Daufuskie Island’s Rich and Diverse History

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The pristine beauty of Daufuskie Island is only accessible by boat.
Photo by Ruth Young.

Daufuskie Island has seen its share of inhabitants over the years and their influence can be seen across the island. This destination is only accessible by boat, so time moves a little slower here. Sandy dirt roads reveal an island that is rich in history and nature with one of the most beautiful beaches in the Lowcountry.

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When the Spanish departed the island, they left the Marsh Tacky horses behind. Photo found on Airbnb.

Native Americans lived on Daufuskie ten-thousand years ago, leaving many artifacts that tell their story. Indians remained on Daufuskie until the 1800s. Spaniards came to Daufuskie in the 1500’s, bringing the technique of tabby construction. Oyster shells were in abundance along the coast and could be combined with sand to create an early form of concrete. They also brought the marsh tacky horse to the island.

During the 1600s, land grants were issued to wealthy English families. Plantations were established, producing indigo and long-staple sea island cotton. By the Civil War, there were seven working plantations on the island, working many slaves. Union forces captured Daufuskie in 1861. Plantation owners and slaves abandoned the island during occupation. After the war newly freedmen returned to the island working and living off the land and sea in isolation. Their strong Gullah culture is still evident across the island today.

Cotton farming was a major source of income until the early 1900s cotton fields were destroyed by the boll weevil. The logging industry and the Maggioni Oyster Canning Factory provided jobs for the Gullah people after the cotton decline. As logging ended and oyster beds were closed due to pollution, the island’s population declined. (The caning factory moved to St. Helena Island, and is still in operation today.) Daufuskie’s population dropped from 2,000 to just 60. 

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Daufuskie Island’s sweetheart, Sallie Ann Robinson shows a book with images from the days when Pat Conroy was her teacher on the island. Sallie has gone on to lead a fantastic life, publishing cookbooks and sharing her love of the island with many. Photo by Southern Living Magazine.

Even Pat Conroy has ties to Daufuskie Island. He taught the at the island’s two-room schoolhouse in 1969. He went on to write The Water is Wide, based on his experiences on the island. The book was made into a famous motion picture Conrack.

Around this same time developers came to the island, building the communities of Haig Point, Melrose and Bloody Point, creating jobs and allowing islanders to come home. Even though parts of the island have been developed, the historic district has retained its natural beauty. Gullah architecture has been preserved or restored. In fact, the entire island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Kayaking is a popular activity on Daufuskie Island, where life slows down.
Photo from Tour Daufuskie.

Daufuskie’s first marina was built in 1984.  Haig Point and Melrose developments soon followed. Much of the island has been able to maintain its natural splendor and Gullah influence. Visitors to the island can experience travelling dirt roads by golf cart or bike, as cars are forbidden to spoil this natural paradise.

While visiting the island, have a meal at one of the unique local restaurants. Old Daufuskie Crab Company entices visitors as they enter at Freeport Marina. Freeport. If you prefer beach views with your lunch, head over to the Melrose Beach Club. Lucy Bell’s Café is located in the heart of the historic district.  There’s even a coffee shop located in the historic Mary Fields School House.

Craftsman have even set up shop on the island. Local sculptures, pottery, wine, woodworks, textiles, soaps and rum can be purchased from one of the many shops on the island. For more information visit https://southcarolinalowcountry.com/daufuskie-island-shopping/

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Pottery is made on site at Silver Dew Pottery Studio. Photo by Holger Opderbeck.

To learn more about vacationing in the South Carolina Lowcountry, visit https://southcarolinalowcountry.com/.