Fort Sumter had been in South Carolina and Confederate hands for just more that a half year when the Union seized the Lowcountrys Port Royal area, bringing to an end the Sea Islands plantation culture and launching African-American emancipation, education and the first enlistment of former slaves in the U.S. military. Just as those events transformed the state and country, others changed South Carolina forever. The Union occupation of the area and its use as a Civil War coaling station gave way to the Parris Island Marine Corps training base, one of several military installations that today play major roles in local economies. And one former Beaufort slave went on to help found the political party that dominates South Carolina today, the GOP.
Early 1500s: Spanish explorers land on an island off the S.C. coast; the small colony is called St. Helenas Day, named for the day it is established.
1663: English Capt. William Hilton gives a headland at the mouth of Port Royal Sound the name of Hiltons Head.
1711: Beaufort is founded by the Lords Proprietors of Carolina; the town and county get its name from Henry Somerset, Englands second duke of Beaufort.
1715: English Col. Alexander Parris buys a group of islands off the S.C. coast, one of which later bears his name.
April 5, 1839: Robert Smalls is born in Beaufort County to Lydia Smalls, a slave owned by Henry McKee.
Nov. 6, 1860: Abraham Lincoln, reviled in the South, is elected president of the United States.
Dec. 20, 1860: South Carolina secedes from the Union; other Southern states also secede over the next few months.
Jan. 9, 1861: Cadets from The Citadel fire upon the Star of the West, an unarmed merchant ship sent to resupply Union troops in Charleston who have withdrawn to Fort Sumter.
April 12, 1861: The Civil War begins as Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter, which is surrendered the next day.
April 19, 1861: Lincoln orders a blockade of Southern ports.
Summer, 1861: Fort Walker is built by Confederates to protect Port Royal Sound from Union attack.
Late fall, 1861: White property owners abandon the Sea Islands on news of an impending Union attack.
Nov. 7, 1861: A flotilla of Union vessels defeats Confederate forces at Fort Walker, also taking Fort Beauregard on Phillips Island.
Late fall and winter, 1861-1862: Slaves, considered contraband with their masters away, flock to the Lowcountrys Sea Islands in hopes of being declared free.
January 1862: Union Gen. Thomas Sherman asks the War Department to send assistance to black Sea Islands residents; teachers, money and materials are sent from religious, philanthropic and abolitionist groups in the North.
April 1862: Laura Towne, a Pennsylvania abolitionist, arrives on St. Helena Island to help former slaves; with another Pennsylvania abolitionist, Ellen Murray, she helps found the Penn School, where both women teach.
May 13, 1862: Smalls commandeers a Confederate transport ship, the Planter, and surrenders it to Union forces outside Charleston harbor; Smalls, who frees himself and several family members, becomes a Union hero.
August 1862: Smalls meets with Lincoln and urges the president to allow black men to serve as Union soldiers.
September 1862: Gen. Ormsby Mitchel becomes commander of the Unions Department of the South; he designates an area on Hilton Head Island for black residents; over the next few years, black residents create their own town, named Mitchelville.
Jan. 1, 1863: Lincoln issues an executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in states that have rebelled against the United States
Jan. 31, 1863: The 1st S.C. Volunteers, the first regiment composed of former slaves, is mustered into the U.S. Army in the Lowcountry.
Feb. 10, 1863: A cemetery in Beaufort becomes one of the first national cemeteries in the country.
Feb. 18, 1865: Charleston surrenders to Union forces.
April 9, 1865: Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
April 14, 1865: Lincoln is assassinated by stage actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
May 3, 1865: Congress passed legislation authorizing the establishment of the Freedmans Bureau, which assists former slaves in areas of health care, land ownership, housing and education.
Dec. 6, 1865: 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted, abolishing slavery
January 1868: Smalls is a delegate to the S.C. Constitutional Convention, which produces a new state constitution that forbids slavery, establishes public schools, abolishes debtors prison and ends property ownership as a requirement for voting. Smalls himself reads the resolution that eventually leads to the establishment of public schools for black and white children.
July 9, 1868: 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted. Its citizenship clause effectively overturns the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857, which held that slaves were not U.S. citizens.
1891: Smalls, representing the Beaufort area in Congress, succeeds in having a U.S. Navy yard established on Parris Island; that facility becomes a Marine Corps recruit depot in 1915.
1893: A major hurricane devastates the Sea Islands, wiping out much of the progress African-Americans had made in the years since the end of the Civil War.
1895: A new state constitution is adopted, disenfranchising black residents, outlawing interracial marriage and mandating segregated schools
1915: Smalls, who had served in the S.C. House, the S.C. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, dies.