1450 – 1790:
Thousands of years ago, Palmetto Bluff was settled by Native Americans. They fished in the coastal waters and hunted and gathered in the forests. Shells, bones and fragments of clay pots and tools, uncovered by archaeologists prove their presence. These Native Americans inhabited Palmetto Bluff until the arrival of the first European colonists.
During Colonial times, the chief justice of South Carolina, Robert Wright, and British naval officer, George Anson, bought the land in 1730. Beginning in 1757, Wright’s heirs and Anson divided and sold the land in tracts averaging 1,000 acres each. The tracts became 15 different plantations.
Palmetto Bluff’s plantations depended on enslavement of people from Africa. Enslaved people worked in sweltering fields and served in plantation owners’ households. Indigo, rice and Sea Island cotton were cultivated for the markets in Savannah. Corn, beans and sweet potato crops fed the plantation owners, their families and themselves. Between 15 and 75 children and adult slaves lived on each plantation and forced into labor.
Beaufort County entered the Civil War in November 1861.
Union troops captured Hilton Head Island. Confederate forces destroyed their own structures and supplies as they fled. Plantation families living in Palmetto Bluff fled as well. Enslaved people at Palmetto Bluff also left.
They escaped to Hilton Head, where they would help found Mitchelville, one of the first freedman towns. Many joined the Union forces. Many of these soldiers are buried at Palmetto Bluff.
In the 1880s, Savannah-native John Estill, a saw a business opportunity. He purchased land at the Bluff and eventually held 10,000 acres. He built a country estate, which is now Wilson Village.
New York banker, Richard T. Wilson Jr., purchased Estill’s land in 1902. Within 20 years, he doubled the size of his property and named it “Palmetto Bluff.” It became the spot the Wilsons’ winter estate. Construction of a grand mansion commenced in 1910. Overlooking the May River, the four-story home was quite large and opulent. Visitors attended Mrs. Wilson’s lavish parties, coming from near and far.
On March 26, 1926, the mansion caught fire, and destroyed the house. Wilson sold to J.E. Varn for a timber, turpentine and cattle business. Wilson, returned to New York City and passed away in died three years.
In 1937, Union Bag and Paper Company purchased the land. Originally acquired for its pine and hardwood, the company realized that the riverfront and maritime forest offered much. They adopted a conservation-based plan to protect the land. To this day, Palmetto Bluff’s beauty is due to the stewardship of Union Bag.
In 2000, Palmetto Bluff was purchased by a real estate developer who began the thoughtful planning for the 20,000-acre residential community that is evolving today. Hundreds of acres under conservation easements are under protection. Thus, visitors to modern-day Palmetto Bluff can still enjoy the same spectacular views of the May River.
Article courtesy of www.palmettobluff.com.