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Beaufort, South Carolina is located on Port Royal Island, in the heart of the Sea Islands and ‘Lowcountry’ of the state. The city is renowned for its scenic location and for maintaining a historic character through its impressive antebellum architecture, and of course it’s overall quaintness. Beaufort is also known for its military establishments with the area being home to Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot, a U.S. Naval Hospital, and also home of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Come and see why Beaufort, South Carolina is such a unique and special place to be…
Coastal Living Magazine named Beaufort, SC ‘America’s Happiest Seaside Town’ in 2013. In 2014, National Geographic Traveler name Beaufort’s Sea Islands one of the ‘Top 20 Places to See in the World.’ Money Magazine awarded Beaufort, South Carolina one of ‘6 Terrific Towns of the Water’. Field & Stream said Beaufort’s among the ‘Top 20 Fishing Towns in America’, TripAdvisor deemed Hunting Island Beach a ‘Top 10 Beach’, and Garden & Gun Magazine named Beaufort ‘A Southern Dream Town’. Come and see for yourself!
Beaufort is also the proud home of 2013 American Idol Winner, Candice Glover!
Beaufort is a true hotbed for history. It all began 500 years ago with the discovery of the area by Spanish Captain Pedro de Salaza in 1514. Beaufort is a seaport located at the head of one of the largest natural harbors on the Atlantic coast, which explains the interest of the Spanish and French explorers that followed. When they sailed up the sound in the 1520’s, they found a land inhabited by many small tribes of Native Americans incuding Cherokees and the Catawbas.
French explorers visited this area long before the English arrived. In 1562, Captain Jean Ribaut and his Frenchmen entered the sound which he named Port Royal Sound. They settled near the present town of Port Royal, South Carolina. This was the first Protestant settlement in America.
When Captain Jean Ribaut returned to France for reinforcements, the soldiers who were left behind staged a revolt, built themselves a ship, and sailed to France the following year. This was the first ship built in America to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Every ship had always come from the east.
After the French fled, Spaniards who had been south in Florida built Fort San Felipe on Parris Island in 1566 and made a settlement there, known as ‘Santa Elena’. In 1576, under attack from Native Americans, Santa Elena was abandoned, but the fort was rebuilt the next year. It’s been positively determined by archieologists that the location is on the current Parris Island golf course.
This tells a different story that we learn in our history books at school. America started right here in Beaufort, South Carolina. Santa Elena on Parris Island was a settlement 11 years before St. Augustine, 38 years before Jamestown, and 51 years before the English pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
In 1587, England’s Queen Elizabeth I sent Sir Francis Drake to drive the Spanish out of the entire area. The Spanish decided to concentrate their forces in St. Augustine, Florida, and withdrew from Santa Elena, and South Carolina was again unsettled with the exception of Native Americans.
Then along came the British. English development formally began in 1663, when King Charles II gave the area away in 8 grants. The Lords named their territory ‘Carolina’ in his honor. Beaufort, South Carolina followed very shortly thereafter, and the British successfully founded the city in 1711. Beaufort at first grew slowly and was always subject to attacks from Native American tribes and threats of Spanish invasion before ‘she’ thrived as shipbuilding and fishing center, and later in the antebellum period as the aristocratic center for the local economy all the way through the Civil War.
The Civil War was an uneventful era in Beaufort history as the City fell to Union forces on November 7, 1861, and remained as such for the duration of the war. Homes were occupied by Union forces as headquarters, general living quarters, and hospitals. One home in particular, now The Cuthbert House Inn, a bed and breakfast, still holds an intact viewable history. Upon removing old paint from the fireplace in the East Parlor, it was discovered that there is a hand etched name, date, and hometown of a Union soldier spending a night there during the Civil War. Visible to this very day, is the name of Joel Dudley of Brighton, Massachusetts. Along with the date of November 27, 1862.
Slavery has deep roots in Beaufort. St. Helena Island, the other Sea Islands, and most of the Beaufort area were all agricultural in nature, and with the vast rice and indigo plantations of the area, slaves were first brought to Beaufort in the late 1600’s , and by 1708 South Carolina had a black majority. The 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedules for Beaufort County, South Carolina reportedly includes a total of 32,530 slaves, ranking it the second highest County total in the U.S., behind Charleston.
Gullah is a culture unique to the Lowcountry. The Gullah are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia, and preserve more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African-American community in the United States. The “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act” was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2006 for the preservation and interpretation of historic sites relating to Gullah culture, and you can still witness a thriving local Gullah culture in the Beaufort area through arts, historical preservation projects, community groups, and Penn Center. What a joy it is to purchase a handmade sweetgrass basket along the roadside that was made the exact same way that basketmakers perfected the craft hundreds of years ago. The Gullah culture has attracted many historians, folklorists, and the like, who are interested in the rich cultural heritage. Many books have been written and documentaries filmed. A local Public Television childrens’ show named ‘Gullah Gullah Island’ gained national popularity in the early-mid 1990’s, as it taught the Gullah culture to children through song and shared tradition.
A great deal of historical and cultural importance has come out of Penn Center over the years. Penn Center was formed as Penn School in 1862, and it was the very first school for freed slaves in the U.S., and is now a Gullah Community Center on St. Helena Island. Penn Center also serves as the unofficial capital of Gullah Culture on the southeast Atlantic Coast. During the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chose Penn Center as a site for it’s strategic planing.
Beaufort is also home to a legendary ‘Emancipation Oak’, an exact spot where President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclimation was first read aloud to around 5,000 slaves in the Beaufort area. The spot became hallowed ground, and still stands approximately one quarter-mile east of the intersection of Sea Island Parkway and Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, on St. Helena Island.
Beaufort, South Carolina is truly a unique place where the present and past exsist side-by-side… each and every day.
Beaufort today is a romantic and popular destination for tourists from all over with nearly 2 million visitors each year enjoying historical, as well as golf, sport fishing, and beach vacations. Hunting Island State Park, with it’s beaches, lighthouse, campground, and nature features is the single most visited State Park in South Carolina. History exists at nearly every turn as some 304 acres of the city of Beaufort, in it’s picturesque downtown district, have been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Home to a thriving Art Scene, the city has been named #14 on the list of Top 25 Small City Arts Destinations by American Style Magazine, and a ‘Top 100 Art Town’ in a recent book titled ‘The 100 Best Art Towns in America’, boasting some 20 Art Galleries in the downtown area.
The City of Beaufort today has a population of 12,361, accorting to the 2010 census.
Also in the city’s jurisdiction are parts of Lady’s Island and portion of it’s 2010 population of 12,878. A short ride over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway via the downtown Woods Memorial Bridge (a unique swing-bridge) brings you to Lady’s Island, and beyond to the Sea Islands of Beaufort. Although it’s roots were agricultural, Lady’s Island has a thriving business community, is home to two High Schools and other schools within the Beaufort County School District, and two golf courses, with many beautiful neighborhoods throughout. The local Beaufort area still maintains a heavy rural population, low property taxes, and a special quaintness spanning time.
Beaufort’s historic Downtown district is fronted by the mega Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, which lends itself to both daily strollers, sightseers, and picnickers, as well as to the city’s many amazing festivals, concerts, and civic events held throughout each year. Dotted throughout the district are many beautiful antebellum homes, some turned Bed & Breakfast, and the Beaufort Arsenal, constructed in 1798 and with roots to the American Revolutionary War. It’s main commercial district has a distinct diversity with a splendid combination of gift shops, boutiques, eateries, art galleries, specialty shops, clothing stores, and more. Explore for yourself ,or take any one of the a guided tours available either in a horse-drawn carriage, or on foot.
Named ‘Best Small Southern Town’ by Southern Living, and placed as a ‘Top 50 Adventure Town’ by National Geographic Adventure, Beaufort’s vast diversity and natural beauty has invited several filmmakers to the area over the years. Popular films Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, The Big Chill, GI Jane, Platoon, The Prince of Tides, and The Jungle Book, to name just a few, have been filmed here, each leaving a mark or memory on the local landscape and in local lore.
…take the time to explore Beaufort. Take the time to discover.