Sunday, March 2, 2014

3/1/14 Dataw Island SC history

     At its agricultural peak, Beaufort SC was surrounded by 881 plantations of various sizes and levels of success.  One of the oldest and most successful was the plantation on Dataw Island.  The original name of Dataw was actually Datha, named after a legendary Indian king.  

     The first record of settlement on Dataw was a fur trader in 1682.  It changed hands several times in the colonial era, ending up in the hands of William Sams in the 1780’s, at which time it was listed as being 1170 acres in size.  It remained in the Sam’s family until confiscated by the Union during the civil war. After the war it changed hands several times before being purchased and developed by Alcoa Corp. in 1983.  Above is a photograph of an old watercolor painting done by Eugenia Sams of the main plantation house on the island.

Jack Brown

     My guide on Dataw Island is Jack Brown, who retired here after a career in advertising.  He and folks like him have worked hard to preserve what historical sites there are on the island.  Below is the house as it appears today.  Luckily one of the fellows from Alcoa who was involved in the development of the island was very interested in preserving what could be protected.  The home owners have spent well over $ 250,000 preserving various sites.  

     An interesting story is this crypt – when they did ground-penetrating radar on the site, they found several pieces of it.  Then someone who used to live on the island brought back a few remaining pieces they had taken with them as souvenirs.  A master stone carver was hired and was able to carve the missing piece and reassemble the crypt over a three month span of work.  Also preserved is a black cemetery and the ruins of the church built on the property.

    On the other end of the island was a second house built by the family, but it went out to sea along with about 100 acres during a hurricane in the late 1800’s.  All that remains is the main chimney base and a bit of the foundation.

     The old dairy barn is the only known tabby structure in the United States that still has a portion of its original roof.  The Sams grew Sea Island cotton, a variety of Egyptian cotton that brought ten times the price of ordinary cotton.   After rice and indigo had boomed and busted in this area, this cotton brought wealth that was unheard of in the United States.  In this barn he had a recess built in the floor, and when the schooners delivered his cotton to the Northern states he had them bring back huge blocks of ice that were packed in sawdust for insulation.  This kept the dairy barn cool, helping to preserve milk and presumably other goods.

     Tabby was a building technique that created lime by burning oyster shells, which was then mixed with water and sand to create a mortar.  This was then mixed with more oyster shells to form foundations and walls.

     Sam’s also boasted being the first commercial orange growing operation in the United States, a claim that has not been disputed.  The farm also had plum, pear, lemon, grapefruit and apple orchards.  These operations brought in enough money to build several summer homes for the Sams in Beaufort, one of which still stands and is pictured above.  The summer heat made it very desirable to get into Beaufort as the mosquito borne malaria and yellow fever were very lethal in those days.

     The first azaleas of the year have started to bloom here, and the birds are all beginning their mating rituals.  A spring shower had me seeking shelter under an awning where I met Andre.  Andre was born in Jamaica where his parents both died when he was ten.  He applied for and was successful getting a passport and a summer work permit when he was 15.  He originally worked on Mackinaw Island up in Lake Erie, but since has transitioned into the low country of South Carolina.  He and his wife are just closing on their first house.  Andre says as a boy he saw pictures of golf courses and could only dream of what they were like, and here he is on a beautiful one every day.   

     Well, every once in a while you get one of those amazing sunsets that just doesn't look real.  I was able to capture a few shots at the marina on Dataw – what a gorgeous event. 

All have a great Sunday !!


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