My husband and I do not own a boat. We have plenty of other important things to spend our hard-earned money on including two grandchildren, three dogs, travel, a love of fine dining and, in my husband’s case, his motorcycling and shooting hobbies, and in mine, clothes and shoes! However, we are lucky enough to have family and friends with boats and always enjoy our time on the water and appreciate their hospitality.
I have long wanted to visit and learn more about Daufuskie Island, the southern-most inhabited island in South Carolina and sometimes known as the “island with no bridge”. As the nickname implies, it is only accessible by boat. As we did not want to impose on family, we decided to treat ourselves to a professional tour. All I have to say is WOW. It was worth every penny. The tour team that hosted us from Outside Brands, a Lowcountry business that really shows a passion for the rich nature, history and culture of the Greater Savannah and Hilton Head coastal regions, was excellent. Our boat captain had extensive and impressive knowledge about the history and nature of the island. We saw numerous different birds and learned a great deal about their habits and their habitat from the trained naturalist guide. A particular high point for me, as it is early in the year for these sightings, was enjoying some playful dolphins accompany our boat back to shore!
It is also possible to take a ferry across The Calibogue Sound which separates Daufuskie and Hilton Head, and the narrowest point between the two is less than a mile. Don’t take a car over unless you are planning to stay a while as electric golf carts are the main mode of transport. Daufuskie island itself is only 5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, and it’s one of the smallest inhabited islands in the south-eastern USA.
As readers of this column will realize, I love history, which was my major at university. One of the joys of living in the USA is to extend my historical knowledge. During this tour, we learned about the Native Americans, European settlers, the cotton trade, and the Gullah culture.
The Gullah Geechee people descend from Africans who were enslaved and worked the plantations of the lower Atlantic coast, the vast majority of which arrived in North America between 200-300 years ago. Most came from West Africa from different cultures with different languages to isolated island and coastal plantations. This led to the creation of a unique culture with deep African roots that in the Gullah Geechee’s language, food, crafts and music.
There are six Gullah Geechie cemeteries on Daufuskie and we also visited the First Union African Baptist Church, built by the Gullah Geechie about 140 years ago. We saw the Mary Fields school which was also built by the Gullah Geechie in 1934. Back in 1970, the famous low-country author Pat Conroy served as teacher at that school to sixth grade student Sallie Ann Robinson, who has become a famous chef and historian and who still has a home on the island. In Conroy’s book (which was later made into a movie) Water is Wide, he based the character of Ethel on Sallie Ann. Teacher and pupil remained good friends until his death in 2016.
Today, this school is used as a coffee house and home to local artisans including “Daufuskie Blues” which still make and sell cakes of indigo and also clothes and household fabrics dyed with this special shade of blue. I learned that indigo, a tropical spreading shrub, was introduced to the colonial south in 1741 by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, the teenage daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, and it quickly became a major cash crop for South Carolina. Indigo thrived in the sandy soil and warm climate of the south-eastern coast which led indigo to outpace the production of rice in South Carolina. Indigo is made into hard cakes resembling soap bars which were extremely valuable in the colonies as a form of currency and a highly profitable export to England as it was one of the few items never embargoed by England during the days of the American Revolution. At the height of colonial indigo production, South Carolina was exporting over a million pounds of indigo annually.
Other highlights included seeing the Haig Point lighthouse designed by the man who became the first light keeper. It fell into disuse in the 1920’s but in 1986 a lamp was again activated in this lighthouse and its flashing white light today serves as a private aid to navigation. There is also a rum distillery which boasts different flavors of rum which are bottled and packed by hand on Daufuskie and sold as 100% American made.
I have a busy life with running a business and home, so taking a half day to be restored by the beauty of nature, especially with someone else taking charge of arrangements, was a fantastic experience.
I say goodbye this week with a great quote from 19th century American naturalist and conservationist, John Burroughs: “I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order.”
God Bless America!
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