1 nautical mile W of Hilton Head
Rich in legend, lore, and history, Daufuskie Island is relatively cut off from the world. Lying between Hilton Head and Savannah and accessible only by boat, its heyday came in the mid–19th century when Southern plantations here produced the famous Sea Island cotton—until the boll weevil put an end to that industry. The island was the setting for Pat Conroy’s autobiographical book The Water Is Wide (1972), and also featured in Conrack, the movie version filmed 2 years later, starring Jon Voight.
The island, just 5 miles long and 2 1/2 miles wide, was originally inhabited by the Cusabo and later the Yamacraw Indians. Indian pottery, some of the oldest in America, has been found on Daufuskie, dating back 9,000 years. English settlers eventually took over the island and converted it into a series of plantations, focusing on indigo as its main export. Indigo eventually yielded to cotton plantations. After the boll weevil, an oyster-canning industry took over until it was forced out of business by the pollution of the Savannah River in 1951.
Today half of the island is essentially a nature retreat, with thick, ancient live oaks and angel oaks along with ospreys, egrets, and other waterfowl living among the reeds and rushes. In the 1980s, the other half was developed into private golf courses and elegant “plantations,” where people live in condos. The island is now home to about 450 permanent residents, though its Gullah population, descendants of slaves freed after the Civil War, has virtually disappeared. Haig Point is the private, residential community on the northern end of the island, containing several historic landmarks. The historic district comprises much of the southern end of Daufuskie, containing a smattering of homes, artisan studios, and art galleries, as well as the First Union African Baptist Church. The Webb Tract, at around 600 acres, is the formal name, for the wild, undeveloped section of Daufuskie, while the modern Melrose, Oak Ridge and Bloody Point communities share the eastern half of the island. You can visit the island by guided tour, or explore independently by golf cart, visiting sights such as the Silver Dew Winery, First Union African Baptist Church, and Mary Fields School, where Pat Conroy taught in the late 1960s.