African Americans played as pivotal a role as the seeds that sowed Charleston’s 350-year-old history. Daniel Island is utilizing a new resource to preserve these ancestral roots for generations to come.
The Daniel Island Historical Society (DIHS), a nonprofit founded in 2012, is growing its brand digitally to showcase the historical significance of African American predecessors on the island. The organization is paying homage to African Americans who once lived here via a new page on their website that’s solely dedicated to discovering the history of a lineage buried under the oppression of slavery.
The website currently outlines the African American history on Daniel Island and will expand to encompass the Cainhoy peninsula. More so, it will include the names of those enslaved who once resided on the island and a map to locate their burial sites.
DIHS board member and community outreach coordinator Lee Ann Bain, with assistance from other members, is spearheading the project. The initiative involves the physical legwork of visiting the island’s three African American grave sites — Alston Cemetery, Grove Cemetery and Simmons Cemetery — and gathering information that can be documented from the headstones.
"Our latest efforts to chronicle the island’s history are focused on presenting a more comprehensive understanding of who and what preceded us,” said DIHS President Chris Frisby, who’s also a history teacher at Ashley Hall. “We find that when you pull back the curtain, people are enlightened, delighted, and supportive of our work.”
According to DIHS, African American cemeteries were often located in “marginal areas," on land that was not going to bw used for other purposes. That meant burial grounds were hidden away in remote areas among trees and underbrush.
Black cemeteries were seldom documented, according to DIHS. It was not important to the plantation owner to record the location of “slave burial grounds.” But these sacred spots are well-known by the generations of families who continued to bury family members within those cemeteries.
DIHS does not have an approximation for how many slaves trace back to Daniel Island’s history. While the three African American graveyards on the island each hold approximately 50 marked headstones, it is unknown how many unmarked graves might also be located in the area.
“We support ongoing documentation, preservation, and interpretation of Daniel Island’s Black history so that current and future generations might better appreciate the contributions of all those who have prepared the foundations upon which we currently reside,” Frisby added.
At the moment, DIHS has 14 historical markers scattered around the island, three of which honor African American heritage. There are QR codes on the bottom of each marker that, when scanned with a smart phone, send the user to the organization's website for more information.
Bain noted that one or two more markers might be added to Daniel Island, but in the near future there will be additions throughout Cainhoy, specifically recognizing the Jack Primus community and the Keith School. A replica of the African American schoolhouse stands near the site of the original structure, which was destroyed during Hurricane Hugo.
Primus, a free Black man in 1712, purchased 100 acres of the Cainhoy peninsula. That was just 40 years after Charles Town was settled and 153 years prior to emancipation, according to the S.C. Department of Archives & History.
“Daniel Island’s African American history is critical to understanding the island’s development, and it intersects with numerous local and national narratives across the full sweep of time from the colony’s founding to the present,” Frisby added.
For more information, visit dihistoricalsociety.com.