“I hardly know how to describe this place, I think God made it for the Garden of Eden…” a letter home from Sgt. Calvin Shedd, encamped near Dataw Island, S.C., Civil War, June 20th , 1862.
The great islands of South Carolina have long been a fertile source of history and folklore. Dataw Island’s first visitors arrived around 2500 B.C.; these early tribes of wandering Indians returned frequently to the island, drawn by the bountiful supplies of game and shellfish.
Dataw Island greeted the Spanish Europeans in the early 1500s. Captain Pedro de Salaza discovered the area in 1514, which establishes Beaufort County as the second landing in the new world by the Europeans, preceded only by Ponce de Leon’s founding of St. Augustine, Florida, just one year earlier. Over the course of the next 200 years, the English gradually replaced the early Spanish settlers. In 1685, Caleb Westbrook, an entrepreneurial Scotsman, established a trading post on Dataw Island, trading with the Indians for deerskins, a valued commodity in England.
Slow, but steady settlement of the area continued through the pre-Revolutionary War years. With the beginning of the Plantation Age, the great sea islands of South Carolina became the “Newport of the South”, with large, opulent homes financed by the enormous cash crops of indigo, used for cloth dying, and sea island cotton, the finest in the world. In the late 1700s, William Sams selected Dataw Island as the site for his indigo fields which later became Sea Island Cotton fields. The remains of the family’s magnificent tabby home are a carefully preserved treasure today.
Berners Barnwell Sams
Dr. Berners Barnwell Sams was the sixth son of William and Elizabeth Sams. He inherited part of Dataw which included the original tabby home that his father built in 1790 and the ruins remain in the center of the island. Dataw Island was a successful Sea Island cotton plantation under the ownership of William and Berners Barnwell Sams.
The Civil War heralded the end of a gracious and privileged lifestyle and for over 100 years Dataw Island was a quiet hunting preserve. The acquisition of Dataw Island by Alcoa Properties, Inc., in 1983, assures that the next era of the island’s history will be recorded as the sensitive and responsible development of one of the more beautiful islands in this part of Eden.