The South Carolina barrier islands are generally an area of marshes, sweet grass and sand dunes with Beaufort is the Sea Islands’ terrestrial base, sometimes referred to as “a little Charleston,” with magnolia trees, places to stock provisions restaurants, oaks and Spanish moss. South of Charleston and north of Hilton Head, click here for Google Maps. St. Helena Island history includes habitation by Gullah farmers selling collards and corn from pickup trucks and roadside stands. Gullahs worked as slaves growing cotton and rice but became freer after the Civil War.
The Ashepoo River empties into St. Helena sound south of the island which is home to Bonnie Doone Plantation of 10,000-square-feet. Built in 1931 as a replacement for the Georgian house, General Sherman burned the original Georgian house in his 1865 march to the sea. Post Civil War, Gullahs were neglected because the islands were thought of little value. There were few roads and no direct bridge, only by ferry and porter could visitors and residents move themselves and their goods to and fro. Riddled with insects, snakes and other critters, the islands were quite separate from Beaufort and Charleston, with one room ‘praise-houses’ and the native population that wove baskets from sweat grass and grew rice. The Gullah spoke an African tongue unique and evolved on the Sea Islands. According to linguists it is a dialect related to Geechee, both of which might also sound like a pigeon English.
Fame came for St Helena and Beufort with the works of Conroy who wrote The Great Santini and grew up on the Sea Islands as a teenager, even teaching at Beaufort High School in his twenties. Another Conroy work was filmed as a movie in 1990 called The Prince of Tides, starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. But much more famously Forrest Gump has many scenes shot on St. Helena, Hunting Island, and Fripp Island.
An ideal hollywood set, the area has preseved culture lost in more traveled areas. Most African culture began to perishe with the slaves with none remaining. But the Gullah culture, first protected by the insulation of the island from the mainland and now preserved by a sense of pride and preservation, Marquetta L. Goodwine was named the “Gullah queen” by the United Nations. Marquetta spreads the word of Gullah culture and promotes the area with a national program of speaking to interested groups about the culture, usually in English but sometimes in the native Gullah tonguie.
Little time may remain to savour the pre civil war culture, like Tybee and Hilton Head the island is eyed for its potential by condomiinium developers and resort builders. Local businesses welcome the renewed interest but with a heavy heart for the in-evitable loss of the Gullah cultural tapestry. South Carolinians that have not taken in this unique backwater should visit before the next wave of construction which will undoubtebly change St Helena and Beufort forever.