Just off Hilton Head Island lies Daufuskie Island, a place some say time has forgotten. Rich in history and flavored with a touch of grace, Daufuskie has two faces. One the one hand, the Island is home to an internationally known destination, the Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa with premiere golfing and spa facilities, elegant accommodations, fine dining, and a variety of activities.
But turn the other way and you’ll find an island that is still a natural and timeless representation of the Gullah culture, shaded by dense live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and steeped in its own dark and private history. To enhance this Island’s charming remoteness, there is no bridge and cars are not allowed.
Inhabited ages ago by Native Americans, Florida’s Yemassee used Daufuskie as a bivouac for raids on English settlements around Charleston. The English put an end to the raids in two fierce battles at what is now known as Bloody Point. Planters later raised a profitable indigo crop on Daufuskie and sold it to England, prompting them to remain Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, while nearby Hilton Head residents were Patriots. A prosperous era of cultivating Sea Island cotton followed the war in the 1800s.
After the Civil War, Daufuskie Island was given over to freed slaves who made their living as oystermen, lumbermen, and farmers. Descendants of those slaves still inhabit the island and make up part of the 130 or so year-round residents of Daufuskie.
Living on a remote Sea Island, Daufuskie’s inhabitants were isolated, allowing their way of life to survive intact, unaffected by the economic and cultural changes taking place on the mainland. Pat Conroy brought fame to the island when he described his first year of teaching in the two-room schoolhouse in his novel The Water is Wide. The movie Conrack, starring John Voight, is based on the novel and is available in video stores in the Local Favorites section.
Today, the Island is experiencing growth as never seen in its history. Many fear the loss of its unique way of life to bulldozers and development. Yet there is something steadfast about Daufuskie and its permanent residents.
The only way to get to Daufuskie is by boat. If you don’t own one, you can rent a boat for the day from a number of operators on Hilton Head and set out on your own adventure. Or hope aboard one of the ferryboats which travel to Daufuskie daily year-round.
Once you arrive at Daufuskie’s Freeport Marina, you will find nothing but dirt roads traveled only by foot or golf cart. The Marina offers carts for rent and maps for a self-guided tour. Visit Bloody Point, Mt. Carmel and the First Union African Baptist Churches, the Lighthouse, the Old Winery, Conroy’s schoolhouse, and cemeteries dating back hundreds of years. Browse the numerous galleries of local painters, sculptors, potters, and stain glass artists who find their muse amidst the maritime forests and sandy beaches of this intriguing sea island. The Daufuskie Crab Company Store and Restaurant is the Island’s only gift shop, filled with relics, crafts and books, and home to the Daufuskie Island Deviled Crab, prepared by native islanders.
There are a number of guided tours available that specialize in Daufuskie’s history and ecology. In addition to dolphin and nature tour, a variety of sunset voyages, beachcombing expeditions, and even dinner cruises operate year-round from Hilton Head to the Island. The Island’s storied past will be revealed when you join one of the guided history tours aboard a funky bus.
As remote as it may seem, Daufuskie is surprisingly accessible and appeals to visitors of all interests. The Island’s mysterious ambiance will leave you captivated . . . and take your heart.