From early Spanish settlers to modern-day developers, dozens of individuals and groups have contributed to the growth of Hilton Head Island over the years. Writer and amateur historian Barbara Muller was tasked with giving them their due recognition in her first book, "Legendary Locals of Hilton Head."
Muller's book is the newest addition to the "Legendary Locals" series by Arcadia Publishing, which combines vintage images with short anecdotes to tell the history of people who contribute to their communities across the nation.
Muller will sign copies of her book from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Coastal Discovery Museum. As part of the museum's Holiday Happening event, Muller will be joined by other local authors.
Some legendary locals named in the book are familiar faces. Most Hilton Head residents already know about Captain William Hilton, who spotted land from his ship in 1663 and gave the island its namesake. And more recently, Charles Fraser, an early planner who had a vision of developing the island while preserving its natural beauty. He's the one who reshaped the harbor to save an ancient oak tree.
But there are also nods to Civil War generals, Union and Confederate alike, descendants of slaves who helped preserve Gullah culture and Northerners who visited Hilton Head and loved it so much, they bought land on the spot and moved here, bringing their passions and talents with them.
"These people made such a contribution to the island and because they are moving away or getting ill or leaving us entirely, there's a lot of history about this island that should be written," said Muller, a past president of the Heritage Library Foundation, a Hilton Head organization that explores genealogical and historical research.
Muller moved to the island six years ago from Virginia, where she was on the board of another historical society and wrote frequently about colonial history. When Arcadia Publishing asked her to write a book on Hilton Head's historical people, she agreed, "not having any idea how difficult it was going to turn out to be," she said.
"There are so many interesting people and it was so difficult to get in touch with all of them and get photographs," Muller said. About 30 people she contacted either didn't respond or declined to be featured in the book. But many people who Muller did track down were able to lead her to others worthy of inclusion.
Some of Muller's favorite locals include Eliza Pinckney, a botanist who developed a sturdy strain of indigo and changed the face of agriculture in colonial South Carolina, Willie Ferguson, a controversial councilman that fought for amenities for native islanders, and Bill Bligen, a Gullah local who decided to learn how to read at age 60 and became an advocate for adult literacy programs.
"I'm sorry I never got to meet him," Muller said.
Still, she was able to capture his and other islanders' specific contributions in "Legendary Locals."
"I hope readers will recognize the impact history has left on the island and will do everything possible to preserve it for future generations," she said.