On Wednesday we went into Beaufort, which is less than ten miles from Dataw Island. We took a historical carriage ride tour of the town and learned a lot about the area. Plus the Belgium draft horse, Gilbert (who plowed fields up in Amish country Ohio as a youngster) was absolutely adorable. He moved about as slow as southern molasses, but had a relentless amount of charm.
The area around what is now Beaufort was actually the second European-discovered parcel of North America (after Ponce de Leon’s St. Augustine), though it has inhabited for nearly two millennia before that by American Indians. Beaufort is a French name (bow-fort), though most Beaufortonians pronounce it the good ol’ fashion southern way (bew-fert).
Plantations are far and wide here. And before the Civil War, all landowners grew Sea Island Cotton (courtesy of their slaves), which was, at the time, the second most profitable crop in the world (second only to opium). It was longer, silkier and finer than even the best Egyptian cottons. Of course a few decades after the Civil War, the fields that hadn’t been burned were eaten up by the boll wheevil, and the crop went extinct.
The town and surrounding areas were quite rich, due to all that cotton. But then South Carolina seceded from the Union and the Civil War began. Beaufort was lucky, however. With advanced warning of incoming Union warships, the whole town up and left (the newspapers up north called it the Great Skedaddle). So when the Union soldiers arrived in 1861, there was no point destroying the town. They used it as a medical base and marina. And a few years later, when Sherman went on his burning rampage, there was no point burning a Union-controlled town. So Beaufort is still one of the most nicely preserved antebellum towns.
We took a lot of pictures of the great Live Oak trees and their sweeping Spanish moss, the wonderful antebellum architecture and of course, the star of the day: Mr. Gilbert.
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