Cultural Resources

          Archaeology: Preserving our Past for the Future

As a federal installation, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, is responsible for the good stewardardship of our historic environment. These resources include all archaeological sites, as well as historicbuildings, and historic districts. Before any undertaking occurs, it is reviewed by trained professionals to ensure no harm is done to the resources. The Cultural Resource Manager and Depot Archaeologist work out of the Parris Island Museum.

Federal laws make the removal of artifacts from the Depot illegal. This includes metal detecting or hunting for artifacts on the surface.

If you do find something, leave it where it is and notify the Depot Archaeologistin the museum so it can be properly studied to retrieve any information it may contain.


In 1715, Alexander Parris purchased what is now called Parris Island from Edward Archer. By 1722, Parris deeded about half the island to hisdaughter Jane and her husband John Delabare. Parris and Delabare bothestablished plantations here, though Parris never lived on the island.The earliest plantations grew food crops and tended cattle. By the1750s, indigo, used to dye cloth blue, became the most important cropuntil the American Revolution, when indigo sales declined from the stopin trade to England. After the war, indigo grown in India made itunprofitable to continue planting it here. By 1775, there were six plantaions on Parris Island (see map on right).

In the 1790s, a new cash crop began to create wealth as never seen before in the colonies: Sea Island Cotton. Grown only in theclimate of the Lowcountry, iot's fine fiber was in high demand, and commanded huge prices. By the first decades of the

1800s it made many area planters among the wealthiest people in the United States. Cottonplantations using slave labor remained on Parris Island until the Civil War. Many of the freed slaves stayed on the island, and began to farm the land for themselves.

An Indian Town on Parris Island, ca. 1650-1667

After the Spanish left abandoned Santa Elena, there was only occasional occupation by Indians until the mid 1600s. About 1650 a large village was established just north of the former Spanish colony. In the 1660s,English explorers William Hilton and Robert Sandford reported the inhabitants called the town “St Ellens” and knew some Spanish.

They also saw a large wooden cross in front of a great council house and a structure of sawn lumber and iron spikes under construction. These clues, along with several Indian men with Spanish friar-like haircuts, made it clear Spain still maintained a presence through visiting missionaries and soldiers. The town was burned in 1667 by raiding Westo Indians and never rebuilt.

Stuart Towne                                          

A Scottish Trading Colony near Parris Island, 1684-1686

As British colonies began to grow in the region, trade with Indians became very important. In exchange for European goods, Indians supplied the colonists with deer skins which they sent to Europe to be tanned into buckskin leather. One of the earliest trading posts near Beaufort was established on what is now Dataw Island by 1684. That same year, Scottish Presbyterians founded "Stuart Towne" a colony on the banks ofthe Beaufort River, just a few miles north of Parris Island.

The Scots also immediately began trade with the Indians. The resulting competition, however, strained relations with their English neighbors, and inflamed the Spanish to the south. In 1686 Spanish forces allied with Indians who were rivals of the Indiansthe Scots were trading with, and together they attacked and destroyed Stuart Towne. Survivors fled to Charles Towne, but a hurricane stopped the pursuing Spanish, saving the city from attack.

Santa Elena I

The initial colony of 1566-1576

After learning of the new French colony in Florida, the King of Spain sent Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to remove to remove them. In 1565, his forces attacked and destroyed Fort Caroline. In January 1566 Menéndez brought about 80 men with him to Parris Island and built a fort to ensure no future intruders returned.

By 1569 the Spanish colony grew to almost 200 men, women,and children, and Santa Elena became the capital of Spain’s "La Florida." Crops were raised and livestock tended, but food was often scarce. Supplies were infrequent. Disease took its toll.

Then, after Menéndez died in1574, Don Diego de Velasco became governor. Unpopular with the people he also could not getalong with local Indians. His actions soon led to warfare and Indians began attacking the colony. Hernando de Mirandatook control in February 1576, but it was too late to stop the violence. Undersiege by 500 Indians, the town’s women, many now widows, forced Miranda to abandon Santa Elena in late June 1576. All that remained was burnt to the ground.

Santa Elena II                                       

The second colony, 1577-1587

In October 1577 the Spanishreturned to Santa Elena. Pedro Menéndez-Marqués,the new governor, brought with him from St. Augustine a prefabricated wooden fort which was assembled in six days. From 1577 to 1580 the Spanish fought an aggressive war against those Indians involved in the 1576 attack.

By November 1580, the fighting subsided and Gutierre de Miranda became governor of Santa Elena. With over 400 residents, life in the colony was reasonably peaceful until 1584, when the English placed a colony on Roanoke Islandin North Carolina. In addition, the Englishman Francis Drake began attacking Spanish posts. These threats enticed the Spanish to builda new fort on Parris Island, Fort San Marcos, which is still partilly visible today. In June 1586, Drake attacked San Augustine. He then headed for Santa Elena, but a storm blew his fleet off course, saving the colony. Fearing his return, Santa Elena was abandoned in August 1587. Spain then concentrated its colonies at San Augustine, closer to Spanish strong holds in the Caribbean and Mexico and easier to get supplies from Europe.