After nearly 20 years, archeologist Stanley South still remembers the response Marine Corps officials gave him when he first asked about trying to unearth the remains of Charlesfort, a Huguenot fort built on Parris Island in 1562 by Jean Ribaut and his men.
"He said, 'I suppose that we can let you ground moles do your thing,'" South said. "That began the great relationship we had with the Marine Corps. The more we found, the more supportive they became. In 1996, our crew of ground moles found Charlesfort."
South, an archeologist at the S.C. Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, joined Marine Corps officials and members of various state and local historical groups near the site Friday for an invitation-only ceremony honoring the 450th anniversary of Ribaut's landing and the establishment of Charlesfort, the first official European settlement in the United States.
Seated in front of a 15-foot stone monument erected in 1926 to commemorate the landing and Charlesfort, dignitaries spoke about the importance of the colony in regional and national history.
"We have to remember that America's oldest city, St. Augustine, Fla., never would have been established had it not been for Jean Ribaut's arrival in 1562," said Larry Rowland, history professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. "The establishment of Charlesfort was seen as a mortal threat to the Spanish empire in America."
Pascal Le Deunff, the consul general of France in Atlanta, attended the ceremony and said Ribaut's landing was the beginning of what would be a centuries-long bond between the U.S. and France.
"The U.S. and France owe each other their own existence as free countries," Le Deunff said. "We have long stood shoulder-to-shoulder and fought together to promote the values of freedom and democracy."
Having called Parris Island home for more than 100 years, Marines take great pride in caring for and preserving the site, said Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
"As long as the Marine Corps has known this is hallowed ground, we've sought to be good stewards of this historical site," Reynolds said. "As Marines, we have a deep sense of history and a deep sense of tradition, and having this site on the depot fits right into our ethos as a Corps."
The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of a poster highlighting the history of the Charlesfort site for the Marine Corps National Historic Landmark series, "Defending Our Cultural Heritage." The site on Parris Island is one of four national historic sites on Corps-owned property, officials said.
The other three are Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.; the Las Flores Adobe at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii.