Ghost stories of Hilton Head, SC

The majority of places we visited on the island were related to historical and cultural locations or events. However, most of Hilton Head has been developed in recent years. The majority of the island is divided into tourist and residential resorts with condos, hotels, and summer rental homes. With such relatively recent history, it was interesting to note the preponderance of ghost stories on the island. They were printed in restaurant menues, referred to in tourist literature, and displayed within the little museum in the Harbour Town Lighthouse. It would be fascinating to do a study to see at what points in time ghost stories arise in the popular culture. Perhaps in this case, the amount of ghost stories is related to the need to express a vast history (as “ghosts” are typically historical, by their very definition, their death/creation occured in the past)

Here are some of the stories:

The Ghost of the Harbour Town Lighthouse
Some people have reported that while walking up the steps of the lighthouse (which was completed in 1970), they have felt a chill and shrill shrieking of air upwards to the top of the lighthouse. According to the lighthouse museum, this may be the ghost of a Yemassee warrior, who over a thousand years ago left his family to fight, and when he returned discovered that his family had died near the spot where the lighthouse exists today. His mournful presence can still be felt in the lighthouse.

The Ghost of William Baynard

There seems to be several versions of this one. According to this story, the Baynard mausoleum located in Zion Cemetery is haunted by William Baynard. You may remember him as the man who legend says won the plantation from “Saucy Jack” Stoney, thus adding his name to the Stoney-Baynard plantation, whose ruins we visited. “William Baynard lost his young bride to fever in 1830, and he never recovered from his grief. So when it storms at night, the specter of the mourning widower rides his wife’s hearse, driving a ghostly team of four black horses before him.”

Another version says that William Baynard’s funeral procession can be seen passing by the ruins of the Stoney-Baynard ruins (we kept our eyes open, but to no avail) and his tomb in Zion Cemetery.

In doing a bit of genealogical research, however, it seems that William Baynard married Catherine Adelaide Scott in 1829. They went on to have four children, and he died in 1849. He acquired the Stoney plantation (Braddock’s Point Plantation) in 1840. Doesn’t seem that his “young bride” died of a fever after all! But facts don’t have to play an important role in ghost stories, as we well know!

The Blue Lady
This was the first ghost story we encountered on the island. Our first night we dined at the restaurant CQ’s. This tale also seems to have several versions, or have blended with each other. CQ’s menu provides a version of the tale that depicts recent encounters with the Blue Lady. It describes a woman in a blue dress who has been seen from time to time.

The restaurant next to CQ’s is the Harbour Town bakery and cafe, which is housed in an old lightkeeper’s house, which was moved to its present location in the Sea Pines resort. Although we believe the sign said the lighthouse keeper’s cottage had originally been located in Charleston, SC, it helps to provide a link to the evolution of the Blue Lady ghost.

Because elsewhere on the island, the ghost of a young girl named Caroline Fripp haunts Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse, where she died during the hurricane of 1898. The Blue Lady is most reported during the hurricane seasons. People say they ‘ve gone or rode by the Old Lighthouse and would hear a women sobbing.

A history of lighthouses provides the probable basis for this story. When a hurricane hit the island, keeper Adam Fripp remained in the lighthouse, to keep it lit for ships on the ocean. Supposedly the wind extinguished the light, as he had a fatal heart attack. His daughter Caroline successfully kept the light lit throughout the storm, but she died shortly thereafter in her home, the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

Ghost stories have followed. Whether she has been sighted at or near the lighthouse (on the opposite side of the island from the Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is where CQ’s and the Bakery are located), or in Harbour Town itself, a woman’s sobs and appearance in blue has been reported time and again, the original story blending into the local folklore in different ways.

Overall, we were entertained and intrigued by the prominence of ghost stories on the island. Although it was easy to imagine the basis for many of the tales, the island itself had its moments of haunting beauty, with its evening fog rolling in from the ocean, or the Spanish-moss draped old oak trees at twilight…

Stoney-Baynard ruins, Sea Pines, Hilton Head, SC

History of Braddock’s Point Plantation

According to the Sea Pines Resort, in 1776, Captain John Stoney (1757-1821) bought the 1000 acres known as Braddock’s Point Plantation on Hilton Head. It was passed to is son, Captain James Stoney (1772-1827) who inherited the property, left it at his death to Dr. George Mosse Stoney, who passed it to his son “Saucy Jack” in 1838. A gambler, “Saucy Jack”, supposedly lost the house and land in a poker game. The winner was William Eddings Baynard. It’s also possible that Saucy Jack simply went bankrupt and Baynard got the property. “Baynard was a highly successful planter of the world-famous Sea Island Cotton which he grew at Braddock’s Point as well as his other holdings. He and his wife Catherine raised four children here at the “big house” and it was here that he died in 1849 at the early age of 49.” The Baynard descendants left the property when the Union forces invaded Hilton Head Island in 1861. During the Civil War, the house was used by Union troops and supposedly was burned by a Confederate raiding party. Although the family later regained the land, they did not return to Braddock’s Point. The house eventually decayed into the ruins of the present.

The Ruins
Here is the front of the house. There are large square holes where beams supported a large porch:

The most prominent aspect of the ruins was the remains of a part of the first floor:

From Stoney-Baynar…

The Stoney-Baynard home was constructed with tabby, a building material popular in the Low Country of South Carolina. Tabby was produced with lime, sand, and oyster shells, and made cement for foundations.

A modern support made from wood exists along the basement:

William Baynard was well known for his Sea Island cotton, which was a new cotton hybrid that was extremely popular. Of course, the success of the cotton was actually dependent upon the slave labor of the plantation. About a mile from the big house was “slave row” where poorly made and small slave cabins provided shelter to the plantation’s numerous slaves. Directly near the main house’s ruins, however, it the probable location of the slave cabin where the house slaves lived:

A slave kitchen and large tabby stone nearby also exist, the stone was probably shifted around during the Union occupation of the plantation, and used as a block for Union tents, according to archaeological digs.

The site was beautiful to explore. Today the surrounding land is overgrown with forest, and there are many trails to hike through. A sense of history was very much alive throughout. There is something quite evocative in ruins, and a loss of preservation. However, there has been recent interest in preserving the ruins and interpreting the site as both a story of the owners of the plantation, the slaves which worked upon it.

I found myseld musing on how the Civil War literally and figuratively destroyed the site: both the physical structure of the plantation, and the system of slavery on which the plantation was built.

Braddock’s Point Cemetery, Hilton Head, South Carolina

Harbour Town is located in the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head. It was built in the 1960s and 1970s as an environmentally-friendly (as much as resorts can be!) designed tourist spot. But the land there has a much longer history. A great deal of where Sea Pines is located was known as Braddock’s Point, and the Stoney family and later the Baynard family had a large plantation there (see my post about the Stoney-Baynard Plantation Ruins).

There was a large slave population on Hilton Head, and several very large planations which each occupied a vast space on the island. After the Civil War, the newly-freed slaves (some of who had served for the Union troops who invaded the island early on in the war) settled the first freedman town, called Mitchelville. Largely isolated from the mainland, Gullah culture thrived here and on other coastal islands along South Carolina and Georgia, where language, customs, and culture were creolised from the variety of African heritages of the slaves, along with European influences. Gullah culture thrives to this very day on the island.

In Harbour Town – just beyond the complex where we stayed, I had seen a cemetery marked as “Braddock’s Point Cemetery” on our driving map. We took a walk, and awkwardly nestled between several large hotels and condos was a small cemetery. Further reading lead us to the discovery that the graveyard was a preserved slave cemetery, where descendents are still buried.

Here is the cemetery, surrounded by buildings:

From Braddock’s Po…

There were no graves dated before the Civil War, leading to the assumption that if slaves were buried here, they either were not allowed or could not afford permanent markers. Yet certainly the local community was aware of who was buried here, and there are probable burials in the cemetery of those who were born into slavery, and died after the Civil War.

Here are a row of graves from the Chisolm family, with both older simpler stones and modern laser-carved granite stones:

From Braddock’s Po…

Many of the older stones (post-Civil war into the early 1900s) are simple stone with crude hand-carving. This perhaps indicates either a lack of gravestone resources on the island or the inability to import stones from elsewhere due to finances. An interesting feature on some of these stones, however, was that a ceramic plate was pressed into the center of the stones. This seems to be a unique quality of Gullah tradition. Often ceramic dishware are left or broken at a grave, as burial goods for the dead, or to ward off spirits.

Here is the gravestone of Wesley Young, born Apr 20, 1904, died Sept 26, 1940. The grave has a plate pressed into the stone:

From Braddock’s Po…

Looking around for further information, I can only seem to find descriptions of burial and funeral practices of Gullah and African American cemeteries. Does anyone have further information about the significance of pressing dishware into the stones themselves?

Welcome to Hilton Head, South Carolina!!

Sorry for the lack of postings.. we have returned from our wonderful wedding and relaxing honeymoon! With much unpacking still left to do, here’s a preview of exciting things to come!

Our honeymoon was spent on Hilton Head, a lovely island off the coast of South Carolina, right near the border of Georgia. We spent most of our days exploring the island’s natural and historical sites, did a little shopping along the way, a lot of relaxing with our waterfront view of the harbor and Harbour Town’s famous lighthouse, and took a day trip to Savannah! Since we are both history buffs, we made of point of checking out some really neat places that I will post about here in the blog.. several interesting cemeteries, including a former slave cemetery, the ruins of a plantation and some Civil War forts, and the proliferation of ghost stories on the island!

We saw no alligators, though! But we did see dolphins!