Before the Civil War, South Carolinas Lowcountry had a plantation-based economy, centered on cotton in the Port Royal area. Today, after a series of changes, many traceable to the Civil War, the area is dotted with military reservations and vacation and retirement plantations.
A particular type of cotton, sea-islands cotton, made Lowcountry plantation owners especially wealthy in the years before the Civil War. Sea Island cotton was coveted because of its longer-than-usual, silky fibers, but it could be grown only in environments with the intense sunlight and moisture found on the islands off the S.C. Carolina coast.
The marble man
Long before he became the hero of the Lost Cause, Robert E. Lee was, briefly, in charge of the Confederate defenses along the South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia coasts, including the Port Royal area. His judgment? The Lowcountry was indefensible.
Every brothers dream
When Union forces steamed into Port Royal Sound in November 1861, one ship was commanded by Cmdr. Percival Drayton, a Charlestonian who remained loyal to the Union. His ship was fired on by Confederate forces commanded by you guessed it Draytons brother, Brig. Gen. Thomas Drayton. Both survived. The Drayton family still owns Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a tourist attraction in Charleston.
One of first U.S. military cemeteries
Fewer than 20 were reported killed during the Battle of Port Royal. Eleven of the dead were Confederates. In 1863, as the war staggered on, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the creation of todays Beaufort National Cemetery. More than 7,000 Civil War soldiers are buried in the cemetery, including 4,019 unknowns and, in a separate section, 117 Confederates.
Coosaw? Coosaw? That rings a bell somewhere
Thousands of slaves fled to the new Union enclave, seeking their freedom. For example, more than 100 slaves were reported missing on a Beaufort County plantation. The plantation? Coosaw Plantation, then owned by Confederate Col. A.R. Chisolm, who as a lieutenant had been one of three officers sent by Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter. Coosaw later was owned by financier E.F. Hutton. Today, it is owned by the family of former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford.
From contraband to free men
Union forces initially were unsure what to do with the slaves that poured into the Port Royal area, declaring them contrabands. But abolitionist Union Gen. David Hunter declared the former slaves free in 1862, even before the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect Jan. 1, 1863. On that day, thousands of former slaves gathered at the Unions Camp Sexton, near Beaufort, to hear a reading on the proclamation.
Launching a multi-racial military
In 1862, the first elements of 1st S.C. Volunteers were organized, the first military unit in the U.S. Army made up of former slaves. The regiment officially entered U.S. service on Jan. 31, 1863. In February 1864, the units name was changed to the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops. It took part in Charleston campaign and was part of the Union garrison in the city after the war. Its legacy? Today, African-Americans make up 17.3 percent of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. They also make up 15.1 percent of Guard and Reserve units.
From school to civil rights center
Penn Center, one of the first schools founded to educate freed slaves, was organized in 1862. Its land came from Hastings Gantt, a former slave who gave 50 acres on St. Helena Island and who later represented Beaufort in the S.C. House of Representatives. The center later was used as a retreat and planning site for the civil rights movement. Among the civil rights leaders to visit? George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Du Bois, Greenvilles Jesse Jackson, Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington. Each year, 50,000 people visit the center, which will hold its annual 1862 Gala on May 7.
Tubman in the Lowcountry
In June 1863, escaped slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman took part in a Union raid along the Combahee River that freed hundreds of slaves from nearby plantations. Soldiers from the 2nd S.C. Volunteers, another regiment formed from former slaves, carried out the raid. A U.S. 17 bridge over the Combahee is named in Tubmans honor.
White exodus, black influx
The flight of former slaves to the Lowcountry did not slow during the war. In the first seven months of 1865, for example, 17,000 freedmen arrived at Beaufort, reported the Freedmans Bureau, created in 1865 to distribute aid, educate and settle disputes over new labor contracts between whites and the newly freed blacks. Many whites, however, fled the area. The bureau reported 34 estates with a combined 25,700 acres of land in the Port Royal area had been abandoned. The land, much of it previously owned by the families of Confederate military veterans, was distributed to 600 families.
Founder of the S.C. GOP
Perhaps the best-known former slave to flee to the Lowcountry was Beaufort native Robert Smalls. In 1862, Smalls stole the Confederate ship The Planter and escaped Charleston, handing the ship over to the Union Navy, which promptly commissioned him a captain. After the war, in 1876, Smalls was a founder of the S.C. Republican Party with William J. Whipper, a black Union soldier. Smalls went on to serve as a state representative, state senator, congressman and, much to the consternation of the states by-then-restored white power structure, a U.S. customs officer, holding that post until 1913. Smalls was also one of six black delegates to the states 1895 Constitutional Convention, which disenfranchised blacks and still governs the state today. In 2007, the U.S. Army Vessel Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls, a logistics support vessel, became the first Army Reserves vessel named in honor of an African-American when it was commissioned. A middle school in Beaufort also is named in Smalls honor. (Whipper went on to be a state representative, judge and, like Smalls, a delegate to 1895 convention, where he too tried and failed to prevent the disenfranchisement of blacks.)
South Carolinas black congressional legacy
From 1870 to 1897, eight African-Americans represented South Carolina in Congress. Since 1897, however, only two African-Americans, U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., have represented the state in Congress. Only Illinois, which has sent 17 African-Americans to Congress, and California, with 12, has sent more African Americans to Congress than South Carolina.
The foundation of South Carolinas military-industrial complex
A Navy base was established on Parris Island in 1877. In 1903, the Marine Corps took control of the island. Today, Parris Island, visited by 120,000 people a year, and a nearby Marine air station pump $1 billion annually into the Beaufort economy. Other military bases in Columbia, McEntire, Sumter and Charleston followed Parris Island and add another $12 billion to the S.C. economy each year.
The new plantation economy: In the 1950s, the poorest locale in South Carolina was? Take a guess. Hilton Head, then an isolated majority black island. Then, the Sea Island Co. was created and the first bridge to the island was completed. Today, Hilton Head, an overwhelmingly white vacation-retirement-resort enclave, is the richest town in South Carolina. In 2009, the median family income on Hilton Head was $86,769. That figure compares to $62,363 in the United States and $53,707 in South Carolina. That same year, just under a third of the households on Hilton Head had income of at least $100,000, compared to one in seven S.C. households.