Centuries before the Marine Corps started training recruits on Parris Island, the French saw the land as an opportunity for religious freedom.
Capt. Jean Ribaut and crew arrived on Parris Island 450 years ago, planted a stone pillar, claimed the land as a Huguenot refuge and got to work building Charlesfort, a triangular fort.
All this was 25 years before Roanoke, 45 years before Jamestown and 58 years before the Pilgrims and Plymouth, officially making Charlesfort the first official European settlement in the United States, according to the committee in charge of anniversary celebrations.
That accomplishment is getting worldwide attention with this year's 450th anniversary celebrations. Delegates from the French embassy are expected at Friday's Ceremony to Celebrate Ribaut 450 at the Charlesfort/Santa Elena historic landmark site on Parris Island, according to Mary Lou Brewton of the Beaufort County Historical Society, which is arranging the ceremony. A reception will follow at the Parris Island Museum.
Friday's events are invitation-only because of capacity limits, according to Lt. Jean Durham, Parris Island Marine Corps spokeswoman.
However, the museum, which is free to the public, has an exhibit room dedicated to the early settlers of the island and is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Visitors can stop by the historic landmark site while on base, which "has exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States," said 1st Lt. Melanie M. Salinas, public affairs director.
More information is available at parrisislandmuseum.com.
Part of Friday's ceremony will include the unveiling of a poster highlighting Charlesfort/Santa Elena for the Marine Corps National Historic Landmark series "Defending our Cultural Heritage," Salinas said.
"All Marines are expected to have a clear understanding of the basic events that have shaped the history and heritage of the United States and, in particular, the United States Marine Corps," she said. "Jean Ribaut's landing 450 years ago on Parris Island is a vital part of our national heritage."
For those without tickets to Friday's festivities, a concert on Wednesday in Port Royal is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear the Goliards, a Savannah ensemble, play period instruments and music. The 7 p.m. show will be at The Shed at 8th Street and Paris Avenue.
The anniversary celebrations, which also included a lecture series by authors, historians and archeologists, have been organized by a committee that includes the Beaufort County Historical Society, the Charlesfort/Santa Elena Archaeology team, the Historical Port Royal Foundation, the Parris Island Historical and Museum Society, the S.C. Historical Society, the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, and The Huguenot Society of South Carolina.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.