Seabrook Island’s history unfolds as the earliest European contacts with the “New World” were made. The Lowcountry region fringing Charleston, S. C., was to experience a host of footprints…from the Cusabo and Winyah lndians…from the Spanish in search of the legendary city of Chicora…from the French who established a temporary base from which to harass the Spanish gold fleets…from the English who built the first permanent settlement of the area in 1670 at “Charles Town”…from the Confederates who raised their flag for a brief period during the Civil War…and from countless rice and indigo plantation owners who made Charleston the center of wealth and culture. Thus, Seabrook Island has served for 300 years under six flags -Spanish, French, English, South Carolinian (Palmetto), Confederate and American.
It was in 1661 that Sir John Colleton, a friend of the English King Charles II, conceived a colony in “Carolana” based on a Proprietorship. Comprised of seven English noblemen, the Proprietors’ authority extended to the vast territory that is today North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, southern Virginia and a portion of land extending between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1666, the Proprietors sent Lt. Col. Robert Sandford on a voyage to explore the coast and rivers between Cape Romaine and Port Royal, S. C. Historical records provide a glowing account of Sandford’s trip as he told of sailing into the North Edisto River from the sea, seeing the giant sea island live oaks and noting the “fields of maize greenly flourishing.” It was there, near Seabrook’s Bohicket Creek, that Sanford took “formal possession by turf and twig of the whole country from the latitude of 36N to 29SW, to the South Seas…” Thus, Seabrook Island gained its first title, under the name “Carolana.” The island itself, however, was soon to be called “Colleton” after its settlement in 1670, in honor of Sir John Colleton.
Prior to the 1700’s, encounters with unfriendly Indians forced villagers to construct military outposts to protect themselves. It was during this era that the first land deed on Seabrook was awarded by the Proprietors to Sir Joseph Blake Landgrave, in 1696. His family held the land until selling it to John Jones (date unknown) and in 1732, to Samuel Jones who called the land “Jones Island.” By 1740, coastal Indian tribes had left the sea islands to join more powerful nations to the north, and Charleston’s flourishing trade drew all to its port. The land became known as “Simmons Island” when bought by a Mr. Simmons. But he, too passed the deed to wealthy plantation owner William Seabrook, whose name it has borne since. Seabrook, who owned numerous summer homes in the lowcountry, took advantage of Seabrook’s unspoiled forests and plenteous reserves of wild game for a hunting and fishing ground. It was some 50 years later, in the midst of the Civil War, that the island again changed hands, being sold to William Gregg, who never occupied the land. Seabrook’s family tree continued to expand as the Gregg family passed the deed to the Andell family in 1880. And in 1971, the Andells sold Seabrook Island for development of a private residential resort. Today, the same philosophy of gracious living in a protected natural environment, is embodied by the island’s developers, beginning with the original developers. The Seabrook Island Company, a South Carolina limited partnership.
It is the setting around which the plantations flourished that Seabrook Island is best known. Immersed in this flavorful backdrop are tales of the pirates Black Beard and Steve Bonnet who, legends say, hid their ships from Carolina and English fighters in the salt marshes and creeks.
Here. Bonnet’s days came to an end as he as captured and hung by Charleston marauders.
Along the rivers of Seabrook, early planters built their rich domains, furnished lavishly with finery and fabrics from abroad. Extensive libraries were surrounded by terraced gardens, picturesque lakes, impressive stables. These early homes, characterized by numerous windows, tiled roofs and wide piazzas to ward off the summer heat, may still be seen in Charleston and the tiny village of Rockville near Seabrook. Most of the plantation families became impoverished during the war years, 1861 – 65. But their customs and tastes remain in the horse racing, tilting contests, fishing, hunting and sailing that have become a mainstay of Lowcountry life. One of the most colorful carryovers from the 1890’s is the Rockville Sea Island Races. A member of the Seabrook family sailed on that first race and for 20 years was a captain on one of the entries. The oldest cruise class yacht races in America continue each year on a course from Wilmington, N. C. to Savannah, Ga.
Family names of old spice the Johns Island region today. As a traveler drives to Seabrook Island through the tentacled fingers of the moss-draped oaks, he passes through a little-changed terrain of wildflowers, island shrubs, palmettos and stately pines. The observant may catch glimpses of the trees and walls of old homes remaining from the romantic era.
Today, there are many more footprints on the beach than in years past. But, at Seabrook Island, one gets a taste of the flavor and culture that etched a lowcountry chapter in the annals of Americana. Situated on the ocean point and surrounded by a freshwater river and two salt marsh creeks abundant with shellfish, Seabrook Island embodies the near-virgin state of its discovery nearly 300 years ago. And, as a private year-round residence to homeowners and vacationers alike, it carries a touch of our romantic past into the 20th century.