Beaufort News

Technicality doesn't spoil plans for Beaufort's 300th birthday celebration

Although the city of Beaufort's 300th birthday celebration has been an occasion to reflect on area history, a case could be made its real tricentennial is another 92 years away.

The English charter creating the seaport of "Beaufort Town" was approved by the Lords Proprietors of Carolina on Jan. 17, 1711, the founding date the city will recognize with a celebration Monday. However, city and state records indicate the city was not incorporated until December 1803.

But who wants to let a technicality stand in the way of a good celebration?

"The 1711 charter is the oldest and the initial charter," Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said. "I guess we could celebrate the others, but the 1711 charter was the charter. It's the city's 300th birthday. It only happens once and we certainly don't want to miss it."


The Indian trade, the rise of the cattle industry and the need to protect Charleston from Native American and Spanish threats to the south played starring roles in the founding of Beaufort in 1711, according to area historians.

Early settlers to Beaufort raised cattle and corn, traded with local Indian tribes and saw potential to profit from naval stores if a port, "a fort, a town and other semblances of 18th-century frontier civilization" were established by the English on Port Royal Island, according to "Beaufort, South Carolina: A History" by Alexia Jones Helsley.

Such profit also was attractive to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, eight English lords who acquired a huge slice of North America from King Charles II in March 1663.

The land included North Carolina and South Carolina, most of the American Southeast, the southern half of California and some of northern Mexico, according to historians from the University of North Carolina.

As the idea of a new port on Port Royal Island gathered steam, the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly in 1707 commissioned five area landholders -- Capt. Thomas Nairne, John Cochran, Alexander Mackey, Thomas Palmenter and Richard Reynolds -- to maintain and develop roads, bridges and creek cuts south of St. Helena Sound, Helsley wrote.

Nairne went to London during the winter of 1708-09 to lobby for the creation of a port among the sea islands, according to "The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina," by Larry Rowland, Alexander Moore and George Rogers.

Nairne, other Lowcountry landholders and several London merchants continued to urge the Lords Proprietors to create the seaport. That led to a meeting Jan. 17, 1711, at Craven House, where the Lords Proprietors approved the charter creating "Beaufort Town," the book said.

The seaport was named after Henry Somerset, duke of Beaufort, and was to be "the intellectual and aristocratic rival" of Charleston, according to historian Yates Snowden.

The original town was bound by Hamar Street to the west, Duke Street to the north, East Street to the east and the Beaufort River to the south, Helsley wrote.


More than 90 years later, modern-day Beaufort was born.

Around the turn of the century, citizens petitioned the S.C. Senate for incorporation.

Written by the "sundry inhabitants and lot holders in Beaufort," the petition was approved Dec. 17, 1803, by the Senate, which found the residents demonstrated "great convenience and advantage would arise to them by incorporating the said town," according to an entry in Brevard's Alphabetical Digest of Public Statute Laws of South Carolina, published in 1814.

Throughout its early history, the city was governed by an "intendant" instead of a mayor, and six council members called wardens, and later, aldermen.

The position of mayor was created in May 1913 when the city approved a new charter and was placed under the state's general law for the government of municipalities, according to city records.

In October 1975, the city adopted its current council-manager form of government and was issued a certificate of incorporation by the secretary of state on June 15, 1976.

Though the other dates were momentous, the 1711 charter marked the establishment of the first city on Port Royal Island, said Deborah Johnson, project coordinator of the Beaufort Three-Century Project.That's worthy of celebration, Beaufort-area residents seem to agree.

"It's not just about Beaufort," said Margaret Johnson of Beaufort as she walked down Bay Street on Friday morning. "It's really about the history of the area as a whole and how much history there is here. The boundaries of the original town are still part of the city, so it feels close enough for me.

"Happy birthday, Beaufort."