A Brief History of Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head is an Atlantic barrier island with a history of human habitation that goes back to at least 10,000 BC. It takes its name from William Hilton, an English sea captain who surveyed the island and claimed it for the crown in 1663.
Colonization began in the late 17th century when threats from Spaniards and Indians began to recede. The island was used as a plantation and hunting site during the colonial period, with indigo and rice as the main crops.
After the Revolution, American planters discovered that Sea Island long-staple cotton grew well here, and local cotton crops contributed greatly to the Lowcountry's boom years before the Civil War. Following the Battle of Port Royal Sound in November 1861 - known locally as "The Day of the Big Gun Shoo" - the planters abandoned their gracious homes and prolific crops and fled inland, and Union troops occupied the island.
Left behind were the slaves who had been responsible for bringing in the labor-intensive crops of the plantation era. After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the war, they and their descendants took possession of much of the land, beginning a life of isolated subsistence farming and seafood harvesting that allowed preservation of their historic Gullah culture.
As recently as 1950, only about 500 people lived on Hilton Head, but all that was about to change. The "modern" history of the island is often traced to 1948, when a Georgia timber man named Fred Hack first saw its fine stands of pine and oak trees.
Hack and his partners began to buy large tracts of Hilton Head property, much of which had come into possession of Northern sportsmen beginning in the late 1800s. Their purchases included land which we know today as Hilton Head, Palmetto Hall, Port Royal, Shipyard and Spanish Wells plantations, as well as Indigo Run, Long Cove, Wexford, and other properties.
The environmentally conscious, "plantation-style" development style we have come to associate with Hilton Head Island is traced to Charles Fraser, son of one of Hack's original partners. During the 1950s, Fraser had the inspiration to create a resort community that would preserve the island's natural beauty, and the result was Sea Pines, the first planned island community and the model for what would follow. The first bridge was built in 1956, and Hilton Head's historic isolation was ended. All the pieces were in place for the island's climate, beauty and beaches to combine with Fraser's vision to create the world-class resort and residential community we know today.