The more things change on Hilton Head, the more they stay the same

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 3, 2013 

Where would we be today if a guy named Motel 6 had sighted Hilton Head Island and given it his name?

We celebrate this week the 350th anniversary of our fortunate sighting by a chap with the regal name of William Hilton.

Capt. William Hilton arrived aboard the good ship Adventure in 1663, and his name was attached to the high bluff he recorded for mariners. Oddly enough, the captain of English descent was seeking something very familiar to today's island -- to put heads in beds. He was scouting good locations for new enterprises for barons of business in New England, London and Barbados.

Seven years would pass before the English put down permanent roots in the Lowcountry, up the coast in Charleston. But don't blame William Hilton for the delay. He returned to Barbados with an account worthy of the real estate brochure hall of fame.

"The Lands are laden with large tall Oaks, Walnut and Bayes, except facing on the Sea, it is most Pines tall and good," he wrote.

Though Hilton never set foot on Hilton Head Island, surely his words sounded like harp music to those who hired him.

"The Country abounds with Grapes, large Figs, and Peaches; the Woods with Deer, Conies, Turkeys, Quails, Curlues, Plovers, Teile, Herons; and as the Indians say, in Winter, with Swans, Geese, Cranes, Duck and Mallard, and innumerable of other water-Fowls, whose names we know which lie in the Rivers, Marshes, and on the Sands Oysters in abundance, with great store of Muscles; A sort of fair Crabs, and a round Shelfish called Horsefeet. The Rivers stored plentifully with Fish that we saw play and leap."

Hilton said the people here were healthy at a time of year they are sickly up North.

"The Ayr is clear and sweet, the Countrey very pleasant and delightful: And we could wish, that all they that want a happy settlement, of our English Nation, were well transported thither."

Frenchman Jean Ribaut, who a full century earlier established the first Protestant colony in the New World on our own Parris Island, had similar glowing reports of an area he named Port Royal. So did the Spaniards, who had been roaming this area so long the Indians were crossing themselves and speaking Spanish.

Three hundred years after Hilton's visit, a young developer named Charles E. Fraser again sent brochures from these shores. He urged all those who wanted a happy settlement to be well transported thither.

In one of the early beckonings to his Hilton Head Island settlement named Sea Pines, Fraser called on the words of Julian Huxley:

"One function of the earth whose importance we have to recognize is that of wilderness, the function of allowing men and women to get away from the complications of industrial civilization, and make contact with fine scenery and unspoilt nature."

We'll leave the light on for you.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

Related content: Party like it's 1663 and 1983 for Hilton Head Island anniversaries, Sept. 22, 2013 350/30 Celebration

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