The Rev. Robert E.H. Peeples, who researched and shared Hilton Head Island history since moving to the island in 1953, died Wednesday at age 99 at NHC HealthCare Center in Bluffton.
Peeples was a founder of the Hilton Head Island Historical Society in 1961, making it one of the first community organizations of newcomers in the island’s modern-development era. He was president of the organization for 35 years.
He wrote numerous papers, articles and pamphlets on Lowcountry history, from the explorers and earliest settlers through the antebellum period. He lectured frequently on local history and was often quoted by local publications.
In 1985, he was honored by the Hilton Head Island Community Association for “enhancing community awareness of our history through research, writings and activities.”
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A collection of his writings on history called “The Peeples Chronicles” was published in 2014 by the Heritage Library Foundation, and it has been amplified for its second printing.
Peeples was instrumental in the founding of the Heritage Library Foundation, a private reference library and research center. The historical society’s papers and assets were turned over to the library in 2005.
“The Heritage Library is a significant part of his legacy,” said Bill Altstaetter, a co-founder of the library. “Without his support, advice, counsel and significant contributions in time, intellect and money, we would never have made it to 20 years.”
The Heritage Library also took over the historical society’s responsibility for the preservation of two significant historical sites: Fort Mitchel in Hilton Head Plantation, and the Zion Chapel of Ease Cemetery on U.S. 278. It is now staging a capital improvement drive for the cemetery and opening it to new research and public access.
The library also was given the papers of Peeples and his late wife, Cora McKenzie Peeples, who died in 2014 at age 95. They were married 66 years. For many years, she led the local observance of Constitution Week for the Daughters of the American Revolution.
From those files, library volunteer Sunni Bond edited the “Peeples Chronicles” with titles like “The Role of Beaufort District in the Revolutionary War” and “Island leaders Rest in Zion.”
He was an officer in an island museum that was a forerunner to the Coastal Discovery Museum. And he was a charter member of the Hilton Head Art League and the Hilton Head Choral Society.
Peeples was born in Estill and had been an Episcopal rector in Georgia before moving to the island. He and his wife were among the earliest newcomers, building a home on Moonshell Road in Folly Field before Hilton Head had a bridge to the mainland.
He was organist and choir director in the early days of First Presbyterian Church, and he played the organ at his wife’s funeral service.
He was vicar emeritus at the Anglican Church of the Redeemer on Hilton Head, a congregation that uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the 1940 Hymnal. He was rector from 1980 until June 2016, but continued to play the organ until he moved to a nursing home.
Peeples was a veteran of World War II and a member of Sons of the American Revolution and many other historical organizations.
A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at the Lawtonville Cemetery in Estill.