Daufuskie Island is only thirty minutes from Hilton Head by boat, and an hour from Savannah, but it feels like you’re going back 100 years in time. Still sandy dirt roads reveal an island that is rich in history and nature with one of the most beautiful and fragile beaches on the East Coast.
Native Americans lived on Daufuskie ten-thousand years ago leaving many artifacts that tell of their presence. Indians remained on Daufuskie until the 1800s.
The Spanish came to the Island in the 1500’s when Daufuskie was part of Florida bringing a building technique called “tabby” construction using oyster shells as a base. The Spaniards left a herd of sturdy small horses called “marsh tackys”.
Plantations were started in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s when England ruled South Carolina. For the most part, Daufuskie land grants were given to wealthy English families by the King of England. The early planters grew indigo, and later, long-staple sea island cotton. At the start of the Civil War, there were seven working plantations on Daufuskie Island, working many slaves.
Union forces captured Daufuskie in 1861. Thousands of troops were camped on Daufuskie during the Civil War until 1865. At the end of the War, Daufuskie was inhabited primarily by freed slaves. These residents, because of the isolation of the Island, kept a culture alive that would have disappeared decades ago. The culture is called “Gullah” and remains to this day on Daufuskie Island. The word “Gullah” may come from Angola, the African nation origin of many slaves.
In 1974 the famous motion picture, “Conrack”, was a story about on Daufuskie Island based on the award-winning autobiographical book, The Water Is Wide, by Pat Conroy. This is a story which recounted Pat’s early days of teaching African-American children at the Island’s two-room schoolhouse in 1969.
In 1984, Doctor Jack Scurry built the first Marina on Daufuskie Island. Soon after came the Haig Point and Melrose developments. With no airport or bridge on this isolated and beautiful island, Daufuskie is a rare gem that can be visited by private boats or public ferries.
Visitors travel paved roads in golf carts, watch the sun rise over the Atlantic from quaint beach cottages, or sprawling private homes. Outside the plantations, island residents travel dirt roads at a leisurely pace and enjoy the beauty of Daufuskie and a quiet lifestyle. There are memorable shops and restaurants on the island as well.
The Billie Burn Museum is located on Old Haig Point Rd. If you’re exploring Daufuskie Island, it’s always a good idea to start here. The museum is packed with artifacts and displays revealing the history of Daufuskie Island and its early inhabitants. Daufuskie Island Gullah are
descendants of slaves brought from West Africa to till the rice and cotton fields of the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry. Following Emancipation, former
slaves returned to live on Daufuskie Island With no bridge to the mainland, the continued isolation allowed their unique way of life to remain relatively unchanged until the mid 20th century with the arrival of electricity and telephones.
The Daufuskie Community Farm and Artisan Village has devoted its energy to passionately advocating sustainable living on Daufuskie Island. With the initial introduction of the community farm that attracted those desiring to have a hands-on way of producing food for their community, a growing desire has occurred to make a difference. The local community has contributed to the planning, construction, and growth of this thriving work by expanding the farm from animals into gardens, orchards, and the new Artisan Village!
The Robert Kennedy Historic Trail walk includes all historic sites of the island and winds its way around the island highlighting historically significant sites. Along the trail visitors will find the Billie Burn Museum, the Gullah Learning Center, tabby ruins, historic cemeteries & homes, and old logging railroad line.