself and those who live here, embrace that.
The Nonconformist Island
The island’s ability to provide sustenance and shelter kept residents there and beckoned more over the centuries.
The first settlers to the island were here before the 17th century, and they built villages, cabins and canoes. Native Americans joined forces with the Spanish who came to the island in the 1500s and pushed these settlers, known as the Cusabo, from the island’s shores. The Spanish brought their horses, the Iberian breed and the breed’s descendants remain on the island today — the Carolina Marsh Tacky. The English came in the 1600s and Captain William Hilton touted in his journal of how the air was “sweet and clear, the country pleasant and delightful…” The English and Scots believed Hilton and many more settled on the island.
In the 1700s wealthy Europeans flocked to Daufuskie, with Thomas Cowte receiving the first land grant on the island. More prominent families moved from Europe to escape religious prosecution, including very prominent plantation owners, the Mongins and Martinangelos. They rose in power as very wealthy land and plantation owners and when the Revolutionary War began, Daufuskie was rich in cotton production. The War did not do damage to the small island and it flourished.
After the War, mansions were built, cotton farming intensified and slaves were brought from West Africa to tend to their land. West Africans, resistant to malaria and yellow fever stayed here while the white communities moved upstate.
It was from this isolation that the Africans developed their own proud traditions and the Gullahs and Geeches of the Lowcountry was established. One of the single slave dwellings still stands in Beaufort County at Haig Point from that time period.
After the Civil War and the signing of Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves purchased tracts of land on the island and their families worked for landowners. The Gullah culture is rich throughout the Lowcountry and their unique dialect, colorful dress, basket weaving, songs and story-telling are world-renowned and legendary. Their cuisine is celebrated. On this island and throughout the Lowcountry, you’ll find the Gullah people paint parts of their home a bright blue — to keep evil haints away.
According to research most of the Gullah cemeteries are located near moving water on the island so that their spirits could travel more easily home to Africa.
The island also became a resource for wood needed for American ships. With its large oaks, wood was plentiful and the island was a busy and bustling port of transport for cotton, oysters, timber and produce to nearby areas.
Still known as the nonconformist island, many feel the sway of its ancestors when visiting. Those who live there know how special it is to do so.
Though there are now tremendous places and history to explore on Daufuskie Island, and visiting is a must if you’re staying in Hilton Head, there are still dirt roads. You can still see the stars at night and glorious sunsets. In the evenings, you’ll listen to the quiet and the crickets, the same way that the Native Americans did 10,000 years ago.
Hope on a Daufuskie Island Ferry and check out the schedule from Hilton Head to Daufuskie.
Where to Stay
After making discoveries on Daufuskie and enjoying the things to do there, you’ll want to have a place on Hilton Head to come back to. Condo-World has a wide variety of luxury condo rentals so you can enjoy the island’s lure and the beautiful beaches surrounding you. Book yours today!