Geographically, the Lowcountry is in the southern corner of South Carolina. Truthfully….it’s the coast, sea islands, marshes, swamps, and countryside that will take your breath away. Many Lowcountry historic sites have survived the years and remain as important links to the region’s rich heritage. This predominately rural four-county area offers many resources. Stately churches, impressive public buildings, and bustling downtowns await you, as well as grand antebellum plantation homes nestled serenely among moss-draped live oaks.
French explorer Jean Ribaut established Port Royal in 1562, one of the earliest colonies in the area. The Sea Islands became home to permanent settlements by the late 1690’s. In 1711, the City of Beaufort was established as the second oldest city in South Carolina. It was named for the Duke of Beaufort, one of the Lord Proprietors of South Carolina. The British Forces occupied the Beaufort area from 1779 until 1781. In the following years, agricultural production increased, allowing indigo, cotton and rice to flourish and Beaufort quickly became the wealthiest and most cultured town of its size in America because of this sea island cotton. Robert Barnwell Rhett of Beaufort and his fellow Lowcountry citizens strongly favored secession and began his separatist movement in 1842. Soon after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston in 1861, Union forces captured and occupied the Sea Islands, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. The Union authorities offered the newly freed slaves actual wages for jobs and recruited northern teachers and missionaries to come educate the residents. In 1862, Laura Towne and Ellen Murray began the Penn School on St. Helena Island. This school is now an entire 50-acre Penn Center campus nestled under the moss-draped limbs of the massive live oaks. The Lowcountry is the heart of the Gullah culture, which comes from the West and Central African and Caribbean influences in grammar, story-telling, rice-based cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions. The Gullah culture is still prominent in the Lowcountry and is often celebrated through museum exhibits, musical and art exhibits, and local festivals.
Colleton County was one of three original counties established in South Carolina in 1682. It was named for Sir Peter Colleton, Lord Proprietor of South Carolina. During the Colonial period from 1685 to 1715, Colleton was a major cattle-raising region. After the Revolution, the cash crops changed to the sea island cotton grown on Edisto Island and rice along the marshy areas. Many of the Colleton plantations were destroyed during the Civil War because of General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Over time, the economy replaced the plantations with large timber tracts, and farms growing corn, soybeans, and once again, livestock.
In 1878 the northwestern portion of the Beaufort District was established as Hampton County. The Town of Hampton was founded the following year. Hampton County is predominately agricultural and a favorite among outdoor sportsmen. Hampton County is also known for the oldest festival in the state, the Watermelon Festival. It began in 1939 and has no plans of slowing down. It is held every June, when the watermelon is the sweetest.
The Yemassee and Coosaw Indians called this area home until the early 18th century. Rice plantations were quite widespread, some of which now form the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Thomas Heyward, Jr, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, owned a rice plantation as well. The Confederate Army defeated the federal troops in 1864 at the Battle of Honey Hill, in Ridgeland. Jasper County was officially formed in 1912 from parts of Beaufort and Hampton Counties. Jasper County was named for Sgt. William Jasper, a hero of the Battle of Fort Moultrie during the Revolutionary War.
Banner Photo: May River Boardwalk by Stephanie Rossi