Located between Hilton Head Island and Savannah, Daufuskie Island is the southernmost sea island in South Carolina. It is 5 miles long by 2.7 miles wide – approximately 5,000 acres. With 3.5 miles of pristine beachfront, Daufuskie is surrounded by the waters of the Calibogue Sound, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. Haig Point is located at the northern tip of the island.
Daufuskie offers a quiet, secure environment, yet also a rich cultural experience, with its environmental preserves, quaint Gullah houses, diverse art galleries and history dating back to the “Daufuskie Fight” during the Yemassee War of 1715–1717. This island is also the setting of Pat Conroy’s novel “The Water is Wide,” recounting Conroy’s experiences teaching on Daufuskie in the 1960s. Don’t forget Marshside Mama’s — a restaurant favored by locals for its authentic Lowcountry fare and relaxed island experience.
The residents of Haig Point have long declared their commitment to preserving a way of life unique to Haig Point and Daufuskie Island. The archaeological restoration of historic properties and passing along of folklore surrounding the history of the island proves this spirit is alive and well.
Archeologists have traced the inhabited history of the island back 9,000 years and have discovered pottery remnants dating to 7,000 BC. The first inhabitants were the peaceful Cusabo Indians.
In 1664, English sea captain William Hilton first sailed the waters of the South Carolina coast, writing in his log, “The air is clear and sweet, the country very pleasant and delightful: and we would wish all that want a happy settlement of our English Nation, were well transported hither.” English traders soon followed and settled in the area.
Of course, there are many facts and legends that surround our mysterious and magical island. It’s worth a visit to the Billie Burn Museum to travel through time. Established in 2003 by the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation, the museum is staffed by volunteer island residents, so hours are limited.
What’s in a name?
There is an old wives’ tale suggesting the island was named by the Gullah people as being “da fus cay” out of Savannah. More likely, Daufuskie was named by its earliest inhabitants – the Cusebo Indians. Their native tongue can be translated to “pointed feather” or “land with a point.”
Daufuskie Island is not a barrier island, it is a sea island protected by Hilton Head Island. The island itself is approximately 5 miles long and 2-1/2 miles wide.
First Union African Baptist Church
The development of First Union African Baptist Church, now listed as an historical landmark, began in 1879 when John I. Stoddard divided the Mary Field plantation into lots and sold 12 acres to former slaves for the purpose of building a church and developing a cemetery. The land was purchased in 1881 for $82 and the first church was built. The original church building burned in 1884 and was rebuilt in 1885.
From the early 1900s through the 1930s the church building supported worship service as well as a schoolhouse for the island’s children. From 1916 to the 1920s Reverend Richard Thomas, a visiting preacher from Savannah, would come once a month to serve communion at the church and at the same time administer a spelling bee for the school children.
With islanders seeking employment on the mainland, the island population decreased substantially in the 1950s. During that period the church was closed. In 1968, under the leadership of Rev. C. L. Hanshew, services resumed in the church.
Dr. Clarence Edmondson accepted the church’s call to be the pastor in July 1998. In 1999 the church was incorporated and became recognized as one of the congregations of Baptists in the Savannah River Baptist Association.
Gullah (pronounced GULL-lah) is the language blending African and American English dialects that became a second language for African-born slaves, then their descendants’ native tongue. “The Story of English,” by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil, says Gullah may be closer than any other American variety of black English to the original creole English of the New World and the lost pidgin English of the slave ships.
Hundreds of words derived from West African languages occur in Gullah. Some became common English sayings. A few, listed in the December 1987 “National Geographic,” with African languages from which they might have come:
- goober = peanut (Kimbundu)
- gumbo = okra (Tshiluba)
- hoodoo = bad luck (Hausa)
- tote = to carry (Kongo)
- biddy = small chicken (Kongo)
In 1986, Ronald Daise of Beaufort, S.C., wrote “De Gullah Storybook.” Following is his tale, which might have been told centuries ago:
“De Gullah gone a plowin een de fiel e fambly own. Fus, e unhitch e hoss from weh hit beenna feedin all lone. Dat one lee hoss plow up all the dan de Gullah had. De Gullah gone home tyad to de bone, bot him been good en glad!”
Translated: “The Gullah went plowing in the field his family owns. First, he unhitched his horse from where it was feeding all alone. That one small horse plowed all the land the Gullah had. The Gullah went home very tired but very glad!”
Sweet grass basketmaking
Basket-making is one of the nation’s oldest art forms of African origin. Sea islanders wove baskets of sweet-smelling, pliable marsh grass to hold vegetables, cotton, shellfish, clothing. Fifty years ago, baskets cost 50 cents to $2.50. Today, the smallest sell for about $40; the largest for hundreds of dollars.
The New York Times reported in 1987 that when two Gullah rice baskets were taken to an African arts curator at the Smithsonian Institution, the curator inspected them and said they came from West Africa, between Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Painting window trim blue
This African custom was believed to scare off evil spirits. Sea islanders painted some rooms inside blue, too, to keep out spirits, called hags, during childbirth.
Rice and greens, and rice with gumbo (okra) are among the Gullah foods linked closely to African cuisine.
Gullah cooking relies strongly on oysters, shrimp and fish. In the old days, seafood was caught with nets woven in West African-based patterns.
Daufuskie Island Front Porch
Daufuskie Island has its own monthly magazine. Check it out online at DaufuskieFrontPorch.com