Rarely seen photos from Daufuskie Island
Daufuskie Island keeps her secrets well.
Who knew the quiet island with no bridge off the southern tip of Hilton Head Island was the site of a U.S. Army quarantine detention camp at the end of the Spanish-American War?
Yes. Ten thousand troops came through in waves, staying five days before returning to society in the spring of 1899 without a trace of yellow fever. The operation lasted only five weeks. And then, its memory was sucked in by the sandy roads and rolling tides of this place like no other.
That story, with photographs, is in a book out this month from Arcadia Publishing called “Daufuskie Island.” It is compiled and written by Jenny Hersch, a curious bass player who has lived there five years, and Sallie Ann Robinson, a sixth-generation Daufuskie Islander.
The book is part of the “Images of America” series that is predominately photographs. It has 200 photos and 26,000 words tracing more than two centuries of life on an island that at one time had 700 residents, and at another fewer than 50.
The book joins others from our county in the series, those focusing on Hilton Head, Beaufort and Port Royal. It’s available through local booksellers and online.
Some readers may be surprised to know that in 1935, two Beaufort politicians, state Sen. W. Brantley Harvey Sr. and state Rep. Calhoun Thomas, proposed four causeways and two bridges that would link Daufuskie to Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton.
The book shows a picture of that plan.
But the best-kept secret is to me the photographs by Constantine Manos. He came to Daufuskie in 1952 from Columbia, where his Greek immigrant parents ran a store and where he’d earn an English degree from the University of South Carolina. He was only 18. From age 13, his dream was to become a world-renowned photographer. He was welcomed on Daufuskie. And his dream came true.
The authors say the Manos portfolio, never before published, may be the only photographs from Daufuskie in the 1950s.
And, in fact, it was his photos that started the whole project, Hersch said. She found them online. She eventually went to meet the photographer at his home in Massachusetts, not far from where she used to live.
She found no one around here who knew about his documentation of Gullah leaders and their rustic, rural way of life that dominated the sea islands for 100 years.
The book makes a concerted effort to show and tell the story of the descendants of those enslaved on the island prior to the Civil War.
Robinson leads tours on her home island three days a week. Most visitors want to know about her childhood on the island, and about her former teacher, Pat Conroy. Robinson, a previously published author, was the character “Ethel” in Conroy’s memoir, “The Water is Wide.”
Robinson and Hersch tell the story of Daufuskie through the lenses of other star photographers.
It includes photos of the Conroy era by Billy and Paul Keyserling of Beaufort. And photographs taken by David Morrison in 1970 when he was among the University of California at Santa Cruz students who came to this secret place to study and help humanity.
And there are rare pictures by Bruce Davidson who came in 1971 for a 1973 book, “Subsistence, USA.”
The book shows that for centuries, people come and people go on Daufuskie. Artists and winemakers, do-gooders and fortune seekers.
And through it all, Daufuskie can still keep a secret.