"Nowhere else in the world has nature been kinder to her children than in the region where the great plantations were formed out of the wilderness of the Lowcountry."
- Archibald Rutledge, 1883-1973, S.C. Poet Laureate and the last private owner of Hampton Plantation
Shortly after Charles Towne's first permanent European settlers arrived, Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, which granted religious freedom to French Calvinists. Hundreds of these protestants, known as Huguenots, fled to Charles Towne where they settled the area north of the colony between the Santee and Cooper rivers.
Though their initial efforts to cultivate silk, grapes and olive oil failed, the Huguenots were a hard-working people, committed to succeeding in their new home. Cheap land and fertile soil provided the foundation to develop what would become the wealthiest colony in the New World, supplying most of the world's demand for indigo and rice.
Under the Church Act of 1706, the French-speaking parish of St. Denis was established within the Anglican parish of St. Thomas. The Huguenots quickly integrated and intermarried with their Anglo-American countrymen and within a generation had esentially assimilated into the English culture. A dynasty had begun.
Design your perfect Day in the French Santee tour by combining tours of any of the following sites.
Photos and brief descriptions follow.
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The Georgian mansion and grounds of Hampton Plantation embody not only stories of the rice culture and the slavery system that supported it, but also served as the inspiration of South Carolina's late poet laureate Archibald Rutledge. (Optional mansion tour, $7.50 for adults; $3.50 age 6 - 15.)
The sleepy fishing village of McClellanville lies in the heart of the French Santee region. McClellanville has at least three claims to fame: its scenic beauty, great seafood, and having borne the devastating worst of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Today members of the St. James Santee Parish worship in this picturesque wooden chapel of ease in McClellanville.
Standing alone and isolated today beside a dirt path that was once the busy colonial King's Highway, the parish church of St. James Santee, c. 1768, is sometimes called Brick Church or Wambaw Church. George Washington commented on its elegant proportions as he rode past in 1791.
Lest we forget that the Lowcountry's story began long before Europeans arrived, this prehistoric Native American shell ring (now overgrown at right of the boardwalk) dates back 4,000 years and provides beautiful vistas of the Lowcountry year-round.
Tibwin Plantation dates back as early as 1705. The house that stands today, c. 1803, maintains only faded remnants of its former glory. Unfortunately, its beauty has suffered the ravages of time, storms and neglect. While the unrestored main house has benefitted from stabilization efforts by the U.S. National Park Service, preservationists fear for its survival through the next serious hurricane.
Seewee Environmental Education Center offers exhibits that interpret flora, fauna and ecosystems of the French Santee. A mile-long wilderness trail offers beautiful vistas and plenty of wildlife, including a butterfly garden, alligators, a variety of shorebird species, and a recovery center for protecting and re-establishing the indigineous and endangered red wolf population. On Thursdays and Saturdays, guests may experience these wild creatures as they are fed.
A DAY IN THE FRENCH SANTEE
Remains of the old Pitt Street Bridge, where the doomed crew of the Confederate submarine Hunley passed on their ill-fated journey into history, offer some of the Lowcountry's most beautiful views.
The Center for Birds of Prey offers visitors a unique insight into the lives of nearly 50 avian species. Center tours and flight demonstrations are available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. (Admission $18 per person.)