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Hilton Head Island, The Early Years (8,000 BC to 1698 AD)

Posted by Bill True on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 at 3:10pm.

When I have the opportunity to be on a beach, particularly an ocean beach, I find my thoughts drifting to the history of that piece of land. I cannot help but visualize the various people and cultures that were in the same place that I am, on that surf pounded bit of sand, thousands or hundreds of years ago. This is one of the factors that contribute to my being a true beach lover.

I am a very fortunate beach aficionado in that I reside in the South Carolina Lowcountry, in a town called Bluffton, less than a half-hour drive from the most spectacular island one can imagine, Hilton Head Island.

With twelve miles of magnificent beaches along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, there is a lot of opportunity to meander throughout millennia and imagine the history of this beautiful bit of paradise.

My favorite for taking one of my imaginary time-travel events is the five-mile beach at the amazing and diverse community\resort, Sea Pines Plantation.

Recently I stood on the shore looking out on the Atlantic and speculated as to what folk stood here before me. I resolved that on my return home I would find out.

Was I in for a surprise!

Much has been accomplished in researching the history of Hilton Head Island and it is truly interesting. But nothing prepared me for Hilton Head Island, circa 8,000 BC.

We twenty-first century humans embrace ‘our’ Hilton Head of today; vacation getaway, beautiful weather, an ocean and surrounding rivers teaming with healthy, edible, delicacies. The surrounding land resplendent with both beauty, nourishing vegetation and useful lumber.

People travel long distances in 2018 to experience and enjoy these terrific features.

People traveled long distances in 8,000 BC to experience and enjoy these terrific features.

Hilton Head Island's First Visitors

Of the 29 Native American tribes that inhabited, what today is known as South Carolina, it is believed that members of all groups visited the Lowcountry and specifically Hilton Head Island. However, it appears evident from the historical documents of the seven tribes that still exist in South Carolina and continue to identify as groups, The Catawba, The Pee Dee, The Chicora, The Edisto, The Santee, The Yamassee, and The Chicora-Waccamaw, all visited, and some settled on Hilton Head and other areas of the Lowcountry.

For confirmation, I turn to Sea Pines, an amazing community today and apparently forty centuries ago.

The Indian Shell Ring in the Forest Preserve at Sea Pines, was built 4,000 years ago.

This ring of shells, piled several feet above the ground, were used by Indians as a refuse heap. Refuse would be placed outside in the ring of nearby huts, which were made of branches and palm fronds. The interior of the Shell Ring was kept clear and used as a communal area. This Indian Shell Ring is truly unique in that it is still undamaged. It is one of only 20 Shell Rings still in existence. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by law. Some of the Indian Shell Rings were originally 10 feet high and 30 feet wide at the base. This one located in Sea Pines is 150 feet in diameter.

Over 9,500 years of the Native Americans enjoying the bounty of the Lowcountry was about to end.

In1521 a Spanish expedition, led by Francisco Cordillo, explored this area, initiating European contact with local tribes.

There was little interest from the Europeans for almost a century and a half, and the twenty-nine tribes populating South Carolina continued to thrive.

However, in 1663 - Capt. William Hilton sailed from Barbados, on the Adventure, to explore lands granted by King Charles II to the eight Lords Proprietors. Hilton Head Island takes its name from a headland near the entrance to Port Royal Sound.

Thirty-five years later, in 1698, John Bayley, of Ireland, was given most of Hilton Head Island as a barony. Twenty-four years later, his son appointed Alexander Trench as his agent in charge of selling the land. For a brief time, Hilton Head was called Trench's Island on some 18th century maps.M.

And thus began the modern era of Hilton Head Island.

-Bill True

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