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This Popular Tourist Spot Shows Off Its Oppressive History

Deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, there’s a dark past of slavery. The rice and cotton plantations might have made white owners rich, but the prosperity came at a huge cost.

Slavery helped Beaufort, South Carolina rise to be one of the wealthiest towns in the area.

But today, despite its harrowed past, it remains a popular location for visitors. Let’s see why locals and visitors love this Southern town and what it offers should you plan a visit to the Lowcountry.

About Beaufort, South Carolina

Located on Port Royal Island in the Sea Islands of South Carolina, Beaufort was settled by British colonists in 1711 after numerous failed attempts by the Spanish. Once settled, Beaufort was attacked by the Native Americans of the area as well as the Spanish to the south who held land in what is now Florida.

But it became a center for shipbuilding and later a hotspot for Lowcountry planters during the slave society.

Its 33.6 square miles consist of mostly marshy land with almost 18% of its area consumed by water. It rarely gets below freezing in the winter and experiences hot and humid summers, sometimes reaching 100 degrees. Today there are about 13,600 residents of Beaufort, South Carolina.

Aerial view of Beaufort, SC
While many travelers enjoy visiting Beaufort, SC, few know the oppressive history of the town.

What Is Beaufort SC Known For? 

Because of its history, Beaufort, South Carolina, is a popular tourist destination. Annual festivals and events like the Home Water Festival, the Shrimp Festival, and the Beaufort International Film Festival bring in visitors every year. Its attractive location near the South Carolina coast also lures visitors who want to spend time at the beach. Golfing, water sports, and the local arts are also popular draws.

Beaufort is also known for its antebellum architecture. Visitors can participate in the Historic Beaufort Foundation’s Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens. They’ll see these beautiful structures and vast plantations. The historical significance and cultural heritage of Beaufort, South Carolina has kept this town flourishing and has turned it into a hotspot for tourism.

Pro Tip: We took a closer look at Is There Free Camping on the East Coast to help you decide what beach to relax on.

What Is Beaufort, South Carolina’s History of Slavery?

Prior to the Civil War, Beaufort was one of the wealthiest cities in the United States. Rice and cotton plantations were bringing in enormous wealth for white owners. Because of this, Lowcountry planters were among the first South Carolinians to support a state secession from the Union.

The largest population of slaves came from West Africa’s rice-growing region. Planters wanted slaves who knew how to grow this crop since the land proved fertile for these types of plantations in Beaufort. Slaves made Beaufort rich.

Why Was the Battle of Beaufort Important? 

Before America became a free country, however, Beaufort, South Carolina, was the site of an important American Revolutionary War battle. Also known as the Battle of Port Royal Island, the Battle of Beaufort was fought on February 3, 1779. British forces had captured and taken control of Savannah less than 50 miles south of Beaufort.

South Carolina Brigadier General William Moultrie led a militia group against the British at Gray’s Hill, the highest ground on Port Royal Island. Moultrie’s militia advanced on the British.

That was a reversal of how the militia fought the British, taking the open ground and the colonists hiding in the bushes. 

After about 45 minutes, Moultire’s men ran out of ammunition and started to retreat. However, the British also retreated. No one considered the war won or lost. The British had 40 deaths and many wounded. Meanwhile, Moultrie’s men only lost eight, with 22 wounded.

The Battle of Beaufort was important not because it was a significant win but because it boosted the colonists’ morale. A small band of militia had kept a larger British force from overtaking Beaufort. Although the energy and excitement were short-lived, it was a victory for these untrained men.

Church in Beaufort, South Carolina at sunset.
Expect to find impressive architecture and unique buildings while exploring Beaufort, South Carolina.

What Architecture Will You Find Throughout Beaufort, South Carolina?

One of the most distinctive elements of the Lowcountry region is the stately plantation homes. Built between the 1830s and 1860s, these antebellum homes often featured big, tall columns and multiple levels characterized by Georgian, Neo-classical, and Greek Revival styles.

They came with elegance and grace, displaying wealth and prosperity with verandas wrapped around the houses. There were large double-hung windows with wooden shutters, screened-in porches, and tall front doors.

Spacious rooms with high ceilings allowed air circulation in this hot and humid environment. Elegant ballrooms, open stairways, and intricate design work were extravagant.

Most of them, at some point, included slave quarters too.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to pack up your RV and head to Beaufort, South Carolina, make sure to avoid these 10 RV Packing Mistakes.

Does Beaufort SC Have Beaches? 

Hunting Island is South Carolina’s most popular state park. More than a million people visit the park each year. You can see loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, dolphins, and rattlesnakes here, and a fishing pier is off a section of the beach. Folks also enjoy rustic camping.

South Carolina’s only lighthouse is also located on Hunting Island State Park. Other beaches in the area include Sands Beach in Port Royal and Lands End Beach on St. Helena Island.

Is Beaufort, South Carolina Worth Visiting? 

Even though its past of slavery isn’t one to celebrate, Beaufort, South Carolina, has become a place that welcomes tourists who might want to learn about this dark time in history.

It’s a smaller version of Charleston. If you love historical architecture and enjoy trying local cuisine and emerging yourself in local culture, Beaufort is a great place to visit.

It has also been the inspiration for novels and the site of film productions. So the next time you’re planning on traveling along the East Coast, make a pit stop in Beaufort, South Carolina. It’s in the perfect location right between Savannah and Charleston to enjoy a few days of learning about the past, exploring the present, and celebrating the future.

Will you visit this historic town on the South Carolina coast? Tell us your travel plans in the comments!

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